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Ten years ago, we launched the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) — a framework to advance green chemistry in higher education. Today, more than 100 organizations from across the globe have signed the commitment, supporting a more sustainable future for us all.
As we gear up to celebrate 10 years of the GCC, we sat down with Beyond Benign Co-Founder Dr. Amy Cannon to reflect on how the GCC has grown in the last decade and look toward the future of green chemistry education.
Amy is the first person to achieve a Ph.D. in green chemistry and is a leader in advancing the field. But for Amy, advancing green chemistry is a community effort. In this conversation, Amy shares more about the beginnings of the GCC and Beyond Benign’s goals to support green chemistry in higher education.
This summer, Beyond Benign is celebrating 10 years of the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC). How are you feeling about this milestone for the green chemistry movement?
It’s a really exciting time, particularly because we’ve seen so much growth in the past couple of years. There’s still so much more to do, but there’s been a lot of momentum in academia toward greener chemistry.
Part of the goal of the GCC was to foster and support systemic change in chemistry education, and I think we are getting closer to that. It’s a super hard thing to do. But we’ve come a long way.
At the beginning of the GCC, was it difficult to find institutions willing to sign on?
When we first created the Green Chemistry Commitment, folks were really worried that it was a prescriptive approach. We had to do a lot of communication around the fact that it isn’t prescriptive. The diversity of approaches that people use to bring green chemistry to their teaching and practice is something we want to celebrate and elevate and highlight. It’s so valuable for others to recognize their own path.
Why did you decide to create a “commitment” instead of just providing institutional support?
We were trying to support the individual champions of green chemistry. Oftentimes green chemistry starts with one faculty member who’s working by themselves to bring green chemistry to what they do. We wanted to think of ways to support that one individual in bringing green chemistry to their whole department. Otherwise, when that individual leaves that institution, what’s left behind? Are we actually creating change?
When you say that the GCC is “by the community, for the community,” what does that mean in practice?
When we first had this idea, I wanted to share it with our community and get their feedback. I wanted to know if they thought it was a good idea and how they would set it up. So we created a faculty advisory board that could take the idea, break it down, and put it back together in a structured way that could work for institutions. From the beginning, we’ve really listened to the community.
Now we try to keep listening to understand what needs the signers have. What things will help support faculty to make these changes? The mini-grants we’re able to give out to signers came from listening to the community.
It seems like community and collaboration are a huge emphasis in your leadership style.
I don’t think any one person can do any of this alone. No one organization can do any of this alone. So it’s really important to find others who can lead in these spaces. I continue to work on finding new leaders that can step up, and I focus on elevating their voices. That diversity of voices is so important.
We also partner with other organizations on a regular basis, because we’re a small nonprofit. We have limited resources. We have limited bandwidth. Other organizations bring in really unique expertise that we might not have. We can complement each other and elevate our collective missions.
There are so many people working in this space that bring so much value to the equation. It doesn’t make sense to not work together.
Do you think you’ve changed as a leader over the course of time that you’ve been leading at Beyond Benign?
Probably. I definitely didn’t know what I was doing when I started. And I still feel that way in some instances. But I think admitting that you don’t know is a good skill. That’s when you need other perspectives. It’s important to ask for support and admit you don’t know it all. In my opinion, that’s one of the most valuable things that leaders can do: listen.
One of the things I’m trying to be better at is recognizing that I do have a lot of experience in this space. Traditionally I’m a little bit more passive. I’m working on realizing when I should step up and say, “We have expertise in this space. Let’s share that expertise. Let’s lead here.” Leading doesn’t mean plowing over others. It’s about coming to the table and offering that expertise.
You were the first Ph.D. in green chemistry. How have you seen the field change over time?
Originally, people had this perspective that having a green chemistry degree as opposed to just straight chemistry would somehow restrict or limit my opportunities. And I thought that was really interesting. I remember getting a question like, “Don’t you feel like getting a Ph.D. in green chemistry will limit your job opportunities?” And my answer was “Why would I ever want to work for someone if they didn’t want me to do green chemistry?”
