The past six weeks have been eventful. In early September there was the ACS National Meeting in Indianapolis and that was an enjoyable week. Indianapolis turned out to be a great venue with lots of good programming and some very memorable events. I especially enjoyed the Kavli Foundation Emerging Leader in Chemistry Lecture by Dr. Marin Burke entitled “Making molecular prosthetics with a small molecule synthesizer,” and the address by Alan Alda. The Kavli lecture resonated with me because of the approach that the Burke team took to synthesis and the potential that approach has for opening up greater molecular diversity for chemists to exploit. The talk wasn't about green chemistry, but it wouldn't be a big stretch to make it one.
While Alan Alda is a great entertainer, and I did have the pleasure of meeting him personally, I am especially grateful for his commitment to helping scientists communicate more effectively. I was grateful for a day of training by staff from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. I think most scientists and engineers struggle to communicate effectively to people outside their discipline and the general public remains largely uninformed about all the amazing work that is being done. This is true for sustainability and green chemistry and engineering too, and it is something that I hope we can improve on over the next few years.
Right after being in Indianapolis, I had the privilege of participating in a Sustainable Innovation Workshop at McGill University. Professor Steve Maguire has implemented a great workshop that pairs MBA students with chemistry graduate students to create a business plan for new product. The students are introduced to sustainable and green chemistry and some general business plan information on one day, and the next day they have a limited time to develop a strategy before pitching their plan before a panel of judges. This was an amazing event to see students rise to the occasion, develop some very creative ideas in a very short time, and walk away with a very different perspective about what is possible. I think this particular model should be replicated across many institutions.
Sustainable Innovation Workshop participants at McGill University
At another symposium, the 6th Global Supply Chain Management Conference convened jointly by the University of Toledo and Michigan State University, I had the privilege of hearing two speakers from NSF International and one from Amway. With the NSF International presenters Nancy Linde and Kianda Franklin, a great case was made for how different hazard assessment frameworks could be used to drive innovations in the supply chains of consumer products, and why consumers want certification systems like the US EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) or Cleaner Production Action’s GreenScreen. In the case of Amway, it was how one company has applied general sustainability and green chemistry across a range of products and their operations. An interesting insight from Eric VanDellen of Amway was that as formulators come to rely more heavily on chemicals lists like the one in the US EPA’s DfE Safer Chemicals List which has a limited number of chemicals to choose from, the harder it is for companies to differentiate their products. This is potentially a great driver and opportunity for innovating through the application of the principles of green chemistry and engineering to deliver new chemicals that are higher performing and less environmentally impactful so that a company can better distinguish its products.
Last, but in no ways least, I had the pleasure of participating in a Pharmaceutical Roundtable meeting and a mini-symposium on catalysis. Suffice it to say that the work of the companies in the Roundtable is quite impressive. I was especially excited to see the progress of the reagent guides and the combined process mass intensity and life cycle (PMI-LCA) tool. Both of these are in their final stages of development and will hopefully be piloted in the near future. A benchmarking exercise with the PMI-LCA tool scheduled for completion early next year carries on the benchmarking work of the Roundtable that has been done every two years since 2008. Adding the LCA information to this already significant exercise should yield some quite interesting information. The reagent guides are, in my opinion, an equally significant contribution to green chemistry but you will have to stay tuned as these are not quite ready for prime time.
And what can I say about the catalysis symposium? I was impressed by the elegance of what was presented in almost all cases and equally impressed, in the case of some of the talks, by how little attention there seems to be to the other principles of green chemistry and engineering beyond catalysis. I will just say we have some work to do in academia to embed sustainable and green chemistry and engineering principles and behaviors into most research programs. I look forward to the day when I can stop saying there is so much work to do in academic labs to make them, and the work that is done in them, more sustainable.
As always, please do let me know what you think.
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