Education is central to creating lasting change in any movement. Through green chemistry education, we can catalyze technological innovations that result in less hazardous materials, products and processes in support of a sustainable, healthy society. By offering access to a broad and supportive community of chemistry experts and a flexible framework for green chemistry curriculum and training, Beyond Benign’s Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) is helping transform chemistry education in college and university chemistry departments.
Cintia Milagre is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Chemistry at University Estadual Paulista in Brazil, a GCC signer. Cintia believes finding sustainable solutions should be a commitment we all make to the planet we call home, and she advocates for sustainability both within the university and in her community.
In this Q&A, Cintia speaks with Beyond Benign about the importance of green chemistry in education and the GCC, and shares some of the impacts she’s seen this critical work have on students.
Beyond Benign (BB): Why does the Institute of Chemistry at UNESP believe teaching students green chemistry principles is important?
Cintia Milagre (CM): Training the new generation of chemists to be aware of their socio-environmental role with the planet is paramount. When we teach the principles of green chemistry to students in the early years and this knowledge is consolidated over the following years, we provide them the means and tools necessary to reinvent chemistry to meet sustainable development demands.
BB: Can you share some of the ways you’ve seen green chemistry impact students’ educational experiences and connection to chemistry?
CM: In 2021, Professor Humberto Milagre and I taught the course “Sustainable Chemistry,” where we addressed the principles of green chemistry, and the relationship between chemistry and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At the end of the course, the students were divided into small groups to present a project in which one or more principles of green chemistry could be used in the chemist routine. This experience was fantastic. We had projects that addressed greener chemical processes and reactions, projects involving experiments for undergraduate chemistry labs, and projects centered on outreach activities. Some projects focused on important incremental innovations, while others were more audacious.
During the project presentations, the discussions were vibrant. The class came up with suggestions on implementing green chemistry practices in their routine, ways to circumvent the challenges, and strategies to convince the most resistant people that green chemistry is viable.
BB: How did you see this experience translate beyond the classroom?
CM: Some students reported that they were already putting the teachings into practice in their work environments. One of the students, an intern at a chemical company, said that she presented the principles of green chemistry and proposals to implement some specific changes in the project she was working on in one of her team meetings, and that the team started to discuss how to make such changes feasible. Another student is considering organizing a new student chapter at the Institute of Chemistry, whose pillar will be Sustainable Chemistry.
BB: How do those student experiences go on to impact their future careers and the world?
CM: In addition to the excitement of all students with the green chemistry topic, we had students from the previous year planning to execute their course projects in “real life” at the beginning of 2022.
These students develop critical thinking skills on the topic of green chemistry, and the feedback from the students is very positive. I’m sure all of them are now committed to spreading and adopting the precepts of green chemistry in their daily choices.
BB: Why did The Institute of Chemistry – UNESP sign the GCC? How do you see collaboration with other GCC signers impacting your work?
CM: The Institute of Chemistry – UNESP has always been at the forefront of this area, and therefore it was natural for us to be a GCC signer. We believe it is not enough to train competent professionals with the necessary technical skills for this profession. It is also essential to train professionals aware of their socio-environmental responsibilities and provide the required means to act in their field of activity.
Education is the most efficient way to build a sustainable planet. By signing the GCC, we can move faster because more people (professors, staff, technicians, employees, students) are involved and committed to making the chemistry developed and carried out in our institute greener. For example, we included a discipline that deals with green chemistry in the mandatory curriculum for the first-year students—exchanges of experience with other GCC signers helped in this process.
The Green Chemistry Commitment is currently accepting new signers. The GCC is voluntary, flexible and progressive — in other words, departments do not have to be perfect in green chemistry implementation to sign up, they only need to commit to continual improvement. Learn more about the program and how to become a signer here.