Its a jungle out there!

ESD is full of acronyms, a jungle of TLAs (three letter acronyms)! It's also an area where terminology ranges from the mundane to the medical with every combination in between...hence the need for a glossary.

Have you come across a strange sounding chemical? An unfamiliar phrase or expression? Whilst far from comprehensive, the ecospecifier glossary aims to provide some guidance to the plethora of words and phrases used in sustainable design talk.

Have you got a new one?

If you have come across a piece or jargon or a term you are not familiar with, contact us at If we don't know the answer we may be able to find out, and can then add the new word to the glossary - so hopefully the next person will find the answer they seek.

Click here for a glossary of building terms.

Click here for a glossary of sustainability terms.

Solvent, Cellulose glues and a wide range of products e.g. paint thinners. Weak nervous toxin.

Synthetic rubber, carcinogenic.

Alumina (aluminium oxide, or Al2O3) is a white powder produced from bauxite ores (iron alumino silicate), using a chemical treatment known as the Bayer Process. In this process, bauxite is dissolved in a solution of caustic soda at high temperatures which dissolves the alumina, leaving iron oxide and silicates as waste products (red mud). The solution of alumina and caustic soda is cooled, concentrated and stirred until crystals form. The alumina trihydrate crystals are recovered from the caustic solution, washed and processed in a kiln at temperatures greater than 1,100°C to produce dry white anhydrous aluminium oxide used for the production of aluminium. Aluminium has an embodied energy of 170 GJ/tonne and embodied water of 88,000 L/tonne.

Aniline (Phenylamine) or Aminobenzene
An organic chemical compound which is a primary aromatic amine consisting of a benzene and an amino group. It is toxic by inhalation of the vapour, absorption through the skin or swallowing. It causes headache, drowsiness, cyanosis, mental confusion and in severe cases can cause convulsions. Prolonged exposure to the vapour or slight skin exposure over a period of time affects the nervous system and the blood, causing tiredness, loss of appetite, headache and dizziness. Some authorities class aniline as a carcinogen although the IARC lists it in Group 3 (not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans) due to the limited and contradictary data available (ref. Muir, GD (ed.) 1971).

A metalloid with a toxicity dependent upon its chemical form and oxidation state, with +III compounds exerting greater toxicity than +V compounds. Toxic properties of Antimony are similar to those of arsenic. Exposure to high levels of antimony through inhaling or digetion can result in heart and lung problems, stomach pain, skin irritation, diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers among other potential health problems.

Antimony & compounds was ranked as 84 out of 400 on the NPI reporting list (see National Pollutants Inventory below). The total hazard score taking into account both human health and environmental criteria is 2.3. On a health hazard rating of 0 - 3 antimony & compounds registers 1.0. A score of 3 represents a very high hazard to health, 2 represents a medium hazard and 1 is harmful to health. On an environmental rating of 0 - 3 antimony & compounds registers 1.3. A score of 3 represents a very high hazard to the environment and 0 a negligible hazard.

Appropriate Durability
In the context of the imminent emergency in climate change due to greenhouse emissions, there is a need to reconsider the widely held notion that 'durability delivers sustainability'. While some durability is important in critical areas such as load bearing elements where the success of the whole structure depends on durability, in areas such as external shading devices and other elements that are in effect non-essential , accessible and maintainable, there is a need to consider the 'durability payback' of materials selection. The important question here is whether it is appropriate to invest in durability that generates high greenhouse emissions now - when we have a critical need to minimise emissions - when lower durability materials that have a low/no greenhouse emitting maintenance regimes will suffice. In this sense, we should not necessarily or automatically aim to maximise durability, but rather to optimise 'durability payback', taking into account the greenhouse appropriateness of durability (with the financial costs) and whether alternative materials can be used to minimise climate change in the short term, because now is the critical period for change.

APVMA (Australian Pesticides & Veterinary Medicines Authority)
The APVMA is a government body that assesses and registers agricultural and veterinary chemical products. All new agricultural and veterinary chemical products must be registered before they can be supplied, distributed or sold anywhere in Australia. In addition, the active constituents- substance/s in the chemical product primary responsible for its biological or other effects- must also be approved by the APVMA either before, or at the same time as the product is registered.

