By John C. Warner, Director, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Green Chemistry
Green Chemistry has been around for nearly 15 years now. In the early 1990’s a group of scientists at the EPA, championed by Paul Anastas, put forth a bold new approach to pollution prevention. The general recognition was that, while various laws and regulations were serving the public to
protect human health and the environment, there was not a lot known or
understood about the “science” of pollution prevention from the
perspective of design. It was observed that many technologies were
being developed and applied to protect the environment by controlling
the exposure of hazardous materials.
Up until this time however, the unspoken assumption was that chemistry HAD to necessarily be hazardous and dangerous, and the only way to accomplish pollution prevention was to incorporate procedures to trap and contain these hazardous and dangerous chemicals. Back when I was an 18 year old undergraduate student considering various career choices, I once asked a chemistry professor “Is chemistry dangerous? If I go into the field of chemistry, will I be placing myself at risk?” I remember their answer crystal clear 26 years later: “Yes, and if you are asking yourself questions like that, perhaps you should choose a different career.”
The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry:
Green chemistry challenges this basic assumption. Green chemistry suggests that materials CAN be made that are inherently safe and non-toxic.
Green Chemistry looks at the risk equation [Risk = Hazard x Exposure]
and identifies the design chemists as taking a primary role in
pollution prevention by designing materials that are benign in the
first place, thus reducing or eliminating the need for exposure
controls. For sure, it is not going be easy. But once recognized as in
fact possible, the unleashed creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of
chemists and materials scientists can certainly accomplish this task.
The 12 principles of green chemistry were written as a set of
guidelines for molecular designers. Consideration of these principles
during the design stage of the innovative process allows chemists to
anticipate down stream, “real world” implications of their choices.
Scientists in industry and academia working in the field of green chemistry have risen to the challenge of designing safer products and materials. Early on, industry recognized the enormous financial benefits to adopting green chemistry technologies. A quick and naïve glance at green chemistry technologies might make this seem surprising [we have been somewhat conditioned in our society to equate pollution prevention with added expense]. But when one considers all of the tangential costs
associated with dealing with hazardous materials, it becomes
immediately obvious that the benefits are quite real and tangible.
Using hazardous materials has a cost impact on:
Worker Health and Safety
New Employee Recruitment
The US Environmental Protection Agency has administered a recognition program for the past 11 years called “The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge”. This program celebrates technologies from corporations and individuals that demonstrate the integration of green chemistry into market savvy products. As of this writing there have been over 55 awards given out. The reader is directed to the website of the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute to learn of these technologies.
The question that must be asked then is: “What is taking so long?” If the
demand from consumers and regulatory agencies is increasing at a steady
pace, why are technological developments not keeping pace? The answer to this question in part, is somewhat simple and shocking. Most
scientists are not trained to make nontoxic and environmentally benign
products. PhD Programs around the country [and the world] in chemistry
and the materials sciences are for the most part void of any training
in toxicology or mechanisms or environmental harm. To be sure, there
are subdisciplines within the sciences where students are trained to
assess and measure impacts of hazardous materials on human health and
the environment. But these students go on to careers in environmental
protection, and health and safety operations and are ultimately
responsible for dealing with and containing hazardous materials after
they become present. Green Chemistry focuses on training the actual
molecular designers, who have an opportunity to avoid creating the
hazardous materials in the first place. We have a long way to go; there
are a lot of inventions that are going to be necessary for us to get to
a truly sustainable world. But we have to start somewhere.
Emerson said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. I think we are in this type of a situation. For both ethical and economic reasons, nontoxic and environmentally benign products are clearly preferable. Society is demanding safer products. Industry wants to make safer products. Students passionately want to learn how to
design safer products. We just need to equip these students with the
skills they need, stand back and let them invent a sustainable world.
Green Chemistry Textbooks:
Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, by Paul Anastas and John Warner, 1998, Oxford University Press
Introduction to Green Chemistry, by Albert Matlack, 2001, CRC Press.
Green Chemistry: A Teaching Resource, by Dorothy Warren, 2002, Royal Society.
Ionic Liquids: Industrial Applications for Green Chemistry, by R. Rogers and K. Seddon, 2002, ACS Books.
Green Chemistry: An Introductory, Text by Mike Lancaster, 2002, Springer-Verlag
Handbook of Green Chemistry and Technology, by James Clark and Duncan Macquarrie, 2002, Blackwell.
Agricultural Applications in Green Chemistry, by William Nelson, 2005, ACS Books.
Green Organic Chemistry, by Ken Doxsee and James Hutchison, 2003, Brooks/Cole
Green Reaction Media in Organic Synthesis, by Mikami Koichi and Giuseppe Bertola, 2005, Blackwell.
Green Chemistry, by Pietro Tundo et al., 2007, John Wiley
Representative examples of international Green Chemistry organizations:
American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute
Royal Society’s Green Chemistry Network
Australia’s Centre for Green Chemistry
Canadian Green Chemistry Network
Italy’s Interuniversity Consortium
India’s Green Chemistry
Legislative Actions in Green Chemistry
HR 1215: Green Chemistry Bill
Michigan Executive Directive 2006-06
Representative Stories of Green Chemistry and Economic Benefits in the Press
“Green Chemistry Takes Root” USA Today
“Making it Easier to BE Green” Boston Globe
“Chemistry Goes Green” E.Journal.Com
“The Right Chemistry” American Prospect
“Green Chemistry: Back To The Future” CBS News, Christian Science Monitor
“Green Chemistry Hitting the Market” NPR’s Marketplace
Radio Shows on Green Chemistry
2006_09_19 Open Source with Christopher Lydon, “Green Chemistry”
2006_10_27 Environmental News with Meghna Chakrabarti, “Bay State Seeds Green Chemistry”
2007_02_06 Corporate Watchdog – Sanford Lewis, “The Promise of Green Chemistry”