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St. Philip's College
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Sustainability Dictionary


Small particles or liquid droplets in the atmosphere that can absorb or reflect sunlight depending on their composition.


The adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment.

Alternative Energy

Energy derived from nontraditional sources (e.g. the sun, wind, tides, rivers).

Alternative Transportation

Transportation strategies that differ from single-passenger vehicle driving.

Air Quality

Indicates the degree to which indoor to outdoor ambient air is pollution-free, measured by pollution indicators.


A characteristic meaning produced by people or resulting from human activities, Often used in the context of emissions that are produced as a result of human activities.


The gaseous envelope surrounding the Earth. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen (78.1% volume mixing ratio) and oxygen (20.9% volume mixing ratio), together with a number of trace gases, such as argon(0.93% volume mixing ratio), helium, radiactively active greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (0.035% volume mixing ratio), and ozone. In addition that atmosphere contains water vapor, whose amount is highly variable but typically 1% volume mixing ratio. The atmosphere also contains clouds and aerosols.

Carbon Dioxide Equivalent

A metric measure used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases based upon their GWP (global warming potential). Carbon dioxide equivalents are commonly expressed as "million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2Eq)." The carbon dioxide equivalent for a gas is derived by multiplying the tons of the gas by the associated GWP.

Carbon Footprint

The total amount greenhouse gases, measured as carbon dioxide equivalent, that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by a person, family, building, organization, or company. A person's carbon footprint includes greenhouse gas emissions from fuel that an individual burns directly, such as by heating a home or driving a car. It also includes greenhouse gases that come from producing the goods or services that the individual uses, including emissions from power plants that make electricity, factories that make products, and landfills where trash is sent.

Climate Change

Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate, which last for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among others, that occur over several decades or longer.

Climate Feedback

A process that acts to amplify or reduce direct warming or cooling effects.


Decayed organic material (leaves, grass, food waste, etc.) used as a plant fertilizer.


Protection and preservation of the natural environment, ecosystems, vegetation, wildlife, and resources.


The unwanted pollution of something by another substance.


A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.


Using less resources to provide the same service.


The release of a substance into the environment. Examples include greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and chemicals into waterways.


The description of a species seriously at risk of extinction.


A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency. Learn more about ENERGY STAR.


The natural world in which people, animals, and plants live and operate.


Description of a species that no longer exists in living form.

Fossil Fuel

A general term for organic materials formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth's crust over hundreds of million of years.

Global Warming

The recent and ongoing global average increase in temperature near the Earth's surface.

Global Warming Potential

An index value that indicates the overall, integrated climate impacts of a specific action or greenhouse gas.

Greenhouse Effect

Trapping and build-up of heat in the atmosphere (troposphere) near the Earths surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from Earth's surface is absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the atmosphere and then reradiated back toward the Earths surface. If the atmospheric concentrations of these greenhouse gases rise, the average temperature of the lower atmosphere will gradually increase. See greenhouse gas, anthropogenic, climate, global warming.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG)

Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride.

LED (Light-Emitting Diode)

A lighting device that emits visible light when an electric current passes through it. It is currently the most efficient commercial light bulb on the market.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

A certification and rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED Certification indicate that a building has achieved a certain level of sustainability through its design, operations, or both.


Human intervention to reduce the human impact on the climate system; it includes strategies to reduce greenhouse gas sources and emissions, and enhancing greenhouse gas sinks.


The status of an area which has worse air quality than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, as defined by the Clean Air Act of 1970.


A descriptor which indicates whether something is composed or derived from living matter, or the key nutrient of living matter (carbon). Also used to describe food or farming methods which do not involve the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.


The contamination of air, water, or soil by substances that are harmful to living organisms.


To collect and reprocess waste to create a new product with the same source material. An example is collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products.

Renewable Energy

Energy resources that are naturally replenishing such as biomass, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, ocean thermal, wave action, and tidal action.


A capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment.


The stock of materials and supplies the natural environment provides, which can be used by humans and living organisms to survive and improve quality of life.


The action using something again, or re-purposing a waste product for a different reuse, without significant reprocessing.

Solid Waste

Solid or semisolid, nonsoluable material such as garbage, refuse, sludge, and discarded materials from industrial, commercial, mining and agricultural operations.


The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.


Atmospheric condition at any given time or place. It is measured in terms of such things as wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation. In most places, weather can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the "average weather", or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system. A simple way of remembering the difference is that climate is what you expect (e.g. cold winters) and "weather' is what you get (e.g. a blizzard). See climate.