Arsenic (refer also Heavy Metals)
Wood preservative, poison. Lethal dose can be as low as 70mg. Chromium is one of a group of chemicals that cannot be added during manufacture if furniture is to be awarded a Good Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabel. IARC caterories it as a Group 1 Carcinogen, i.e. carcinogenic to humans.

Bamboo is a high-yield renewable resource, with a harvest time of 3-5 years, as opposed to 10-20 years for most softwoods. It is exceptionally strong, with a tensile strength rivalling steel. It's light, durable and tough formation makes it useful for many purposes, such as a structural building product for houses, fences and bridges and furniture. For flooring, bamboo is steamed, flattened, treated against insects then glued under high pressure, finished and cut. It can be nail or glue fixed, but can be brittle so careful nailing is needed and if glued low VOC glues need to be used. It can become infested with wood-boring insects if untreated or used in wet areas. Bamboo is predominantley source from China and other parts of Asia.

Benzene (refer also Toluene and Xylene)
Aromatic readily absorbed through the skin, eliminated very slowly. Low-level chronic exposure (e.g. by painters) can lead to liver damage and possibly cancer (Thurtell L. ed., 2003). Mineral turps can contain up to 20% benzene in Australia.

Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)
Refers to the amount of oxygen required by micro-organisms to oxidise the organic material (BOC = bio-degradable organic compounds) in wastewater. Measurement of BOD generally provides a more accurate indication of pollution quantities of wastewater in regards to bio-degradable matter than COD.

Plastic hardner, suspected endocrine disruptor, environmentally persistent, may affect fertility.

Indicators of the concentration of organic compounds in wastewater. See also Suspended Solids.

Fungicide and insecticide. Fire retardent in fabrics and cellulose fibre insulation. Moderately toxic if swallowed. Considered low-level environmental toxin; preferred alternative to other toxins, e.g. CCA treatment.

Boric acid
Boric acid is manufactured by diluting borax with mineral acids. It exists naturally in plants, in most of the fruits and in seawater. Boric acid is used extensively as medicine, insecticide, preservative, lubricant and industrial applications. However, long term exposure to boric acid may lead to kidney damage. In August 2008 the European Commission classified boric acid as reprotoxic category 2, and it is associated to Risk Phrases R60 (may impair fertility) and R61 (may cause harm to the unborn child). This classification is based on animal tests where boric acid was given in high doses and is unlikely to relate to the normal contact and doses associated with its use as a vermin repellent and fire retardant in cellulose insulation.

Bromine and Derivative Compounds
Fire retardants, e.g. in cellulose insulation; toxic in event of fire. May be bio- accumulative. May be endocrine disruptors.

In styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), probably carcinogenic (Berge, 2000).

Used in paints with red, yellow pigments. Stabiliser in PVC. Fungicide. Highly toxic, greatest risk from inhalation of fumes or dust. Persistent in the body. Cadmium is one of a group of chemicals that cannot be added during manufacture if furniture is to be awarded a Good Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabel.

Carbon Black
Carbon Black, often used as a pigment, is classified as a Group 2B carcinogen which is possibly carcinogenic to humans by the IARC. It does not appear to have significant harmful effects after a single short-term exposure except general effects that would be expected with any fine dust inhalation, such as coughing and temporary irritation. However, given long-term inhalation, Carbon Black dust can accumulate in lungs, which, at high concentrations, can overwhelm the clearance capacity of the lungs. Persons handling finished products (e.g. walls) that have been painted black or raw forms of Carbon Black should practice good Occupational, Health and Safety procedures including adequate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to mitigate potential issues.

Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)
Refers to the amount of oxygen required for chemical oxidation of organic material (biodegradable and non-biodegradable) in wastewater.

Synthetic rubber & glue, carcinogenic, damages liver.

A heavy metal that is used in many building products including tapware, stainless steel, leather tanning and timber CCA preservatives. IARC lists it in Group 3 (not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans). Chromium VI (hexavalent) is an Australian National Pollutants Index (NPI) listed chemical. In its insoluble trivalent hydroxide form (as opposed to the NPI listed hexavalent form) it is a common by-product of leather tanning and has been linked to vitro teratogenic and bioaccumulative effects, primarily via inhalation and skin exposure. Chromium is one of a group of chemicals that cannot be added during manufacture if furniture is to be awarded a Good Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabel.

