Last month I mentioned that I was looking forward to the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy that was held the week of July 22nd, and now I can report it was, once again, an unqualified success. There was a great mix of talks and I think the students were appropriately challenged to think about things they don’t normally contemplate. (As a side note, I think Principle #6 is one of the green chemistry principles that most chemists don’t think enough about, so to integrate sustainable energy and green chemistry is a very good thing.) The students also engaged in an assessment of a few chemical processes to get them thinking about what kind of information and effort goes into performing a life cycle assessment.
For me personally, one of the most enlightening parts of the week was the poster sessions. During these sessions, students were able to discuss their work with each other and with the faculty. For the most part, the work carried out by the students was a good indication of how much or little green chemistry and engineering principles are being applied in the Universities the students represented. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of implementation work to be done in graduate level research. I was reminded that one of the biggest barriers is what I would classify as institutional inertia. No matter how you look at it, the rewards and benefit systems for graduate level and post-doctoral research are not based in green chemistry and engineering and in many respects, are opposed to it. This has to change.
Another highlight for the month was to organize the review of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. (Disclaimer: I am not a judge; the ACS GCI partners with the US EPA to identify appropriate judges from academia, government and industry) It is quite uplifting to see the nominations and to think about the many and varied innovations they represent. These nominations represent on a small scale the considerable progress that has been made in implementing green chemistry and engineering by businesses of all sizes. No single nomination has ever managed to fulfill all the principles of green chemistry and engineering, but it is my observation that the nominations are incorporating more of them than was the case in the past.
It’s also interesting to see the span of applications across many disciplines. This too is encouraging since it demonstrates that green chemistry and engineering can and should be applied in all parts of the chemical enterprise, from the development of new chemical building blocks, to end-of-life considerations for existing and new products. More companies are thinking about what they do from a life cycle (i.e., cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle) perspective and that is a very good sign.
There’s always something happening in green chemistry and engineering and it’s a great privilege to witness some of it first-hand. I hope that you might share with me some of the things that you see and think are demonstrating progress in sustainable and green chemistry and engineering implementation. As always, please do let me know what you think.
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