35 Sustainable Intelligent Building Terms You Need to Know

December 23, 2019

Every field has a unique-to-itself vocabulary, and Sustainable Intelligent Buildings are no different.

In an attempt to appeal to both experts and non-experts, below you’ll find simple explanations of industry-specific words, technical terms and lingo that you will, undoubtedly, hear at trade shows or read in technical writings as the worlds of sustainability and intelligent buildings continue to converge.

Note that these are intentionally not dictionary definitions, but rather, offer a base of knowledge for how the terminology may be used.


AC Power — AC stands for “Alternating Current,” which means the current is designed to reverse its direction. AC power is measured according to its cycles, with one complete cycle being counted each time a given electrical current travels in one direction and then doubles back on itself. In the U.S., it is measured to 60 Hertz (Hz), while in other countries, it’s 50 Hz. This type of power is good for long-transmission, bulk, high-energy, high-powered, high-voltage, high-current, long-distance applications, and is more efficient than Direct Current (DC). AC power is less dangerous than DC, and it is therefore the type of electricity that is most commonly used in homes and offices. In the AC world, 300 volts is considered high voltage, and anything below that is low voltage.

API — This is the shortcut version of saying “Application Programming Interface,” which is a set of functions and procedures allowing the creation of applications that access the features or data of an operating system, application or other service. In laymen’s terms, an API is the bridge between one operating system and another in an intelligent building. As an example of a practical application, if you want to power a smart light fixture, the device’s API takes the signal sent by an occupancy sensor over Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) cable and translates that information into something the light will use to turn on. In essence, the API is the intelligent go-between communicator a smart, controlled environment.

CSR — The short form of “Corporate Social Responsibility.” It is an organizational framework that helps a corporation better define their efforts to be socially accountable, and a really good CSR program addresses people, planet and profits — the triple bottom line. A CSR plan (also called corporate citizenship) defines a structure for an organization to dictate their goals and how these three things interrelate to make a truly sustainable, responsible, accountable business.

CaGBC — According to its website, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) is a not-for-profit, national organization that has been working since 2002 to advance green building and sustainable community development practices in Canada. The CaGBC is the license holder for the LEED green building rating system in Canada, and it supports the WELL Building Standard and GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark) in Canada. The CaGBC is a partner of the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), which administers the LEED standard in the United States and very closely resembles the Canadian version.

DC Power — Direct current (DC) is the unidirectional flow of an electric charge, meaning that there is always a constant flow of current. Almost all devices take direct current. Whether it’s one amp, two amps or three amps, the direct positive-and-negative straight voltage and current levels can be adapted to deliver whatever a particular device needs. Though generally regarded as more dangerous than Alternating Current (AC), DC has many uses, such as in telecommunications, high-voltage power transmissions, automotive batteries and many other fuel cells.

Declare Label – Simply put, a Declare Label is a nutrition label for a building product that summarizes its compositional chemistry and ingredients. As a result, it can also confirm that a product has been verified as Red List Free. Declare was created by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) as a transparency platform and product database to educate and change the materials marketplace. It does so by allowing manufacturers to demonstrate their leadership in the marketplace, as well as by providing project teams with the sustainability product information they need for product sourcing.

Digital Electricity — Aside from AC and DC current, this is a third method for sending electricity down a cable. This new technology converts DC power into “energy packets” to safely distribute high-voltage power over long distances using network cable as opposed to electrical cable. What makes this technology safer is that it is smarter. The energy packets are being sent every few milliseconds, rather than in a constant stream, and if there is ever an interruption in the network cable or an issue at either the sending or receiving end, the flow of current immediately stops. The additional advantage of this is that it allows system designers to push power out over much longer distances without having to plan for the normal voltage drop between AC and DC – and all without having massive copper wire size to design around.

EPD – This is the abbreviation for “Environmental Product Declaration” – a report that summarizes the total life cycle impacts of a product from raw material extraction to end of life disposal (cradle to grave). The output of this report summarizes the overall environmental impacts of the total life cycle of the analyzed product.

ESG – ESG stands for “Environmental Social Governance.” It’s a newer term that has really come up in the world since the United Nations created the U.N. Global Compact and their sustainable development goals. An ESG program is, basically, an evolved framework of a corporate social responsibility program.

Embodied Carbon — Embodied carbon is a measure of the total carbon that was emitted throughout a product’s life cycle – everything from manufacturing that product and to putting it in a building.

Energy Efficiency — Simply put, this is a means of saving energy. The slightly longer version is implementing processes, procedures and systems that allow overall energy consumption to be reduced. It can also be a means of installing renewable energy sources in a building to ensure that there is greater efficiency of the building’s energy usage.

Global Warming Potential – You’ll commonly see this in its acronym form of “GWP.” Global warming potential is understood through a life cycle assessment (LCA) and can be reported in an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). This is the number included on an EPD or an LCA that tells someone what the embodied carbon of product is. So, global warming potential is the life cycle term of embodied carbon.

HPD – A Health Product Declaration is a report that summarizes the total compositional chemistry of a product and the human health hazards associated with that compositional chemistry. Human health impacts are translated through what is called the Green Screen List Translator, which is a tool that basically identifies the hazardous chemistries (LT-1) and then chemistries that are not so hazardous (LT-UNK).

High Voltage — One thing to consider when referencing high voltage is that the numerical definition depends on context. And in the context of building wiring and the safety of an electrical apparatus, IEEE (see below), anything above 600 volts is considered high voltage, anything below 300 volts is considered low voltage. Most devices, except for old incandescent light bulbs and some motors, run on low voltage. Oddly enough, high voltage is actually more efficient now because of the equipment used today versus historically.

IEEE — Pronounced as “I-triple-E,” this is the shorthand version of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing electronic and electrical engineering technology. This association is essentially responsible for Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) and anything ethernet-related. For example, Cisco switches and the protocols involved in switching the server are all dictated by IEEE.

ILFI — The International Living Future Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, WA, that created the Living Building Challenge standard, the Living Product Challenge standard and the Declare label program, amongst other green-building and green-product certifications.

IWBI — The International WELL Building Institute. It is the creator and maintainer of the WELL building standard.

Intelligent Buildings — Intelligent buildings are structures that interact with their environments completely independent of human contact, as based upon user input and settings. Once these have been set and defined, the interconnected smart devices within the building will react and interact based upon those pre-determined protocols. For example, once these actions have been predefined, if the lighting is too bright in a given room, then the window shades will change state and the smart lights will change luminosity, with the intelligent building taking those steps automatically to manage itself. The building receives the incoming data and reacts to it to change its state and conditions, thus making it intelligent.

IoT – This is the acronym for the “Internet of Things,” which is where devices have started to be connected or networked across an IP-based protocol. IoT is a general term used for all these interconnected devices, such as a phone, a camera, a fan, a sensor or a motor. Anything that can be networked can conceivably fall under the umbrella of the Internet of Things, which consists of millions and millions of devices today. Essentially, everything throughout an intelligent building that is connected via Power-over-Ethernet and PowerWise® cabling falls under the IoT umbrella.

LEED — This is the short form for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is the leading green-building standard on the market.  At its core, LEED certifies that buildings are better and more sustainable than minimum building code requirements. There are multiple levels that a building project can attain – certified, silver, gold and platinum – with platinum being the most sustainable building according to the LEED rating system.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) — A life cycle assessment is the actual study through which we understand the total environmental impacts across every stage of a product’s life cycle. An LCA scientifically answers the questions of environmental impacts at each of these phases: raw material extraction, the shipping between that to the manufacturing facility, the manufacturing operations to produce the product, the shipping to the end user, the use phase and the end of life opportunity for that product.

Life Cycle Optimization — Life cycle optimization is a review of a product’s life cycle impacts. How an organization implements changes to raw material extraction, manufacturing operations, product interactions within its use phase and its end of life can all serve to reduce the life cycle impacts of their products.

Living Building Challenge (LBC) – The Living Building Challenge is a green-building standard that defines what a truly sustainable building is and can be – not one that’s just better than building code minimums. It’s a rigorous certification that requires a building to make a positive impact on the earth, rather than just avoiding doing any harm to it.