Design for Disassembly
Applies to product streams containing distinct components (e.g. furniture, partitions, storage, etc) and implies products are designed so that components are easily disassembled. The processes which are required in product removal from site and component separation must not involve specialist tools so that a future recycler, supplier or another third party, can easily direct the different materials into the appropriate reuse or recycling streams. Flooring product standards may allow for the use of specialist tools to facilitate product component disassembly.

Refers to the amount of a chemical absorbed into the body from an exposure.

Ecopoints are a single score environmental assessment. They were developed by the UK based organisation BRE as a standardised means of comparing the environmental impacts of individual products. This enables products of varied nature to be comparatively assessed using a simple single score rating. Ecopoints are calculated by 'normalising' the data of a products whole of life environmental impacts, using a weighting system developed on a range of sustainability issues. Ecopoint scores also class products with an A, B or C rating - the 'A' rating being the most environmentally preferable. See ecospecifier's Internet Resources for more information regarding the BRE organisation.

Endocrine Disruptor
Compounds that mimic, block, or interfere with hormone production, and/or metabolism and/or excretion causing malfunction of the endocrine system and creates potential malfunction/s of the reproductive and/or nervous, and/or immune systems.

Environmental label
A claim which indicates the environmental aspects of a product or service.

Environmental declaration
NOTE An environmental label or declaration may take the form of a statement, symbol or graphic on a product or package label, in product literature, in technical bulletins, in advertising or in publicity, amongst other things.

Epoxy Resin
Varnishes, adhesives, paints and caulking, highly allergenic and sensitising. A suspected carcinogen. Inert once fully cured.

Ethylene Glycol, Glycol Esters
Synthetic solvents used in paints, lacquers, resins.

specifier Cautionary Assessment Process- as defined in Appendix 1. For more information, please click here.

The actual contact that a person has with a chemical. It can be one-time, short-term, or long-term.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer's responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging. (Product Policy Institute, April 2012).

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
An internationally recognised non-profit organisation supporting sustainable, economically viable and socially beneficial management of forestry. Founded in 1993 it is composed of a number of stakeholders and professionals in the field of forestry. Certification by FSC means the timber has Chain of Custody - verification the extraction source of the timber was an FSC certified forest that meets the Principles and Criteria of Forest Stewardship. (for more information on ecolabels please click here), FSC website or for Australian context see WWF Australia's FSC.

In urea; phenol and melamine formaldehyde glues use in chipboard and plys; disinfectants and preservatives; finish for carpets, textiles and paper; IARC categorised as a Group 1 carcinogen, i.e. a human carcinogen. Respiratory and mucous membrane irritant at low levels. The most common domestic air pollutant (Thurtell L. ed., 2003).

Total energy that passes through a glazing system. Includes the fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window, both directly transmitted, and absorbed and then subsequently released. A lower G-Value transmits less solar heat, and provides better shading.

In fact, the issue of glare is more than a physiological health and safety issue. Some studies suggest that unevenly distributed daylight can cause psychological harm and frequently leads occupants to close blinds and switch on lights, resulting in the unnecessary use of electricity. Unanticipated glare can also have repercussions in emergency situations.

Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) describes two types of glare:

  • Disability glare is defined as the situation where "vision is impaired by excessive dazzle from a bright light source or reflection such as light reflecting from a glossy surface or from water"
  • Discomfort glare is defined as "visual discomfort... caused by very bright light such as direct sunlight or bright lamps". When shiny surfaces are illuminated the resulting reflections, called veiling reflections, produce bright patches of high intensity light.

Green Building Rating Scheme
A points based sustainability performance rating system for buildings operated by either Government Agencies or Non-government organisation such as a Green Building Council, whether it be mandatory or voluntary.