I think that has changed a lot. I graduated with my Ph.D. in 2005, and there were a lot of misconceptions around what green chemistry was. Some people thought that it was somehow not-as-good chemistry. Now it’s been proven throughout the years that it’s actually an advantage. It can be an advantage for innovation, and it can be an advantage for job opportunities, because you bring a different skill set to the table.
What progress has Beyond Benign made toward its 25 by 25 goal?
Each year in the U.S., we graduate about 22,000 chemists. We wanted to put a stake in the ground for what we’re trying to achieve. The goal to have 25% of graduates versed in green chemistry came out of wanting to build a critical mass of institutions that are teaching green chemistry and preparing students with green chemistry skills to enter the workforce and create change.
We’re not there yet. We’re just over 10%. There’s a lot of work to do in that space. I’m not sure we’ll get there within the time frame that we’re hoping for, but I think it’s a goal that calls out this need. Chemistry as a profession is a small percentage of the general population, but it can have huge impacts. It’s central to so many of the products that we use on a daily basis. The potential impact that green chemistry training can have on the global workforce and the chemical enterprise is tremendous. I think it’s worth creating ambitious goals.
Why did Beyond Benign launch the Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Initiative?
The MSI Initiative is an intentional approach for reaching out to, engaging with, and elevating minority serving institutions in the green chemistry education community. We not only want to invite them into the community, but we want to elevate the diversity of voices within this community.
When we talk about supporting the community and supporting colleges and universities, we want to make sure that we are offering support and pathways and programming that meet the needs for the whole diverse set of institutions and people involved in academia. We know that there’s underrepresentation within the chemical sciences. We don’t want to be part of that problem. Instead, we want to help bring more institutions and people to the table.
What do the next 10 years of the GCC look like?
I hope we’ll have a good percentage of colleges and universities involved with the program. I want to continue to support change in chemistry education. We hope we can offer more mini grants to enable institutions to make these changes.
Through the launch of the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC) online platform, I think we’re going to bring even more educators into the community. We’re going to see a lot of growth, not just driven by us but driven by the community. That’s very much where this needs to go.
I do feel like we’re at a tipping point at the moment. We’re definitely seeing some good growth, and I think we have good momentum.
May 23, 2023
Ten years ago, we launched the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) — a framework to advance green chemistry in higher education. Today, more than 100 organizations from across the globe have […]
During the 2022-2023 school year, Beyond Benign launched a monthly K-12 professional development series called “Observe, Wonder, Think: A Green Chemistry Interactive Webinar Series”. This series was designed to bring the green chemistry community together to advance the field and share ideas and resources to inspire students through green chemistry.
The ongoing objective is to encourage and help educators create safer, more engaging learning environments by integrating green chemistry and sustainable science principles into their classrooms. Following NGSS best practice techniques, the webinar series supports K-12 educators in fostering the idea of “Observe, Wonder, Think!” with their students. Presenters demonstrate hands-on labs and highlight real-world green chemistry technologies. Beyond Benign hosts educational leaders who are actively practicing green chemistry in their classrooms as they walk through their favorite green chemistry labs and experiments. The series is intended to be interactive, allowing time for breakout sessions, Q&A and networking opportunities.
The inaugural webinar series saw 20 – 35 participants for each webinar, including members from the K-12 and higher education communities as well as industry professionals for a cumulative total of 274 registered attendees. 13 guest lecturers discussed no less than 7 topics, including curriculum support, social justice and cultural relevance. We had representation from 33 states and 26 countries spanning 6 continents.
Beyond Benign would like to extend our gratitude to the following “Observe, Wonder, Think” presenters from the 2022 – 2023 season. Click the links to watch a recording of each session.
- NCW/Fabulous Fabrics
- Annette Sebuyira, Certified Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign
- Sustainability in Elementary Education//Plate to Planet
- Veronica Weeks, Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, Bretton Woods Elementary
- Bob Baldo, Certified Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign
- Laura Kliman, Director, New Product Development, Impossible Foods
- Culturally Relevant Teaching in Chemistry
- Raksmey Derival, Certified Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, Innovation Academy
- Dr. Rasheda Likely, Kennesaw State University
- Understanding Hazards with Students
- Nina Meltzer, Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, Quincey High School
- Stefanie Loomis, Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, Catskill Sr. High School
- Aligning your practice with Green Chemistry
- Ken Hoffman, Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign
- Scott Carlson, Certified Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, W.H. Maxwell H.S.