Living Product Challenge (LPC) — Living Product Challenge certification is one of the most rigorous, environmentally focused product certifications on the market. It is a multi-attribute assessment that audits products across 20 different imperatives. It’s the same concept as a Living Building Challenge for a building, just at the product level. Having a product that is LPC certified ensures that a company has positively benefited the community through handprints. This is the idea that, rather than leaving footprints (such as a carbon footprint) on the earth, handprints are actually giving back to the world by creating a positive impact instead of just reducing a negative impact.

Low Voltage — Low voltage electrical current is considered to be anything below 300 volts, according to IEEE standards.

MaterialsCAN — The Materials Carbon Action Network is a group of companies including Armstrong Ceilings, Gensler, Interface, Kingspan Panels, Saint-Gobain, Skanska, Superior Essex and USG that have come together to educate the market on the importance of understanding embodied carbon. They also strive to influence how architects and those working in the building industry can make better decisions surrounding lower embodied carbon with the materials and products they’re sourcing for their projects, as these products inherently have a large effect on reducing a building’s total climate impact.

Operational Carbon – Operational Carbon is the carbon that would be emitted based on the energy used by the systems of a building.

PoE – This acronym stands for “Power-over-ethernet,” which is defined by IEEE as the delivery of electricity over network cabling (as opposed to electrical cabling). It is limited by wattage, with the standard breakpoints being 15W (Type 1), 30W (Type 2), 60W (Type 3) and 100W (Type 4). The greatest advantage of PoE technology is that it delivers both data and power to a remote device using only a single network cable.

Red List Free – The Red List is a collection of the 800 chemicals classed as most harmful to human health and the environment by the ILFI. For the sake of health and sustainability, these chemicals should be excluded from building projects. Being certified as Red List Free, means that a product does not contain any of the materials on the Red List.

Smart City — This is a city where all buildings are interconnected. A smart space means that an individual building (or room) is intelligent, whereas a smart city is actually implementing the infrastructure required for all those spaces to be intelligent. It also enables people, places and things outside of buildings alone to be smart and interacting with each other as well, including roads, streetlights and more – thereby creating connected clusters and communities. Traffic is the most easily understood example of this. If there are sensors that can detect heavy traffic in certain areas, then a smart city will automatically, through stoplights and rerouting, manage that flow to eliminate the congestion.

Sustainable Intelligent Spaces – Along the same lines as Sustainable Intelligent Buildings and cities, spaces within a building, or perhaps the outside extension of a building, or even your own home can also be sustainable. It is any space that includes intelligent devices related to the operation of the space itself, be it environmental controls, lighting controls, security controls and more. Each of these impact a space’s efficiency, both in terms of the energy consumption and the carbon outputs, and they can positively promote human health as well by supporting sustainable design.

USGBC — The United States Green Building Council is the creator of the standards for the LEED green-building rating system.

WELL — Surprisingly, this is actually not an acronym. It’s just the nickname for the WELL Building Standard. Ultimately, it’s a building standard that has been developed by both doctors and building practitioners to define and certify that a space is, in fact, healthier for both the human occupants and the environment.

Zero Energy — Zero Energy certification means that a building has been designed to meet zero energy consumption standards. This would be any building that does not consume any more energy than what it has produced via renewable energy sources, for example. Note that the ILFI and the USGBC both have certifications and different definitions of what is “zero energy.”

ZWTL – This acronym stands for “Zero Waste to Landfill,” indicating that a company has successfully diverted all of its waste from going to landfill by recycling and reusing those materials. To become and then be third-party certified as a truly Zero Waste facility is a rigorous process, especially for manufacturers. Since 2015, our Superior Essex plant in Hoisington, KS, has proudly sent zero waste to landfill – being the first and only company in our industry, and one of only a few across the globe, to do so.


We hope you’ve found this terminology useful in filling out your understanding of the Sustainable Intelligent Building industry. For more information about all of our company’s sustainability efforts and sustainable cabling products, visit our dedicated sustainability page at www.superioressexcommunications.com/sustainability.

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We know that not every project is the same and that not every application is an easy spec to meet. We want to talk with you to meet the need of any challenge that you have.

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