GreenRate Technical Opinion
The ecospecifier product assessment program that provides Technical Opinion assessments of products' compatibility to various Green Building Rating schemes including Green Star™, NABERS, BASIX, LEED®, Estidama Pearls, BREEAM, Green Mark as relevant to the country of operation of the ecospecifier online database or publication relevant to the Product Assessment or Label;

GreenTag® EcoPOINT
An ecospecifier LCA EcoPOINT is the weighted results of the LCA analysis over the potential life of an eco-preferred building material, compared to a 'Business as Usual' or typical product used within the market. Discernment of the comparative performance of products within the LCARate process can be made by reference to the actual GreenTag® Ecopoint score determined by the Assessment process. A product is assessed against Sustainability Assessment Categories (SACs) and allocated a possible score out of 0-1. Where a score of 0 = no impact, and a score of 1 = Impact of Worst Case Business as Usual product in the same functional purpose category.

Heavy Metals
Arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, selenium, zinc. Pigments in paints, inclusions in many, many products. Toxic to highly-toxic. Some pigments, e.g. strontium yellow, emerald green, manganese blue, are known carcinogens (Thurtell L. ed., 2003).

Ions are formed when an electron is detached from a molecule (or atom). The molecule losing an electron becomes a positive ion and the molecule gaining an electron becomes a negative ion. In natural conditions both negative and positive ions are generated, however in the built environment a net imbalance of positive ions can be produced (e.g. car exhaust emissions, electrical devices etc). Central heating and air-conditioning can also remove negative ions from the air. Studies have shown that negative ions can help increase healing rates and increase productivity rates in the workplace.

Isocyanate, Polyurethane
Glues, strongly allergenic and irritant for mucous membranes.

LC/LD Toxicity
LC50 (lethal concentration) is the concentration of a material in the atmosphere that will kill 50% of an animal population in a specific time period.

LD50 (lethal dose) is the single dose of a toxic substance taken in by any route other than inhalation that will cause the death of 50% of an animal population.

Leather and Leather Processing
Leather is a renewable resource and meat industry byproduct so is potentially an environmentally preferred resource. However depending on how it is processed and tanned it also has the potential to be a high environmental impact material. Potential environmental impacts of production include emissions of the heavy metal chromium, toxic dyestuffs and other polluting byproducts. Issues to be considered in regards to leather and its processing include:

  1. Is the leather processed fresh or is a preservative used?
  2. What is done with the waste animal scrapings (landfill, incineration, biodigestion, etc.)?
  3. What are the BOD and COD content, chromium, salt or toxics content of the effluent waters?
  4. What percentage of wastes are sent to landfill and resources (energy water, gas etc), consumables, waste streams recycled?

Conventional chrome tanned leather and leather products generally contain about 2-3% of dry weight chromium (FAO, 2002) - the average weight for an individual hide is approximately 5kg. Environmentally the ideal aim should be to reduce chromium content to zero due to its high potential environmental impacts. 

(Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, The environmental impact of the animal product processing industries, April, 2002)

Leather Types
There are a number of different types of upholstery leathers:

i) Full/Pure Aniline - leather that has been drum dyed without pigment applied to surface. A light protective coating is sometimes added. It will exhibit all natural features such as scars, growth marks, fat wrinkles etc. Only the best raw hides are selected for this leather type. Requires regular care.There are two forms of aniline leather: full grain and nubuck, which is formed through further buffing which produces a nap

ii) Semi-Aniline - drum dyed leather incorporating a small amount of pigment and protective finish however this finish does not conceal all the natural characteristics of the hide. Requires regular care.

iii) Corrected Grain - pigmented and pigmented top coated are normally finished with a water-based pigment and a clear urethane top coat. They are the most common upholstery leathers. Requires only periodic care.

Life cycle
Consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation of natural resources to the final disposal.

Life cycle based
Assessments that consider the impacts of a product from raw raw material acquisition or generation of natural resources to the final disposal using a combination of quantified LCI (approximate) and qualified data and reporting.

Life cycle assessment (LCA)
The assessment of the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan.

Life-cycle inventory (LCI)
Quantifying the energy and raw material inputs and environmental releases associated with each stage of production;

Life Cycle Impact Analysis (LCIA)
Assessing the impacts on human health and the environment associated with energy and raw material inputs and environmental releases quantified by the inventory;

Limonene, D-limonene
Solvent used in many 'natural' paints, slightly allergenic, slight irritant of mucous membranes.

