We can’t live meaningfully if we don’t know what things mean. That’s why we’ve built a word bank of terms we hear all the time, along with “yeah, that’s real” definitions from scientists and experts.

Want to suggest another term? Email us and we’ll get right on it.


  • Plants—mainly aquatic—that lack root systems or stems, but still “eat” carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Algae are vital for ecosystems because they help clear pollutants like ammonia from water, and they serve as a superfood for aquatic animals like frogs and ducks. (Fun fact: Seaweed is also algae!) Recently, scientists have started testing algae-based fabric as a possible leather or silk substitute.

    See also: Canopy, Conservation, Coexistence, Interconnectivity.


  • Every species in the world, or in a specific part of the world. It’s generally greater towards the equator, because warmer temperatures can sustain more kinds of life. We need biodiversity to keep our soil, air, and water healthy, because the more natural variety we have on earth, the stronger we are as an ecosystem.

    See also: Conservation, Coexistence, Interconnectivity.


  • Able to get broken down by bacteria and other living organisms, including fungi. But there’s a plot twist: If a biodegradable product is thrown into a landfill instead of responsibly composted, it takes much longer to decompose, and emits harmful methane gas. 

    See also: Composting.


  • Any fuel created from contemporary plant-based materials, including ethanol and wood.


  • The idea that we all have an emotional connection to nature, biophilia is also the name of a design practice that brings plant walls and other natural structures into man-made spaces like offices, apartment buildings, and libraries. Studies show buildings that employ biophilia increase creative thinking and focus while lowering stress.  Learn more about biophilia here.


  • A commercial brand that balances purpose and profit, and gets independent official certification from the government for their community investments. Some B-Corps you know? Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Seventh Generation.


  • No, it’s not the bed you wanted in 5th grade. In the context of our planet, the canopy is the top layer of a forest or algae community. They’re the ultimate multitaskers, shielding their habitat from the force of rain, holding needed hydration for plants and animals, and maintaining balance within an ecosystem’s water cycle.

Carbon and Carbon Dioxide

  • Carbon is an organic element that’s plentiful in nature, and it exists in all living things. Because of its chemical structure, it sticks to oxygen really well, even when it shouldn’t. (So carbon is your lip gloss and oxygen is your hair…?) 

    Carbon + oxygen = carbon dioxide (represented as CO2), a gas that’s created when we drive cars, burn wood, or even exhale. This can be a good thing: Plants eat carbon dioxide, and they need it to thrive. And without any carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it would be so cold that our oceans would freeze. 

    The problem is when there’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere and too few plants to remove it. That’s when the earth warms up, air quality goes down, and nature gives us some very real signals (like melting glaciers and longer storm seasons) urging us to restore balance to the planet, for the health of all living things. 

    See also: Carbon Emission, Methane, Fossil Fuel 

Carbon Footprint

  • The total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by something or someone. An electric car has a lower carbon footprint than a diesel-powered car, and a bike ride has a lower carbon footprint than an electric car ride. 

    See also: Carbon Emission, Methane, Fossil Fuel.

Carbon Emission

  • The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, often through gas or oil used as fuel. Vehicles like planes and automobiles usually have a lot of carbon emissions because they burn fossil fuels that leave CO2 in the atmosphere. 

    See also: Carbon Footprint, Methane, Fossil Fuel.


  • When a material, like plastic, never leaves the supply chain. (Creating a circle of use—get it?) Instead, the material gets reused and repurposed. When you use old miso soup containers as a planter for your kitchen basil plant? That’s circularity!  Learn more about how the Wild Elements community is making circularity happen.



  • A protein in animal and human life that forms “connective tissue”—the stuff that connects our muscles to bones, nerves, veins, and all other parts of the body. It also helps keep our skin strong and flexible. Humans are about 30% collagen, but it depletes as we get older. Besides collagen supplements, you can add more cabbage, soy, berries, nuts, and even carrots to your diet in order to help support collagen production. (Don’t put it on your skin, though—it won’t absorb!)   

Compost + Composting

  • Composting is a natural process that turns organic matter (apple cores, fallen leaves, and even coffee grounds) into power-packed fertilizer called compost. (It’s also called “black gold” because it’s so dense in nutrients for your plants!) Composting employs “decomposers”—living things like fungi, bacteria, and worms that eat decaying organic material—to speed up the natural process of decomposition. Farmers, gardeners, and landscape architects then use compost for stronger, healthier plants. Plus, composting keeps organic material out of landfills, creating fewer methane emissions. 

    See also: Biodegradable


  • The preservation, protection, and restoration of a habitat, species, or ecosystem. Conservation can also mean saving or rationing resources, i.e. “conserving energy” or “conserving water.”

    See also: Biodiversity, Coexistence, Interconnectivity.

COP Summit

  • Believe it or not, the “COP” here stands for “Conference of the Parties.” (Anticlimactic, no?) Every year, almost 200 nations (the “parties” in question) come together to discuss environmental issues and solutions. The location changes each time, but the topics—clean energy, plant-based food, and better protections for the planet—stay the same.


