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42 Must-Know Terms for Sustainable and Regenerative Design

In a world increasingly aware of environmental challenges, designers and creatives hold the key to pioneering sustainable and regenerative solutions that can transform industries. Whether you’re a graphic designer, architect, or business owner, understanding the terminology and practices of eco-conscious design is essential to making informed decisions that positively impact our planet.

This comprehensive glossary will equip you with the knowledge to integrate sustainable practices into your projects, ensuring that your creative efforts contribute to a brighter, greener future.

a woman holding up a sign that reads we need a change- referencing the need for action amidst the climate crisis





Carbon Footprint

  • Definition: The total amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane...) generated by our actions.

  • Example: "By switching to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, companies can drastically reduce their carbon footprint, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions."

Circular Economy

Closed-Loop System

  • Definition: A system where the waste from one process is used as input for another, creating a loop that minimizes waste.

  • Example: "In a closed-loop system, a brewery could use spent grains from the beer-making process to produce bread, reducing overall waste and reusing by-products effectively."


  • Definition: A material that can decompose into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxic residue.

  • Example: "Using compostable packaging made from cornstarch means the packaging can be added to compost bins, where it will break down into nutrient-rich soil."


  • Definition: A sustainable business strategy that models human industry on the processes of nature’s biological metabolism.

  • Example: "A cradle-to-cradle approach in furniture design means using materials that can be fully recycled or composted, ensuring no waste at the end of the product's life."

modular electronic device being disassembled for recycling and raw material reclamation.

Design for Disassembly (DfD)


  • Definition: Awareness and concern about the environment and practices that benefit the ecosystem.

  • Example: "Eco-conscious design involves choosing materials like bamboo, which grows quickly and sustainably, for manufacturing products to minimize environmental impact."


  • Definition: Creating more goods and services with fewer resources and less waste.

  • Example: "Implementing eco-efficient manufacturing processes, such as using less water and energy, can reduce the environmental impact of production while maintaining output levels."

End-of-Life (EOL)

  • Definition: The final stage of a product's lifecycle when it is disposed of or recycled.

  • Example: "Designing electronics with EOL in mind ensures components can be easily separated and recycled, as seen in Dell’s closed-loop recycling program."

Energy Efficiency

  • Definition: Using less energy to provide the same service or perform the same task.

  • Example: "Installing LED lighting instead of traditional incandescent bulbs can improve energy efficiency, reducing electricity use and lowering energy bills."

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

  • Definition: A policy approach where producers are given significant responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.

  • Example: "Under EPR, electronics manufacturers might be required to take back and recycle old devices, encouraging them to design products that are easier to recycle."

Green Building

  • Definition: The practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient.

  • Example: "The Bullitt Center in Seattle is a green building that features solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and composting toilets to minimize its environmental impact."

Green Chemistry

  • Definition: The design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.

  • Example: "Using green chemistry, a company might develop biodegradable cleaning products that are safe for both users and the environment, reducing harmful chemical pollution."

green chemistry lotions and skin care products that are 100% organic and safe for both user and environment.


Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)

  • Definition: A technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product's life.

  • Example: "Conducting an LCA on a product like a water bottle includes evaluating the environmental impact of raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, usage, and disposal."

Material Health

  • Definition: The impact of the materials used in products on human health and the environment.

  • Example: "Choosing non-toxic, low-emission materials for building interiors improves material health, ensuring the spaces are safer for occupants and the environment."

Modular Design

  • Definition: Design approach that creates products from smaller, interchangeable parts.

  • Example: "Modular design in electronics allows users to replace or upgrade individual components like batteries or screens, extending the product's life and reducing electronic waste."

Net Positive Impact

  • Definition: A scenario where the environmental benefits of an action or product outweigh its impacts.

  • Example: "A building with a net positive impact generates more energy through solar panels than it consumes, contributing excess power to the grid."


  • Definition: An agricultural system that integrates human activity with natural surroundings to create highly efficient self-sustaining ecosystems.

  • Example: "Permaculture farms use companion planting and natural pest control methods to maintain soil health and increase biodiversity without chemical fertilizers."

Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR)

  • Definition: Materials recycled after being used by consumers.

  • Example: "Nike’s Flyknit shoes incorporate PCR materials by using recycled plastic bottles and polyester, reducing waste and demand for virgin materials."

Product Stewardship

  • Definition: The responsible management of the health, safety, and environmental aspects of a product throughout its lifecycle.

  • Example: "HP's product stewardship program includes taking back old printers and cartridges for recycling, ensuring safe disposal and material recovery."

Regenerative Design

  • Definition: Design that restores, renews, and revitalizes its own sources of energy and materials.