MBDC Cradle to CradleCertification Program
The McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) Cradle to Cradle™ Certification Program provides a thorough asessment of a products environmental and health characteristics, encompassing whole-of-life sustainability. The certification scheme has a three-tiered rating approach: Silver, Gold and Platinum. Products are asessed under the following five broad categories: Materials, Nutrient (Re)utilization, Energy, Water, and Social Responsibility.

Mineral Fibre
Remelted blast furnace slag spun into fibre. Used in wall and ceiling insulation, air conditioning ducts, pipe lagging and acoustic insulation. Recyclable but not currently recycled in Australia. Mid range embodied energy.

National Pollutants Inventory
The range of chemicals in use in the built environment is staggering and highly complex. Identifying whether a chemical is a problem or not can be very difficult. This comprehensive and powerful resource maintained by the Federal Government provides valuable assistance. As well as a list of common and less common problematic chemicals for each chemical the following characteristics are given:

  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Chemical properties
  • Common uses
  • Sources of emissions
  • Health effects including exposure routes
  • Health guidelines
  • Environmental effects
  • Environmental guidelines
  • Overall ranking within range of problematic chemicals and agents

Click here to link through to the NPI Homepage

In 1997 a report was published by the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) to the National Pollutant Inventory, to recommend substances for inclusion on the NPI. A copy of this report, including a list of the chemicals placed in the top 400 polluting substances in Australia, can be found here.

No Observed Adverse Effects Concentration. The highest level of a chemical stressor in a toxicity test that did not cause harmful effect in a plant or animal. While NOAELs and NOAECs are similar, they are not interchangeable., A NOAEC refers to direct exposure to a chemical (e.g., through gills or the skin).

No Observed Adverse Effect Levels for any ill-effects that might occur. Also called NOEL is the highest dose in an investigation that does not cause ill-effects. A NOAEL refers to a dose of chemical that is ingested.

PCP - Pentachlorophenol
Is a man-made (i.e. it does not otherwise occur in nature) fungicide which is an organochloride. It is toxic to humans. It has been used as a pesticide and preservative on timber and leather.

Ingredient in glues, disinfectants, highly toxic. Depressant to central nervous system. Can cause liver damage.

Plasticisers in a range of plastics, up to 50% content, pseudo-oestrogens, endocrine disruption, moderately persistent environmental poisons. Higher risk to children. Have been shown to have pseudo-eostrogenic effects in humans and other mammals. They are volatile compounds emitted by common materials sources such as vinyl fabric, floors, toys, etc. as they evaporate slowly at room temperatures. Pthalates have been linked to female breast-tissue growth in men, dropping male sperm counts and may contribute to the excess oestrogen that is suspected as having causal links to increasing breast cancer rates.

Polyamides are naturally and synthetically occuring polymers. Naturally occuring polyamides include proteins such as wool. Synthetic polyamides can be used in the manufacturing of products including textiles, geo-textiles and carpets.

Post-Consumer Recycled Content
Material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain.

Post-Industrial Recycled Content
Material diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process. Excluded is reutilisation of materials such as rework, regrind, or scrap generated in a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process that generated it.

Any material/s, product/s or technology performing the same functional purpose for assessment under this Standard.

Product Stewardship
Product Stewardship is the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages. The producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.(Product Policy Institute, April 2012).

Polyvinyl chloride. In its plasticised form PVC contains a range of softeners including a range of chemicals known as Pthalates (see above). There are upstream OH&S and environmental issues and downstream disposal issues as very few recycling opportunities exist. Issues mostly surround problematic and persistent chlorinated organic compounds. See also UPVC, Vinyl Chloride below.

A study released by the European Union in 2006 assessed the safety of the most commonly used plasticisers in PVC. This study found that DIDP and DINP are non-hazardous and considered safe for use. Download the Full Report, published by the European Commission's European Chemicals Bureau (ECB).

For more information on PVC refer to our links under Internet Resources.

Pyrethroids (synthetic version of naturally occurring pyrethrum)
Insecticide, e.g. anti-termicide, different generation products have different toxicities. Third generation products, e.g. permethrin 25/75 not considered highly toxic to humans or mammals, toxic to fish. Fourth generation products, e.g. bifenthrin considered more toxic. More stable, can be used in lower doses than previous forms (Thurtell L. ed., 2003).