- Sustainable Invention
- Greg Sloan, Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, Woodrow Wilson M.S.
- Erin Mayer, Lead Teacher, Beyond Benign, Casey M.S.
- Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community
- Jonathon Moir, Project Manager, GCTLC, Beyond Benign
Please plan to join us in the fall as we continue the “Observe, Wonder, Think” webinar series next school year. Sign up for emails to be the first to know when registration opens.
May 18, 2023
During the 2022-2023 school year, Beyond Benign launched a monthly K-12 professional development series called “Observe, Wonder, Think: A Green Chemistry Interactive Webinar Series”. This series was designed to bring […]
At the 2023 Bioneers Conference, Beyond Benign Co-Founder John Warner discussed the materials metabolism.
For materials from nature to become human-designed products, they have to undergo multiple transformations in processes of assembly and disassembly. Atoms combine to make molecules; molecules combine to make materials; and we humans assemble and disassemble nature’s products to form molecules and materials that we then recombine to create our artifacts and products, but, unfortunately, most of what we produce is fundamentally unsustainable and dangerously incompatible with living systems. However, one of the founding progenitors of the entire field of “green chemistry,” John Warner explains that by using the principles and practices of the discipline he helped birth, we can embrace and emulate nature’s “materials metabolism” to create the products we need without endangering the web of life. By reimagining how we design and build, we can create a new materials economy that is truly in harmony with nature.
April 21, 2023
At the 2023 Bioneers Conference, Beyond Benign Co-Founder John Warner discussed the materials metabolism. For materials from nature to become human-designed products, they have to undergo multiple transformations in processes […]
Categories: Green Chemistry Education
At the Green Chemistry and Catalysis Group of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Prof. Francesca Kerton and Olivia Wyper are looking at the use of algae in a wide range of applications. Olivia began her master’s program by collaborating with 7 Fathoms, a skincare company based in Grates Cove, Newfoundland, Canada. 7 Fathoms wanted to know if their locally grown seaweed and their proprietary seaweed extract had higher concentrations of biologically active compounds than other sources. More specifically, they wanted to determine how much fucoidan, a polysaccharide with a range of beneficial properties (anti-bacterial, anti-coagulant, and anti-inflammatory), is present in their seaweed. By using a range of mass spectrometry methods, Olivia and Prof. Kerton were able to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and level of sulfation of the fucoidan in their extract.
After moving into the Ph.D. program last September, Olivia’s research has moved toward using algae as a renewable energy source, which is in collaboration with the Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland. This work will look at pre-treatment options for seaweeds to optimize bioethanol and biohydrogen yields. Both of these projects are being actively worked on.
“As we continue to promote renewable materials such as algae, we become closer to eliminating the dependence we currently have on fossil fuels.” By using seaweed instead for energy applications, Olivia and Prof. Kerton are able to adhere to multiple of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 1 – No Poverty, SDG 2 – Zero Hunger, SDG 7- Affordable and Clean Energy), along with promoting the use of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry (Prevention, Design for Energy Efficiency, Use of Renewable Feedstocks). Along with using seaweed for biohydrogen production, there are many other applications for this material, such as waste-water treatment, degradable and functional plastics, and nutrition.
According to Olivia, she is “continuously grateful for the opportunities that she’s able to access through working on seaweed, such as presenting her research at the Global Conversation on Sustainability and Scientific Endeavours in Academia conference this year.”
Olivia Wyper is currently a Ph.D. student in the Green Chemistry and Catalysis Group at Memorial University of Newfoundland under the supervision of Prof. Francesca Kerton. She completed her B.Sc (Hons) with Prof. Kerton in the area of renewable catalysts, which led to her interest in green chemistry. Currently, Olivia is looking at Newfoundland seaweed, Laminaria digitata, in dermatological and biorefinery applications. Since the start of her graduate studies, she has been heavily involved in outreach, such as organizing the Global Womens Breakfast in 2022 and 2023, an event organized by IUPAC. Previously, she gave a talk at the Global Conversation on Sustainability and has been involved with Science Rendezvous, an organization that aims to strengthen science knowledge in youth.
