There's no doubt: the environment (all the natural systems on Earth including all land, the oceans, air and the atmosphere) is currently a hot topic in the news.


If you like studying English through watching and reading the news, you can increase your reading comprehension by learning the following commonly used environmental terms. Plus, you can impress your English speaking friends and English tutor by using these not-found-in-your-grammar-book “green” terms.


Read on to learn about seven environmental terms and see examples of how we use these words in context.


Term #1: Green


If someone were to ask you, “How green are you?” would you understand them? When we use the word green in this way, we are talking about a style of living that is kinder and less harmful to the environment.


For example, someone who always recycles their bottles and cans, uses a bike, and wears second-hand clothes to help the environment, would be considered green.


I personally try to be green by choosing products that have fewer chemicals, and are more natural and less harmful to the environment.


Here is a typical way we use the word green to describe people who have changed their behavior to do less damage to the earth:


  • “Sandra is sooo green. She always takes her own thermos with her to get coffee at the coffee shop so she doesn’t have to throw away the paper cup.”


You will also see green used as an adjective. For example:


  • The Toyota Prius is considered a green car since it is a hybrid (it runs on gas and electric energy).



Maybe you live in a green city like Toronto where people try to recycle, use more natural products, and primarily walk or use public transportation. What other green products or places can you think of?


Term #2: Eco (sounds like ee-ko)


Eco isn’t really a word so much as a prefix: a word part that you will find at the beginning of a word. Eco is an abbreviation of the word ecological and is used to describe something (usually a product) that is helpful or less harmful to the environment.


You will see the prefix eco- used along with other green living terms such as:


  • Eco-friendly (ecologically friendly towards the environment).
  • Eco-living (a way of living that is less harmful to the environment).
  • Eco-village (an ecologically conscious village, town or commune).
  • Eco-hotel (a hotel that practices higher ecological standards).
  • Eco-vacation (vacations that are ecologically centered).
  • Eco-products (products that do less harm to the environment).


Here is an example for you:


  • The Matterhorn Inn in Sedona, Arizona is an eco-hotel that has solar-heated pools, recycling bins, water-efficient plumbing, and uses LED lighting.


In the small town of Tepoztlán, outside of Mexico City where I live, there are various eco-hotels that have organic gardens, offer organic food and use solar energy.


Term #3: Compost


Composting is the process of combining kitchen scraps like vegetable cuttings, leftover coffee grinds, banana skins, and egg shells with leaves and other dry plant matter to eventually create new, nutrient rich earth that can be used to help your plants and garden grow. There are complete channels on YouTube, such as OneYardRevolution, devoted to teaching people the best ways to compost (and how to have an organic garden).


There are a few ways you can use the word compost:


You can use this word as a noun:


  • I always throw my apple peels in the compost.


…Or as a verb:


  • Did you know that Bella’s Restaurant composts?


…Or you can add -ing and turn the word into an adjective:


  • We keep our composting bin outside in the garden.


I like composting because our household produces less trash, and all our vegetable leftovers eventually turn into new soil for our garden.  Are you able to compost where you live?


Term #4: Organic


Organic usually refers to products or foods that are grown without chemicals.


When we talk about organic farming, we are describing the process of growing food without using chemicals like pesticides (that kill bugs and insects) or fertilizers (that make plants grow faster). Organic farming produces organic food.


Fruits and vegetables that are grown with chemicals are called conventionally grown.


I like buying organic food when I can. Organic food tastes more flavoursome, and I like the fact that I am avoiding chemicals in my food.


Here’s an example of how we use this word:


  • Does the country you live in have a way of labelling organic vs. conventionally grown food?
  • Can you tell if this is organic food?




Term #5: Alternative Energy


Have you seen the term alternative energy used in the news recently? Reporters or writers who use this term are referring to any type of energy that is less harmful to the environment than conventional coal or gasoline.


Popular alternative energy systems in use around the world are solar power, wind power and hydropower (power from water). My parents just recently bought and installed solar panels on their house; now they can convert and use energy that comes directly from the sun!


Here is an example of how we use this term:


  • China is a world leader in alternative energy. They are also the biggest producers of wind power in the world.


Do a Google image search on wind turbines and you will see some great examples of the structures that are used to collect wind power. I always think about Holland when I think about wind power!



Term #6: Greywater


Greywater is the water that is left over from washing dishes, showering and bathing, and from other light washing and cleaning. We call it greywater because of the typical grey-ish colour this used water becomes through use.


You can use greywater to water plants and your garden (with the right system). I wish the house I live in had a better system for collecting greywater because we would save money on water.


Here’s one way we could talk about greywater:


  • Did you know that greywater can be reused for watering plants and your garden? Many green houses and green water systems collect and filter greywater so that it can be reused for this purpose.


If you want to learn more, here is an informative website about greywater.


Term #7: Carbon Footprint


Carbon footprint is a term used to describe how much CO2 (carbon dioxide) a person, organization or country produces due to transportation, cooking, production, heating and other practices. The word footprint is part of this term because your carbon footprint is part of the mark you leave on the world.


The average carbon footprint varies by country.



We often use this term to talk about how green or ecological (friendly to the Earth) a lifestyle choice is. For example, a person who walks or bikes to work has a smaller carbon footprint than someone who has to drive a long way to get to work every day. Someone who has to fly frequently (on jet planes) would have an even larger carbon footprint because planes have to use a lot of gasoline.


Do you know your carbon footprint? Here’s a fun website where you can roughly calculate your household’s carbon footprint with an online “calculator.”


Here is a common way we use this term:


  • I like to bike to work to reduce my carbon footprint.


Now that you know these environmental terms, try them out during your next conversation about the environment. Use one or more of these phrases this week in your writing or when speaking in English. You can even ask one of your co-workers, a friend or your teacher, “How green are you?”


Do you live a green lifestyle? Do you live in an eco-house that uses alternative energy? Do you compost, recycle, reuse greywater, or have an organic garden? Would you like to do any of these things? Try and practice using some of these terms by commenting on this article.


Are there any other common green phrases or words you would like to add to this list? Write about them in the comments!


Speak English Live is a new blog and resource for English language learners written by Sabrina. Learn common idioms and expressions and practice your casual American English pronunciation with articles and videos.


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