Risk is summarised as 'Hazard x exposure' a measure of the likelihood or probability of such damage occurring under particular circumstances of exposure

Routes of exposure
Ingestion, inhalation, dermal or conjunctival.

Caulking compounds, plastics, rubbers., very stable and inert, low toxicity. Potential toxicity comes from additives.

Styrene, Polystyrene, Styrene Butadiene (SBR) Rubbers
Mucous membrane irritant, damages reproductive organs.

The party that is responsible for ensuring that products meet and, if applicable, continue to meet, the requirements on which the certification is based.

Suspended Solids (SS)
The concentration of suspended solids represents the amount of insoluble organic and inorganic particles in the wastewater, which increase water turbidity and demand for oxygen through the slow hydrolysis rate of the organic fraction of the material.

Termite Management Systems
To be listed on ecospecifier, a termite management system must meet ecospecifier's chemical toxicity requirements, ie. no significant terrestrial, aquatic or human health impacts, and also meet the following requirements:

Chemical-based system- Must be registered by the APVMA (see above Glossary listing).

Physical (non-chemical) based system- Must be in accordance with AS 3660.1: Termite Management- new building work.

Hybrid (chemical and physical barrier)- must meet both the APVMA registration and AS 3660.1 standard.

Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)
A major constituent in paint, sunscreen, cements, windows, tiles, or other products due to its sterilising, deodorising and anti-fouling properties and is also used as a base for self cleaning nanotechnology (e.g. glass) as well as hydrolysis catalyst. It can also oxidise oxygen or organic materials directly. Causes major ecological impacts as it is sourced primarily from sand mining, an extremely ecologically damaging process affecting sensitve coastal dune systems. 

In 2006, the IARC reclassified titanium dioxide as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B). This issue of concern relates to the inhalation of powdered and ultra-fine titanium dioxide dust. Accordingly the sanding, grinding and other occupational production activities of products containing titanium dioxide may present issues if appropriate precautions are not taken. Precautions for workers such as reducing exposure to compound in dust form and using appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) mitigates potential issues.

Toluene, also  known as toluol, is a clear, sweet smelling liquid, mostly refined from crude oil, although  there are other methods used for production as well. It is commonly used as solvent, paint thinner and for production of other chemicals as a starting material. Toluene has been classed Group 3 unclassifiable as carcinogenic according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is highly flammable, harmful by inhalation, irritating to skin, may cause lung damage if swallowed and its vapours may cause drowsiness and dizziness. Toluene is associated with possible risk of harm to the unborn child and danger of serious damage to health by prolonged exposure. Use of toluene in indoors or around food should be avoided.

Totally Degradable Plastic Additives (TDPA)
Biodegradable additives that are used in small quantities in commodity resins during the manufacture of finished plastic products. The additives cause the plastic to degrade at a controlled rate when exposed to ultraviolet light, elevated temperatures and moisture and/or moisture or mechanical stress. The additives have been documented to aid in biodegradability of plastic products such as grocery bags and landfill covers under the specific stated conditions relating to each additive.

The ability of a chemical to produce adverse effects in living organisms ie damage an organ system, to disrupt a biochemical process, or to disturb an enzyme system

Transport Energy
The embodied energy of transport. Depending on the form of transport used different modes of transport consume different amounts of fuel. There is a widespread misconception that if a product is manufactured overseas, it has high embodied transport energy. Whereas in fact, because sea transport is between 3300 (general cargo ship) to 4100 (large container ship) times more fuel efficient than the most efficient form of bulk road transport - the diesel semi-trailer (0.53MJ/ If the product travels only short distances by road overseas, the imported product will contain less embodied transport energy than say one that is manufactured interstate, regionally or even in outer urban areas. If it is transported on smaller less efficient trucks it may be the case if the a product has to travel even comparatively small distances of say 30-50km.

Chlorinated solvent, refer 'Benzene' above.

The U-Value represents the rate of air-to-air heat transfer, in watts, through a 1m2 area of the building element, when there is a temperature difference of 1 degrees celsius between the air on either side of the particular building element.