Francesca Kerton is a professor of Chemistry at Memorial University of Newfoundland and has a global reputation for her innovative research on sustainable chemistry related to the oceans. She is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Chemistry and is a member of many scientific panels and committees worldwide. She currently chairs IUPAC’s standing committee on Chemical Research Applied to World Needs (CHEMRAWN) and is chair of the 27th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, which will be held in June 2023. She is an Advisory Board member for Reaction Chemistry & Engineering and an Associate Editor for RSC Sustainability. She will chair the 2027 IUPAC World Chemistry Congress and General Assembly, which will be held in Montreal, Canada.
She obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Sussex and was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of British Columbia. In addition to authoring over 70 journal articles, she has contributed several books and book chapters on aspects of green chemistry including “Alternative Solvents for Green Chemistry”. Her current research group is focused on developing environmentally friendly ways to process bio-sourced molecules and materials, catalysis and sustainable polymers. She also performs research in the area of carbon dioxide utilization and is part of an NSERC-funded training network “Centre for Innovation and Research on Carbon Dioxide Utilization in Industrial Technologies.” She received the 2019 Canadian Green Chemistry and Engineering Award and the 2023 SCI-Canada Kalev Pugi Award for exceptional achievements in research and development.
April 14, 2023At the Green Chemistry and Catalysis Group of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Prof. Francesca Kerton and Olivia Wyper are looking at the use of algae in a wide range of [...]
MilliporeSigma Announces Expanded Partnership with Beyond Benign to Increase Global Access to Green Chemistry Education
- Helps grow Beyond Benign’s flagship programs to 175 institutions and 4,000 faculty members globally, reaching one million students annually
- Partnership to support Beyond Benign’s online learning platform and higher education program
Burlington, Massachusetts, March 27, 2023 – MilliporeSigma, the U.S. and Canada Life Science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leading science and technology company, has entered an expanded partnership with global green chemistry education nonprofit Beyond Benign. With plans for a multi-year contribution to the organization, MilliporeSigma is helping transform chemistry education to better prepare next generation scientists with skills to address sustainability through chemistry. It is the largest funded partnership made under the company’s Employee & Community Engagement program.
“We share Beyond Benign’s passion and commitment to making green chemistry an integral part of chemistry education,” said Meeta Gulyani, Head of Strategy, Business Development and Sustainability for the Life Science business sector of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. “This partnership underscores our common goal to increase global access to science and science education while reducing environmental impact.”
Together, MilliporeSigma and Beyond Benign will provide expanded access to resources and support needed to apply greener practices in chemistry education. This is key to reducing environmental and human health impact while simultaneously accelerating sustainable science. MilliporeSigma’s contribution will enhance capacity for Beyond Benign’s Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC) online platform and expand global access to resources and trainings for more than 4,000 faculty members worldwide.1 It also advances Beyond Benign’s goal of providing 25 percent of the 22,000 graduating chemists annually in the U.S.2 with green chemistry knowledge by 2025.
“In many countries, sustainability is not considered a core concept in undergraduate and graduate chemistry education,” said Dr. Amy Cannon, Co-founder and Executive Director, Beyond Benign. “MilliporeSigma’s support allows us to impact higher education systems worldwide, helping educators to upskill future generations to make more sustainable choices that improve human health and the environment through the reduction or elimination of hazardous substances.”
MilliporeSigma’s partnership with Beyond Benign also supports the goal of its parent company—Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany—to achieve human progress for more than one billion people through sustainable science and technology by 2030.
Chemistry educators interested in signing Beyond Benign’s Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) program can do so by visiting Beyond Benign’s GCC webpage, or by contacting Dr. Natalie O’Neil, Beyond Benign’s Director of Higher Education, at Natalie_ONeil@beyondbenign.org for any questions.
- The GCTLC online platform is being developed and launched in partnership with the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI).
