Green Chemistry and Sustainable Design
The twenty-first century presents us with many interrelated challenges. Among them is the relationship between human industry and natural systems. Industrial activities have traditionally gone hand-in-hand with material processes that endanger the health of people and other living beings, both in the immediate present (e.g. toxic pollutants, habitat destruction) and in the future (e.g. persistent toxicants, resource depletion, climate change). Broadly, this has been the result of a tendency to neglect the context of industrial operations within the larger systems of ecology and society. Increasingly, we are realizing that this design philosophy must be improved. Rather than attempting to remedy or lessen the impacts of hazardous practices, we should avoid undertaking them in the first place.
As chemists, we are uniquely equipped to address this problem. The science of chemistry stands to contribute critical tools for redesigning production, and for putting into practice a philosophy of sustainability. New materials and technologies for industrial and consumer uses are already routinely developed on the molecular level by chemists. The next step is to learn how to simultaneously consider toxicity, safety, environmental fate and lifecycle along with function, use and cost when developing new substances and technologies; to learn how to eliminate waste before it is generated, by developing materials that are integrated into material cycles by design. With common consumer products increasingly being implicated as health hazards, and with global chemical production occurring on the scale of billions of tons per year, green chemistry and sustainable design are highly relevant research areas that have a great potential for beneficial impact.
What is Green Chemistry?
Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry