Contributed by David Constable, Ph.D., Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®
Planning and preparations for the 21st Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference have continued throughout the past two months. For most people, thinking about a conference that is to take place in June is not something that occupies too much attention. However, preparations for our conference begin in July and, during the fall, we experience one of our busiest periods in planning as we seek keynote speakers and organize the technical programming.
We were delighted this year to receive over 45 proposals to our call for symposia though such great response creates challenges itself as not all ideas can be accommodated. It is a reality of green chemistry that there is a variety of passionate stakeholders, and in choosing some sessions and not others, feelings are hurt. I do hope everyone understands that the selection of sessions is a reflection of the technical program chairs and the advisory committee’s interests; the ACS GCI does not have control over those decisions, though we do try to influence where we can.
The activities around the conference’s technical programming highlight a few areas of contention that are, I think, a reflection of the state of green chemistry in general. First, the GC&E Conference struggles with being a very broad tent: For some, the design of safer chemicals and toxicology should be emphasized; for some, it is organic and related process chemistry that should; for others, policy and regulation should stand at the forefront; and for others still, education should, and so on. My own opinion is that all of these areas are deserving of attention at some level, but they cannot all be accommodated in a small conference. Because some areas of green chemistry are supported by other organizations and their conferences, I do not feel compelled to have the same kind of content at our own and would prefer to highlight other equally important areas. You have to focus your efforts or else you please no one.
Second, there is a general sense that someone should be paying for green chemistry and the GC&E Conference because it is the “right thing to do” or because the cost is a barrier. I will not debate this here, but it is my experience that only very few organizations support the GC&E Conference and that support is not based on a moral argument. The costs associated with the conference are borne by registrations, supporters and exhibitors, in that order. The ACS GCI staff spends considerable time working to drive costs down while increasing the number of attendees, supporters and exhibitors—the latter two of which continue to be very challenging. Anyone who has attempted to fund green chemistry activities (research, conferences, etc.) knows just how challenging raising money is in this space.
Third, the multidisciplinary nature of the GC&E Conference requires considerable collaboration and partnership across many disciplines and organizations that are not necessarily aligned. This is the organizational corollary to the first point. The conference and green chemistry in general require that we reach out to a variety of stakeholders and organizations in academia, industry and government. Building this kind of coalition is not easy, takes continual care and feeding, and proves easy to find reasons not to collaborate. But I firmly believe that collaboration and partnership is essential for finding the best solutions to the grand challenges of sustainability. I would ask your indulgence and commitment to cultivating these collaborations and partnerships that are integral not only to the GC&E Conference, but also to green chemistry more broadly.
In October, I had the pleasure of being a part of the Pharmaceutical Roundtable fall meeting in Cambridge, Mass., hosted by the Novartis and the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research. The amount of activity in these 17 pharmaceutical companies in green chemistry and engineering is extremely impressive and inspiring. They agreed on four Initiation Grant winners (stay tuned for announcements later; it takes time to get through all the paperwork), outreach efforts in China and India, further development of their process mass intensity calculator to enable predictions for early development and its incorporation of LCA, various team updates (including Med Chem, Analytical, Continuous flow, etc.), their collaboration with Chem21 and the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative, tools for use (Reagent and Solvent Selection), and education initiatives. After two days of meetings, they also hosted an impressive array of speakers at a one-day symposium entitled “Innovating for a more sustainable pharmaceutical industry.” I would love to see this level of activity throughout the global chemistry enterprise, and I commend the ACS GCI PRT member companies for their outstanding commitment to advancing sustainable and green chemistry and for being models for collaboration and partnership.
I also had the privilege of attending a meeting in Korea, hosted by the Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute (KEITI), with various government officials to discuss the several high visibility issues with consumer products Korea has faced that have aroused public concern. In response, Korea has recently instituted its own version of REACH-type chemicals legislation and is very interested in moving forward with new government-sponsored green chemistry efforts. I applaud their initiative and look forward to their progress in green chemistry.
I was also involved in two different conferences this year that I normally do not get involved with. The first was a Chemical Watch symposium directed largely toward understanding the new Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act legislation, i.e. the TSCA reform bill. While chemicals legislation is a reality, it does not, in my opinion, enable green chemistry. This is a position that is not generally shared by people who promote green chemistry and as such, it will be the subject of a future post to explain. The second was the Guardian Green Chemistry Conference, a small conference in New York City hosted by the Guardian at the New York Academy of Science, where a majority of attendees were not chemists, which always makes for an interesting perspective on green chemistry. I do think that there is a disconnect between those at the consumer-facing end of the supply chain and those at the business-to-business end of the supply chain. I see this on a regular basis and am working to try to bridge the divide: It is, however, a big challenge.
At the fall AIChE meeting, I also spent time promoting and getting feedback on our AltSep technology roadmap for molecular property-driven alternative separations to distillation. This project is moving forward, and we are on track to finish the roadmap in the first half of next year. Moving from the consumer end of chemical concerns to the details of molecular to process modeling, simulation and design is jarring, to say the least. I am always struck by the amazing amount of work being done as well as by the gulf between the design of a molecule and the design of a commercially viable product. There is some amazing progress being made, and much remains to be done.
As always, please do let me know what you think.
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