- Chemistry | Data USA. (n.d.). Datausa.io. Retrieved from: https://datausa.io/profile/cip/chemistry
About the Life Science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
The Life Science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, which operates as MilliporeSigma in the U.S. and Canada, has more than 28,000 employees and more than 55 total manufacturing and testing sites worldwide, with a portfolio of more than 300,000 products focused on scientific discovery, biomanufacturing and testing services. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a leading science and technology company, operates across healthcare, life science and electronics.
More than 64,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From providing products and services that accelerate drug development and manufacturing as well as discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2022, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, generated sales of € 22.2 billion in 66 countries.
The company holds the global rights to the name and trademark “Merck” internationally. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, operate as MilliporeSigma in life science, EMD Serono in healthcare and EMD Electronics in electronics. Since its founding in 1668, scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to the company’s technological and scientific advances. To this day, the founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company. For more information about Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, visit www.emdgroup.com.
All Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany news releases are distributed by email at the same time they become available on the EMD Group website. In case you are a resident of the U.S. or Canada please go to www.emdgroup.com/subscribehttp://www.emdgroup.com/subscribeto register again for your online subscription of this service as our newly introduced geo-targeting requires new links in the email. You may later change your selection or discontinue this service.
About Beyond Benign
Beyond Benign, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, envisions a world where the chemical building blocks of products used every day are healthy and safe for humans and the environment. Beyond Benign’s mission is to foster a green chemistry community that empowers educators to transform chemistry education for a sustainable future. Beyond Benign is working to equip educators from K-20 with the ability to teach chemistry and STEM through a lens of sustainability grounded in the 12 principles of green chemistry. By providing educators with tools, training and a peer support network, educators are equipped to train the next generation of scientists and citizens with the skills and knowledge to create and choose products that are safe for human health and the environment.
Co-founded in 2007 by Dr. John Warner, the co-founder of the field of green chemistry, and Dr. Amy Cannon, who holds the world’s first Ph.D. in Green Chemistry, Beyond Benign has an extensive history of service. Over the past 15 year, Beyond Benign has trained over 6,500 K-12 teachers in sustainable science and green chemistry, designed over 200 open-access lessons, reached over 35,000 youth and community members through outreach, & partnered with over 110 universities to transform chemistry education. Together we can catalyze the development of green technological innovations that result in safer products and processes in support of a sustainable, healthy society.
MilliporeSigma Announces Expanded Partnership with Beyond Benign to Increase Global Access to Green Chemistry Education
March 27, 2023
MilliporeSigma Announces Expanded Partnership with Beyond Benign to Increase Global Access to Green Chemistry Education Helps grow Beyond Benign’s flagship programs to 175 institutions and 4,000 faculty members globally, reaching […]
By Beyond Benign Co-Founder Dr. Amy Cannon
Over the past year, we teamed up with the UMass Lowell Center for Sustainable Production to form an Expert Committee on Sustainable Chemistry (ECOSChem), a group of 20 leading representatives from industry, government, academic, and non-profit organizations from across the world, to develop an actionable definition and criteria for “sustainable chemistry.” This definition and criteria are to help inform policymakers, industry researchers, educators and so many others in building a more sustainable future through chemistry.
The term “sustainable chemistry” is often used in conjunction with “green chemistry.” Many organizations have looked to better define the term to unify those working toward a more sustainable chemical enterprise. We got involved with this project to understand better how to communicate the central role that green chemistry plays in achieving a sustainable chemical enterprise – and, ultimately, how the sometimes “competing” approaches complement each other or, at times, are different.
Green chemistry is a central tool chemists (molecular designers) use to address sustainability through our trade. We use the foundational 12 principles of green chemistry as those guidelines – and these principles are meant to work together as a collective to provide a more holistic understanding of how we approach molecular design and challenge us to consider the best approaches. Even though we use the principles of green chemistry as the foundation for our work in green chemistry – we recognize that there is a diverse and rich history of approaches that others have taken to all move towards the same direction – toward creating more sustainable, greener, safer chemical products for our global society. We also recognize that it’s not only chemists that need to get involved in realizing this vision – it’s also policymakers, businesses, investors, and activists. Therefore, it’s important to communicate the work we do as chemists and chemistry educators and work with those central and peripheral to the field to advocate for and ultimately implement these greener practices.
