What does it mean to build—and exist in—a global community, despite thousands of miles and hours of time difference?
As our global green chemistry community continues to grow, we at Beyond Benign find ourselves asking these two critical questions time and time again. This is why you may have seen us– virtually or in person– at any one of the many green chemistry conferences, webinars, seminars, or ceremonies 2023 had to offer.
In traveling, logging on, presenting, or listening in, we are hoping to reach you – our brilliant community members at the forefront of change in the green chemistry space. We know from experience that innovation and creation happen when we connect, collaborate, and show up for one another.
So, where did we show up recently? Explore highlights from this season’s travels below!
National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) 50th Anniversary
In September of this year, Beyond Benign Higher Education Program Manager, Dr. Nimrat Obhi (they/them), attended the 50th Annual Meeting of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChe).
Dr. Obhi oversees Beyond Benign’s MSI initiative, which provides support to Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) as part of the Green Chemistry Commitment Program. This support includes making available targeted grants for both faculty and student groups at MSIs and providing professional development opportunities for these community members.
At NOBCChe, Dr. Obhi hosted a workshop titled, “Students as Change Agents” geared toward empowering young Black chemists with the resources they need to be changemakers in the green chemistry space. But, in Dr. Obhi’s words, the students already had the key components — passion, and a palpable energy for change.
Dr. Obhi aptly summarized the existential questions faced by their audience saying, “They bear increasing responsibilities based on the world we are left with. That’s why it’s our responsibility to show students they have the power and agency as green chemistry advocates to be leaders of a greener, more just future.”
University of Birmingham Sustainability in Chemistry Conference
Dr. Juliana Vidal (she/her) recently traveled to the University of Birmingham for their Sustainability in Chemistry Conference — the first of its kind hosted by the recent GCC Signer, with plans in place for the conference to become an annual occurrence. Dr. Vidal, a Higher Education Program Manager at Beyond Benign, oversees support for our green chemistry commitment signers, including our growing international community.
“It was amazing to see the symposium at the University of Birmingham becoming a hub for our signers in the UK,” Dr. Vidal shared, “Our Green Chemistry Commitment has become just the domino effect we need to see – such meaningful channels of communication and collaboration opening between our community members.” Organized by Prof. Tomislav Friščić, Prof. Adam Michalchuck, Prof. Deborah Crawford, Dr. Thomas Auvray and Dr. Michael Ferguson, the event included the talks of students and faculty from GCC signing institutions including the University of Birmingham, University of Nottingham, and Texas A&M University.
Youth Forum at ICCM5
At Beyond Benign, we know that young people are at the forefront of change– and that when given a platform, they make strong advocates for a sustainable future. This is precisely why Dr. Juliana Vidal attended this year’s Youth Forum at the Fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme in Bonn, Germany.
At this historic forum, a new framework was set forth to improve the management of chemicals and waste, created by its multilateral, multigenerational leadership. Green and sustainable chemistry education was among the demands of leaders and was successfully enshrined in the framework.
A plurality of voices were heard at ICCM5, and Beyond Benign was honored to be among them. Dr. Vidal shared that, “Non-profit organizations like Beyond Benign should have a seat at the table, alongside governments and multilateral organizations, to voice our concerns, share our expertise, and engage our community, to help catalyze change on a more global scale.”
Fostering green chemistry education involves two important ingredients– awareness and accessibility. Knowing about green chemistry is just one piece of the puzzle. This is why the work being done by our Lead Teachers is so important– they are the catalysts inspiring other educators to take their knowledge and to implement it in the classroom.
Education conferences provide an incredible opportunity for us to engage with you all face-to-face, and to demonstrate the practical ways green chemistry fits into your curricula. The Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS) hosted its regional conference in Eastern New York, with presentations by Lead Teachers Annette Sebuyira and Stefanie Loomis.
In their workshop, “Using Green Chemistry to Implement NYSSLS Based Labs” Stefanie and Annette called on green chemistry principles, practices, and tools to empower participants toward more sustainable science education. All of this with a spooky twist… These labs were written with an engaging and fun murder-mystery storyline that involved analyzing “poison” lemonade and a potential murder weapon through a density lab.
Annette and Stefanie’s creativity shined in this workshop, but the pair remarked that aside from presenting, the highlight was connecting with other passionate and invested science educators from across the region.
At the broader STANYS conference a couple of weeks later, our lead teachers represented green chemistry education again with an insightful workshop hosted by Scott Carlson and Stefanie Loomis. With labs to choose from such as flame tests, animal biomimicry, and a density lab, the pair introduced their audience to Beyond Benign, green chemistry, the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community, and more! Stefanie Loomis reflects that, “it is always great to introduce more and more people to green chemistry, and to remind them of all the resources we have made available to them.”
British Columbia Science Teachers’ Conference
In a hybrid presentation titled, “Chemistry Teaching and Learning for Sustainable Futures” Beyond Benign Certified Lead Teacher Ken Hoffman and co-presenter Janice Williams, carried the green chemistry torch at the British Columbia Science Teachers’ Conference. Working specifically with middle school educators, the presenters introduced their audience to the goals and objectives of the 12 Green Chemistry Principles, specifically focusing on Less Hazardous Synthesis, Minimizing Waste, and Atom Economy. Their goal was to have attendees leave with the practical knowledge and skills necessary to inspire the next generation of green chemists.
Ken shares that the event was an incredible success and to his excitement most attendees were familiar with green chemistry, Beyond Benign and the GCTLC. “They were posting the Beyond Benign URL before I could, posting teaching resources in the chat before me, and expressing their interest in the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community…”
Ken shares that the prevailing message of their presentation was, in Janice’s words, “Start where you are!” Sustainability-focused teaching and learning, in many cases, needs only a perspective shift.
Throughout this season, we’ve found that our community is flourishing.
In addition to reflecting on our recent travels, we recently received the exciting results of our annual survey. This year, 74% of educators who responded to this survey said that their confidence to teach green chemistry has increased over 2023! It’s clear that despite the time and distance between us, our community is stronger than ever.
Whether it was online, in person, or a combination of the two, we are so glad to have had the chance to connect with you all – and are excited to see what 2024 has to offer the community we are building, together.