Green Chemistry: Changing An Industry

Jeremy Faludi in WorldChanging:

You can’t do green design without green materials, and material innovations tend to come from chemists. Chemists also produce many products in their own right: paints, adhesives, cleaning products, whole industries. So what are chemists doing to save the world?


For a less technical introduction, they have a web page listing their Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry:

1. Prevent waste
2. Design safer chemicals and products
3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses
4. Use renewable feedstocks
5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents
6. Avoid chemical derivatives
7. Maximize atom economy
8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions:
9. Increase energy efficiency
10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use
11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution
12. Minimize the potential for accidents

Most of these principles are aimed at being less bad. Michael Braungart argues convincingly that we need to shoot higher than that, we need to aim to be good. Zero is not a positive outcome. But some of them are positive goals, and for those that aren’t, even if less-bad is as good as we can do for now, we need to keep a longer-term positive goal in mind.


One thought on “Green Chemistry: Changing An Industry

  1. I’d go further and argue that chemistry is a science which fundamentally underpins our consumer society. Chemistry has a role in virtually everything that we make and use. Not just the products that we identify with the chemical industry – paints, adhesives and cleaning products etc, but everything else as well, as all industries utilise energy and materials that stem from chemical manufacturing, and employ chemical processes in the generation of goods.

    The principles of green chemistry listed above originate from the USEPA website. They are a simplified version of the original principles, by Paul Anastas and John Warner, which you can see here:

    These principles are designed to influence the practice of chemistry by incorporating basic environmental and toxicological considerations at the design stage of chemical innovation. Something which the chemical industry has, until recently, had paid little regard, so the introduction of green chemistry has been a very positive one.

    Stating that these principles are merely aimed at being “less bad” and that we should “aim to be good”, is an over simplification and kind of misses the point. Perhaps this is influenced by a degree of cynicism – the phrase ‘green chemistry’ is being tossed around for various reasons, and many have claimed that it is just the lastest ‘greenwash’ or PR tool used by industry to make spurious claims. There is possibly an element of truth in this, but actual green chemistry as practiced by actual green chemists is quietly generating remarkable and very positive results.

    The principles of green chemistry simply provide some guidelines for practical work in the laboratory. They are not always easy to adhere to, and people tend to follow the older, established methods which are often quite inefficient and polluting. However the basic idea of Green Chemistry is to strive for the ideal of hazard free, waste free and energy efficient chemistry. It’s up to the scientist to take these ideas on board and to make this this happen.

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