Whether your personal or organizational approach comes from green chemistry, environmental chemistry, or sustainable chemistry, we are all working toward one goal and having one end in mind: having a society where the molecular building blocks of the products we use every day are healthy and safe for humans and the environment, regardless of industry sector, and with equity and justice embedded in how we create and use these chemicals. We hope the definition is useful to guide those working within or around the chemical enterprise to work together and advance the many goals required to achieve healthy, just and safe chemical products.
March 21, 2023By Beyond Benign Co-Founder Dr. Amy Cannon Over the past year, we teamed up with the UMass Lowell Center for Sustainable Production to form an Expert Committee on Sustainable Chemistry [...]
An interview with Jane Wissinger
In 2013, Beyond Benign created the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) program with guidance from higher education institutions as a framework to unite the global Green Chemistry community. The GCC goal is to infuse Green Chemistry into Higher Education and give scientists the required skills to design processes and products less hazardous to human health and the environment.
Beyond Benign has partnered with companies including Dow, MilliporeSigma, and Biogen to further its mission to empower educators to transform chemistry education for a sustainable future. Support from these partners has allowed Beyond Benign tocreate resources, foster relationships, and provide essential funding to educators, all in an effort to grow and strengthen the Green Chemistry education community.
The University of Minnesota (UMN) is a Dow academic partner and founding GCC signer. Discover the university’s story in our interview with Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor, Jane Wissinger.
How has being part of the GCC impacted your institution and you as a faculty member?
Since signing the GCC in 2013, many new and diverse initiatives evolved through the support and resources provided through this program. Green chemistry was already incorporated in the organic laboratory course, but the GCC sparked interest in developing a dedicated green chemistry upper division lecture course. This course has been taught by five different faculty instructors, each with their own influences and research connections, expanding the breadth and diversity in green chemistry and engineering concepts for our students.
Being part of the GCC encouraged the addition of toxicology into the course and fostered collaborations with departments such as the MN School of Public Health as well as state agencies such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Personally, these interactions opened opportunities of learning and examples of new curriculum content to continue improving upon my own courses as well as disseminating ideas to other instructors for their courses.
What student outcomes have you observed since instituting Green Chemistry practices and principles?
Student outcomes are evident at both the undergraduate and graduate student levels. At the undergraduate level, students who were introduced to green chemistry were increasingly interested in research opportunities where they could apply the principles. In the last three years, the ACS MN student chapter made a concerted effort to increase green chemistry programming and won a Green Chemistry Chapter award in 2022.
At the graduate student level, two major efforts have emerged. One involves our department’s Joint Safety Team (JST) that promotes reducing risk through substitution or elimination of the hazards when possible and provides resources through their website. Second, is a new committee called the Sustainable and Green Chemistry committee that is comprised of graduate students, staff, postdocs, undergraduates, and faculty all working together to build a culture of sustainability and green chemistry in the department. The graduate students, in particular, are working to improve sustainability practices in the research laboratories.
How do you envision the GCC community supporting the future green chemistry goals of your institution and training of your students?
I believe it is important that students at all levels see evidence that their academic training will be relevant to their future careers, and that their careers will have an impact on society. This applies to both academic and industrial positions. The fact that companies such as DOW are backing this initiative is of HUGE consequence and illustrative of the fact that green and sustainable chemistry is increasingly valued by the entire chemical enterprise; not just educators.
I envision the GCC continuing to provide a strong community of educators with resources and opportunities to build bridges between student training and industrial partners. This will enable chemistry students to see themselves in a career that can have a profound impact for the future.
March 21, 2023An interview with Jane Wissinger In 2013, Beyond Benign created the Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) program with guidance from higher education institutions as a framework to unite the global Green [...]
Since 1990, the nonprofit organization Bioneers has been uplifting the voices of movement leaders throughout the world. These innovators have changed the world in diverse realms, from women’s leadership and indigenous rights to nature conservation and health justice. As a leading voice in Green Chemistry, Beyond Benign’s John Warner has spoken at Bioneers’ annual conference in the past, and he’ll keynote at Bioneers’ 2023 Conference in April.