Unplasticised PVC that does not contain pthalates. Lifecycle phase issues not significant from eco-impacts viewpoint. Manufacture and disposal concerns similar to PVC. For more information on PVC refer to our links under Internet Resources.

Vegetable turpentine
Solvent, slightly irritant and allergenic.

Vinyl chloride
Monomer of PVC, known & persistent carcinogen. Traces left in PVC can slowly diffuse out, although unlikely they would form harmful air concentrations (Thurtell L. ed., 2003).

Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is plasticised PVC. Plasticised PVC is a controversial material from an eco and health preferable stance. However its durability, long performance life, resilience to moisture and ease of maintenance make it a commonly used product with some preferable benefits. Ecospecifier uses the Life Cycle Analysis based environmental assessment, Ecopoint, as the basis for determining the more eco and health preferable vinyl flooring products in comparison to generic products and less eco preferred.

For a vinyl flooring to be considered for listing on ecospecifier it must obtain a BRE Ecopoint score and the score must be less than 1.06 (Note - score is based on 1 square metre of vinyl flooring on hardboard sheeting over a 60 year life).

This benchmark score has been established by accepting Ecopoint scores that fall in the top 25% of the rating system. See Ecopoint Glossary entry.

VOCs - Volatile Organic Compounds
Organic compounds with a boiling point between 50°C  and 260°C or a vapour pressure more than 0.1mm Hg 25 C. The term encompasses a very large and diverse group of carbon-containing compounds, including aliphatic, aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons; aldehydes; ethers; esters; acids; alcohols and ketones. Examples of VOCs include benzene, toluene, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, formaldehyde, carbon tetrachloride and some pesticides. Benzene is a Group 1 carcinogen (IARC), as is formaldehyde. VOCs are found in many products including paints, adhesives, building board and composite timber, fabric dressing, lacquers, some foams, some carpets and vinyl/plasticised PVC.

Potential health effects from contact with VOC's at even low concentrations include irritation to the throat, eyes and nose, nausea, headaches, loss of coordination, damage to the kidney, central nervous system and lungs. Symptoms vary in severity depending on the composition, concentration and length of exposure to the VOC's present. Contact with some VOC's has been known to cause, and some suspected of causing cancer in humans.

VOC's are damaging to the environment predominately due to the production of photochemical smog from various VOC's. Photochemical smog can also have detrimental health effects to humans. VOC's have been found to cause cancer in other animals and also to have serious effects on plants.

VOC categories
'Low VOC'- complies with current industry/standard or Green building Rating Scheme minimum criteria or where no criteria are available is so determined by review of VOC test data or material characteristics based on composition review.

'Very Low VOC' - less than approximately 1/10 the current industry/standards or Green building Rating Scheme minimum criteria or where no criteria are available is so determined by review of VOC test data.

'Ultra Low VOC'- less than approximately 1/100 the current industry/standards or Green building Rating Scheme minimum criteria or where no criteria are available is so determined by review of VOC test data.

'Zero VOC'- No measurable VOC emissions with current technology relating to current industry/standards or Green building Rating Scheme minimum criteria or where no criteria are available is so determined by review of VOC test data

VOC Standards: Paints
Several Australian organisations have standards for paints including the Australian Paint Approval Scheme (APAS D181).

APAS Standards for Paint VOCs are as follows:

Av Max

  • Exterior gloss                                           75 100
  • Low odour/low environmental impact        5   5

Note: these levels are for untinted paints and most tint systems contain high VOC content - so when tinting mid-dark colours check with manufacturers for actual VOC levels.


Wool - [environmental effects of wool production]
Wool is a keratin based fibre. Environmental effects of wool production in Australia and New Zealand include soil compaction by cloven hooves and habitat loss due to demand for fertiliser dependant, specialised pasture plant species and land clearing. Sheep also produce methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Xylene is a colourless, sweet smelling liquid, mostly refined from crude oil, although  there are other methods used for production as well. It is commonly used as solvent, paint thinner and for production of other chemicals as a starting material. Xylene has been classed Group 3 unclassifiable as carcinogenic according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is flammable, harmful by inhalation and in contact with skin and also irritating to skin. Use of xylene in indoors or around food should be avoided.



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