  • An eclipse is when one celestial body—the sun or moon—is blocked by the earth’s shadow and seems to “disappear” to people on earth. A lunar eclipse happens when the earth’s shadow “blocks out” the bright full moon. A solar eclipse is when the moon gets right between the sun and the earth, “blocking” the sunshine from our view. Solar eclipses only last for 2-3 minutes, and should not be viewed by the naked eye. Lunar eclipses last from 7 minutes to a few hours, and you can view them beautifully with binoculars or a telescope.


  • A community of animals, plants, and fungi living together in a specific region of the planet.


  • A species of animals or plants that are in danger of going extinct in the wild. (Think of the “endangered” label as the red flag emoji đźš©đźš©đźš© of wildlife experts.) There are currently 16,306 animals and plants labeled “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), including elephants, snow leopards, and large-flowered fiddleneck herbs. But designating a species as “endangered” can help create laws to protect them—for example, the white rhino, the grey wolf, and the bald eagle have all “bounced back” from the endangered list, and are now moving towards healthy population numbers. 


  • An equinox is when the sun crosses the earth’s equator, creating days and nights of equal length. Equinoxes happen twice a year and signal the change of seasons. The vernal equinox signals the beginning of spring (March) and the autumnal equinox happens at the start of fall, in September. 

    See also: Solstice


  • You know ethanol by another name—alcohol! Ethanol is a natural byproduct of plant fermentation, and you can find it in beer, wine, tequila, and even kombucha. Naturally-occuring ethanol is important to the planet because it can be used as fuel in place of gas or oil. Also, ethanol emissions can have a 50% smaller carbon footprint than traditional fossil fuels. 

Fossil Fuel

  • Coal, oil, and natural gas that we extract from underground and sometimes underwater. Fossil fuels are limited resources because eventually, there won’t be any left! When burned, they also emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air than biofuel, which can trap heat inside our atmosphere and warm up the planet. 


  • Fungi are nature’s ultimate multitaskers. These living things help compost dead organic matter back into the earth—everything from fallen bark and leaves to bones—and help keep our ecosystems balanced. In the science world, fungi are considered a separate kingdom from plants or animals. (Really!) Fungi include mushrooms, yeast, and mold, and without it, there would be (literal) tons of decaying matter left on earth. Without fungi, we would also not have sourdough bread, which would suck. 


  • Pretending your company, product, or manufacturing process is more beneficial to the environment than it really is. A great example: liquid plastic “leather” marketed as “eco friendly” because it’s not an animal byproduct. (It’s also not biodegradable and often made in toxic factory settings, producing more pollution.)


  • Groundwater is the water supply held in soil, sand, and rocks. We need clean, abundant groundwater because it’s responsible for 51% of America’s total water supply, and 64% of farm water supply. The Department of the Interior calls it “one of the nation’s most important resources,” and biodiversity can help protect it by ensuring more plant root networks are thriving, and holding clean water in their soil beds.


  • Hydroponics is a type of farming where you grow plants without soil, using water mixed with a nutrient solution (“plant food”) instead. Hydroponic gardens use 200 times less water than regular ones, and they don’t require pesticides because there are no bugs in your non-existent soil! They’re also ideal for areas without deep soil networks, like urban centers.


  • Biologically and historically tied to a particular place; native. 


  • The relationship between all things and all processes in nature, including humans. In geology and ecology, “interconnectivity” is the idea that no plant or animal can be studied in isolation, since every organism’s well being depends on the others. 

    See also: Biodiversity, Coexistence

Low Impact

  • Changing or affecting the environment as little as possible. One thing, though: Because this term isn’t regulated by any government or independent agency, anyone can say their products are “low impact.”

    See also: Greenwashing, Net Zero

Mental Health

  • Emotional and psychological wellbeing. Studies show that mental health improves when people spend more time in nature, or bring elements of nature into man made spaces. 

    See also: Biophilia


  • Methane is a natural gas, and the primary gas used for heat and electricity worldwide. Most methane emissions come from machines, but 27% come from cows, and 17% come from food and other organic waste that’s been dumped into landfills. Lowering methane emissions is a key goal of environmental policy groups.

    See also: Carbon Emission, Carbon Dioxide, Fossil Fuel.


  • The “microbiome” is a network of the many (many, many, many!) microorganisms that make up a particular ecosystem. Your body has a microbiome; so does your garden; so does the ocean. Microbiomes are important because even though they’re invisible, they help their ecosystem stay nourished, detoxified, and balanced. 

    See also: Interconnectivity.


  • It’s just what it sounds like. Microplastics are teeny pieces of plastic that slip through the cracks (literally) when plastic waste is destroyed. Microplastics are so small that they’re often undetected in water filtration systems, and end up in our oceans at an alarming rate, polluting aquatic ecosystems and groundwater. Click here to learn how to keep microplastics out of your clothes.