Bioneers is eager to share innovative environmental education concepts with its forward-thinking audience. Recently, Beyond Benign Co-Founder Dr. Amy Cannon met with Bioneers to discuss the organization’s progress and plans for the coming years.
Bioneers: Tell us a little bit about the beginnings of Beyond Benign.
Amy: Beyond Benign was founded in 2007 at a time when green chemistry was not widely accepted in chemistry education and research. It was an exception, rather than the rule. Having spent time in both industry and academia, my co-founder, John Warner, and I had a unique perspective on the state of the chemical enterprise. We saw an opportunity to address a clear gap in how educational institutions teach and train chemists: arming them with the knowledge and skills needed to address hazards and environmental impacts through the practice of their trade.
The field of chemistry has a history of contributing to environmental impacts and human hazards. But it also has a central role in addressing these impacts through how we use and approach the design and implementation of chemicals and chemical products. This duality can be confusing but also empowering for chemists.
As a fundamental science, chemistry has tremendous power to address sustainability at the molecular level. This is something that needs to be included in the teaching and training of chemistry, which is why it’s the main focus of Beyond Benign: empowering educators to bring green chemistry into their teaching and practice to better train chemists with green chemistry skills.
Bioneers: Have you seen chemistry education morph throughout the past 10 years?
Amy: Yes, there has been a growing awareness of green chemistry and an expansion in the implementation of green chemistry in chemistry education. Although we would have liked to have seen more progress in the past 10 years, green chemistry is generally much more accepted by the academic community. For example, of the higher ed institutions that are involved with our Green Chemistry Commitment program, more than 75% have enacted significant changes at their institutions.
While I do think we have had a part to play in the changes over the years, I think that one of the biggest motivators is seeing the results of green chemistry in practice. When chemists can see real results from implementing greener chemistry in the design and use of chemical products, they can see the tremendous power of chemistry to address sustainability challenges.
Bioneers: Beyond Benign is challenging educators and educational institutions to change and grow. How has that challenge been received?
Amy: Generally, educators are up for the challenge and see the value of bringing green chemistry into their teaching and practice. The pushback has mostly been from the barriers that come from enacting any type of curricular changes. When educators look to make changes to their curriculum, they are faced with resource constraints, and they also might see some resistance from peers or administrators, usually arising from misconceptions about green chemistry. Once educators and administrators see the benefits of including green chemistry in their teaching and practice – hazard reductions, cost savings, increased student interest – they then seek to do even more.
At Beyond Benign, we work to help educators overcome the real and perceived obstacles that go hand-in-hand with curricular changes. We provide resources, funding, and peer support that empowers educators to incorporate green chemistry in a way that works for their courses and institutions.
Bioneers: Why is working with chemical industry leaders such an important part of what Beyond Benign does?
Amy: The goal of green chemistry is to become the way that chemistry is practiced. Therefore, the chemical industry needs to have a key role in implementing and inventing greener processes and products and also advocating for and hiring a workforce that has the skills to implement these practices. The chemical industry creates the molecular building blocks of our global society. When green chemistry is implemented in the manufacturing and design of chemical products, the impacts are tremendous. For example, in an industrial setting, one chemical industry saw a 97% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions after switching to a biobased solvent in one of its manufacturing processes.
However, it isn’t only chemical companies that can address sustainability goals by utilizing green chemistry. Companies across sectors are seeing the advantages of utilizing green chemistry for safer, healthier products. We’ve seen job postings from companies including Apple, Microsoft, Lululemon, and Pfizer, all looking for scientists with green chemistry knowledge and skills.
Bioneers: Which projects or initiatives are you most excited about looking ahead to the next few years?
Amy: Over the past few years, we have been working on expanding our reach to foster a global, diverse community of green chemistry educators and leaders. To support this community, we have embarked on creating a web-based platform that will house community green chemistry education resources, and also include interactive components that support networking, mentoring, and peer-to-peer interactions. The Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC) is anticipated to launch in August of this year, and we are really looking forward to launching the platform in partnership with the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute. We are hopeful that this platform will further catalyze the implementation of green chemistry globally.
Bioneers: What gives you hope in the work you’re doing?