  • Example: "Regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover cropping and no-till farming, rebuild soil health, increase biodiversity, and capture carbon dioxide."

a beautiful tree starts to sprout from a seed during a regenerative business model project.


  • Definition: The process of restoring used products to a like-new condition.

  • Example: "Caterpillar remanufactures old engines, disassembling them, cleaning, and replacing parts as needed, which extends the life of the machinery and reduces the need for new raw materials."

Renewable Resources

  • Definition: Natural resources that can be replenished naturally with the passage of time.

  • Example: "Using bamboo, a renewable resource, for flooring is sustainable because it grows much faster than traditional hardwood trees."

Reverse Logistics

  • Definition: The process of moving goods from their final destination for the purpose of capturing value or proper disposal.

  • Example: "A company using reverse logistics might collect used products from customers for recycling or refurbishment, reducing waste and retrieving valuable materials."

Social Impact

  • Definition: The effect of an activity on the social fabric of the community and well-being of individuals and families.

  • Example: "Social impact initiatives by companies like TOMS Shoes include donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold, improving access to footwear in underprivileged communities."

Socially Responsible Design

  • Definition: Design that aims to improve human well-being and community resilience.

  • Example: "Designing affordable housing with energy-efficient features and community spaces promotes socially responsible design, improving residents' quality of life and reducing environmental impact."

Source Reduction

  • Definition: Strategies aimed at reducing the volume or toxicity of waste generated.

  • Example: "Implementing source reduction, a company might redesign packaging to use less material, thereby reducing the amount of waste generated and conserving resources."


  • Definition: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

  • Example: "Sustainable design in fashion involves using organic cotton and low-impact dyes to create clothing that does not harm the environment."

Sustainable Materials

  • Definition: Materials that are produced in ways that do not deplete natural resources.

  • Example: "Cork is a sustainable material used in products like flooring and insulation because harvesting it does not kill the tree, allowing it to regenerate."

Sustainable Procurement

  • Definition: The process of purchasing goods and services that have a reduced environmental impact throughout their lifecycle.

  • Example: "Sustainable procurement practices might involve choosing suppliers that use renewable energy and sustainable materials, ensuring a lower environmental impact from production

Take-Back Program

  • Definition: A program in which companies take back their products at the end of their useful life for recycling or proper disposal.

  • Example: "IKEA's take-back program allows customers to return old furniture, which is then recycled or refurbished, promoting a circular economy and reducing landfill waste."


  • Definition: Openness in communicating about processes, ingredients, and impacts.

  • Example: "A company practicing transparency might provide detailed information about the sourcing of materials, manufacturing processes, and environmental impacts on their website, building trust with consumers."

Triple Bottom Line (TBL)

  • Definition: A business framework that includes social, environmental, and financial performance metrics.

  • Example: "Companies like Patagonia adhere to the TBL by ensuring their operations are profitable while also benefiting society and the environment."

upcycled clothing line.


  • Definition: The process of transforming by-products, waste materials, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

  • Example: "An artist upcycles discarded glass bottles into beautiful, functional vases, giving the waste material a new life and purpose."

Urban Mining

  • Definition: The process of reclaiming raw materials from spent products, buildings, and waste.

  • Example: "Urban mining initiatives recover metals like copper and gold from discarded electronics, reducing the need for traditional mining and minimizing environmental impact."

Waste Hierarchy

  • Definition: A framework that prioritizes waste management practices to minimize environmental impact.

  • Example: "The waste hierarchy suggests reducing waste at the source, reusing materials, and recycling as preferred methods over landfill disposal."

zero waste food presentation including bite-sized food served on a banana leaf on a woven bamboo plate

Water Footprint

  • Definition: The total volume of freshwater used to produce goods and services.

  • Example: "Designers can reduce a product's water footprint by choosing materials and processes that require less water, such as organic cotton over conventional cotton."

Zero Emissions

  • Definition: A state where no net emissions of greenhouse gases are produced.

  • Example: "Achieving zero emissions, a company might power all operations with renewable energy sources like wind and solar, eliminating reliance on fossil fuels and reducing carbon output."

Zero Waste

  • Definition: A philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused.

  • Example: "A zero-waste grocery store offers bulk items without packaging, encouraging customers to bring their own containers to reduce waste."

As creatives and business owners, we have the unique ability to influence change and lead the way toward a sustainable and regenerative future. By familiarizing ourselves with these essential terms and practices, we empower ourselves to make choices that not only enhance our work but also protect and restore our environment.

The future of design is in our hands, and with the knowledge gained from this glossary, we can confidently create impactful, eco-friendly solutions that inspire and drive positive change.




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