  • The seasonal movement of animals—especially birds and pollinators like butterflies—from one place to another. Most animals migrate to warmer weather in the winter, but some, like arctic foxes and humpback whales, chase colder temperatures instead. There’s also the arctic tern, a diving seabird, that literally crosses the planet each winter to get from the North Pole to the South Pole and back. Beat that, Santa!


  • A network of tiny fungi threads that lives underground and in dead organic material (like rotting wood), helping the process of decomposition. Mycelium interacts with 92% of plants, making them key connectors in our ecosystem.  

Net Zero a.k.a. Carbon Neutrality

  • When the carbon dioxide (CO2) you create is offset (or “canceled out”) by the carbon dioxide you remove from the atmosphere. While good in theory, “Net Zero” claims are often greenwashing, since they don’t require a company to actually reduce their carbon emissions, instead paying other people to do it—with no real regulation or guarantee that it’s 100% complete. That’s why Net Zero doesn’t mean anything unless it’s coupled with a real plan of action to reduce emissions and boost regeneration. 

    See also: Carbon Emission, Carbon Footprint, Fossil Fuel.

Organic Food

  • According to the USDA, plant-based food is organic if it’s been growing for 3 years or more in natural soil—i.e. soil without synthetic pesticides, and fertilizer without synthetic chemicals. Meat is organic meat if it is free-range and cage-free, and fed with 100% organic plant-based food (or graze on 100% organic grass and hay). Organic meat is also free of hormones and antibiotics.  See also: Vegan, Organic Cotton Learn why locally-grown plants might have more benefits than organic ones. (We didn’t know! It’s super interesting!)

Organic Cotton

  • Like organic food, organic cotton is cotton that has been growing for 3 or more years in natural soil, without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizer. Organic cotton is better for soil health and uses less water per acre than traditional cotton. See also: Organic Food Learn why locally-grown plants might have more benefits than organic ones. (We didn’t know! It’s super interesting!) 


  • An animal that moves pollen, helping new plants grow. Why are animals moving pollen in the first place? Because many plants with pollen also have nectar, which animals use as a food source. When a bee or a hummingbird feeds on a flower, their body collects pollen, which eventually sheds into another flower, triggering a plant’s reproductive cycle. (So when we talk about the “birds and the bees,” it’s literal, at least when it comes to flower sex. Yes, we just said flower sex. Moving on.)

    See also: Biodiversity


  • Something that harms the planet or one of the planet’s elements (air, water, soil), compromising an ecosystem and the plants, animals, and fungi that live there. 


  • The process of transforming trash into usable material. It’s a vital project, but logistically hard—according to the EPA, just 9% of plastic was recycled in 2018, and much of it had to funnel through China, using tons of energy in the process. Instead, experts are urging circularity, a process where items never leave the supply chain in the first place. (Example: instead of a plastic bottle going to a recycling plant, it’s repurposed as a kitchen herb planter instead.)


  • Any process of renewal and growth within nature that helps living things thrive. For example, regeneration can be apple cores decomposing into soil and feeding nutrients back into new apple trees—or any other trees. 

    See also: Circularity.


  • Increasing the individual members of a threatened species before they go extinct. 

    See also: Conservation, Endangered


  • A planet goes “retrograde” when it moves “backwards” in its orbit. Some planets (like mercury) go retrograde more often because of their gravitational relationship to the sun.  


  • A solstice is when the sun reaches its maximum or minimum distance from earth. The summer solstice (June) marks the beginning of days getting “shorter”, and the winter solstice (December) marks the beginning of days getting “longer.” Of course, days are always the same length, but the amount of daylight we have changes based on how far the sun is from earth’s orbit!

    See also: Equinox


  • Sustainability means keeping things as they are, and preventing our actions and products from doing further harm to the earth. That’s great as a bare minimum—of course we don’t want our favorite products to harm the earth—but because it’s not a regulated term, “sustainable” is often a bare minimum term for brands and leaders. And sustainability doesn’t mean “making things better than they are.” That’s why we prefer to talk about regeneration, the process that helps regrow or restore the planet to a thriving, resilient state.

    See also: Circularity, Greenwashing, Recycling, Regeneration

Sustainable Cultivation

  • Growing and harvesting a crop with methods that regenerates nutrients and plant strength, instead of compromising or ruining the land where it’s growing. Some examples of sustainable cultivation include using hydroponics, rotating crops, and planting “cover crops”—aka plants that reduce soil erosion and flood damage. 

    See also: Organic Food, Regeneration, Sustainability


  • Fake. But not necessarily in a bad way! Synthetic joints are medical breakthroughs, and synthetic reefs help prevent erosion and protect new coral growths. Synthetic material can have planet-saving applications, but when factory-processed food replaces whole plant nutrients in your diet, studies show a higher risk of cancer and digestive illness. 

    See also: Vegan, Organic Food


  • Food and drinks free from all animal products, mainly milk (and butter, and cheese, and ice cream) and meat / poultry / fish. Veganism has existed since the dawn of time… but truly game-changing substitutes like Oatly and Impossible Burgers have only come around in the past decade.

    See also: Organic Food