Amy: I have met numerous students over the years who have brought such passion into their work. Many of them have also led initiatives to bring green chemistry to their departments and their communities. One example is the University of Toronto’s student-led group called the Green Chemistry Initiative. Over the years, they have built awareness within their own department and also served as inspiration for other institutions and student groups to get involved with green chemistry. It is these current and future leaders that will bring change to the chemical enterprise. Students are tremendously powerful change agents.
A version of this article was originally posted on the Bioneers website.
March 8, 2023Since 1990, the nonprofit organization Bioneers has been uplifting the voices of movement leaders throughout the world. These innovators have changed the world in diverse realms, from women’s leadership and [...]
Categories: Green Chemistry Education
February 27, 2022 – Lowell, MA
Toxic chemicals – which pop up in everything from household cleaners and appliances to medical devices, paints, packaging and more – are all around. The February 2023 Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio is just the latest illustration of the pressing need to develop safer chemicals for our use.
Uniform guidelines on how to create and advance the use of sustainable chemicals, however, do not yet exist.
Aiming to answer that need and improve human and environmental health, an international group of experts in the field, co-led by University of Massachusetts Lowell, has developed new criteria to define sustainable chemistry. The project, to be showcased during a webinar at 11 a.m. EST Wednesday, March 1, lays the groundwork for government, industry, academia and business leaders to enact and support effective policies guiding the manufacture, distribution and use of products derived from environmentally sound chemicals.
UMass Lowell public health Professor Joel Tickner, director of the university’s Sustainable Chemistry Catalyst group within the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, co-directed the project with Beyond Benign founder and Executive Director Amy Cannon. The committee’s work aims to support the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, tasked with developing a consensus definition of sustainable chemistry as a first step toward implementing the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act, part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
“UMass Lowell and Beyond Benign leveraged the trusted relationships and broad networks built across academia, industry, government and the nonprofit communities during the past 20 years to establish a definition of sustainable chemistry and set transparent, measurable criteria that can affect bold change in policy – particularly with respect to research funding – and regulation, investment and business decisions,” Tickner said.
Known as the Expert Committee on Sustainable Chemistry (ECOSChem), the group of 20 scientists and other professionals, who met throughout 2022, crafted a consensus statement calling sustainable chemistry “the development and application of chemicals, chemical processes, and products that benefit current and future generations without harmful impacts to humans or ecosystems.”
The committee asserts sustainable chemistry is achieved when the development of chemicals, materials, processes, products and services successfully addresses five criteria:
- Equity and justice
- Health and safety impacts
- Climate and ecosystem impacts
- Circularity, or the ability to be recycled and reused.
The group’s robust definition for sustainable chemistry seeks to eliminate confusion and potentially regrettable trade-offs. For example, today, without a uniformly applied definition, a product may be called sustainable for its use of renewable energy or feedstocks but may be toxic to workers, consumers or communities. The group’s full report can be accessed here.
“The definition and criteria provide a roadmap for training the next generation of chemists, engineers and materials scientists to create products that benefit society, while minimizing impacts to current and future generations,” said Cannon, the first person in the world to be awarded a doctoral degree in green chemistry.
Members of the public may learn more about the committee, its process and the future of the project during the webinar “Defining Sustainable Chemistry.” Individuals registering to attend will be provided with credentials to join the online session.
Along with Tickner and Cannon, other members of the committee expected to participate include:
- Ryan Bouldin, associate professor of sustainable chemistry, Bentley University, Waltham, Massachusetts, U.S.
- Alexandra Caterbow, co-director, Health and Environmental Justice Support, Dachau, Bavaria, Germany
- Saskia van Bergen, safer chemist lead, Washington State Department of Ecology, Lacey, Washington, U.S.
- Cecilia Wandiga, executive director, Centre for Science and Technology Innovations, Nairobi, Kenya
- Martin Wolf, director of sustainability and authenticity, Seventh Generation, Burlington, Vermont, U.S.
February 27, 2023
February 27, 2022 – Lowell, MA Toxic chemicals – which pop up in everything from household cleaners and appliances to medical devices, paints, packaging and more – are all around. […]