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.