Genaro Carrasco


Blog Post created by Genaro Carrasco on Jan 26, 2017

Abstract: It is proposed to study the role of sustainable chemistry in scientific education to contribute, from this field, to the Science of Sustainability and, therefore, to the transition towards sustainable societies. It is intended to respond to the many calls for education, and in particular science education, to pay attention to the problems and challenges that affect humanity, contributing to the search for solutions and the formation of a responsible and Prepared for decision making in this Knowledge society.



According to a large number of convergent scientific studies, we are currently faced with a series of serious, closely related socio-environmental problems (pollution and degradation of ecosystems, depletion of resources, growing inequalities, etc.), with The growing support of our citizens and the incomprehension of our politicians.

It calls for the participation of educators from all areas and levels, both formal and non-formal education, so that we contribute to the formation of citizens aware of the current global emergency situation and prepared to participate in the necessary Decisions.

It is necessary to insist on the urgency to reorient the way we relate to each other and to the rest of nature, to lay the foundations of a sustainable and satisfying present for all human beings, and the need to promote it from education and, In particular, the teaching of science. In this must be based the overcoming based on systematic planetary crises like the one we are living, avoiding its reproduction and aggravation. And education must contribute to this.

For, as recent research shows, despite all these efforts, we still do not pay the necessary attention to the global socio-environmental problem facing humanity. Conversely, we can recall calls made in particular to the scientific community itself. Thus, in the late nineties of the twentieth century, Jane Lubchenco, as president of the most important scientific association, as much by the number of members as by the number of Nobel prizes and scientists of high level that comprise of this one, The American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), called for the 21st century to be the century of the environment for science for all sciences and for the scientific community to "reorient its machinery" towards solving the problems that threaten The future of humanity (Lubchenco, 1998).

A growing implication that, in the case of chemistry, is already being shaped in the field called Sustainable Chemistry (Garritz, 2009 and 2011; Doria, 2009), not forgetting the contributions of its background to environmental chemistry and those developed in the Atmospheric chemistry. In essence, they all promote developments in the field of Chemistry consistent with the necessary scientific and technological measures for the transition towards Sustainability.

Can we make a sustainable chemistry a reality?


We all know that green chemistry is born (1990) US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a conceptual tool for the protection of the environment against a pollution problem caused by the chemical industry. Its application leads to cost-effective changes in industrial processes, partly by substantially reducing the costs of palliative chemistry and engineering, essential when generating and handling hazardous substances.


If we all join this global cause we can participate in this cause that we can summarize in the thought of Anastas and Warner that led to the formulation of its principles in three fundamental and distinctive sections:


  • Prevention of the cause of risk.
  • Chemical methodologies.
  • Action according to a design


Prevention of the cause of danger is the message of the first principle of Anastas and Warner. It is clear that the best option when dealing with issues of hazardous substances and materials is to avoid them at the same source.

By "chemical methodologies" is intended to mean that the pollution and hazards that have their origin in chemical substances must also have chemical solution: chemistry and chemical engineering of the process itself. The emphasis on chemical methodology is compatible with the joint work of chemistry and engineering with biology and other scientific and technological areas; But it is radically different from chemistry and engineering that tries to avoid the dispersion and effects of polluting and hazardous substances and waste generated or used in the industrial plant.

The term "design" is found in almost all the writings and lectures of Paul Anasta (2007) and emphasizes that, so that one can properly speak of green chemistry, the greening of activity must be a result, not of chance, But a definite purpose and a planning oriented precisely to the achievement of a more efficient, inherently clean and secure process.

The term "Green Chemistry" defined (Anasta) and universally accepted. Sustainable chemistry is a preferred translation when the term "green" does not seem appropriate in the social context of the country, although the two terms are not fully equivalent. Indeed, "sustainable" in the context of chemistry responds to the ethical obligation to contribute to the development and well-being of all nations of the planet, without affecting nature or future generations. This contribution is mainly due to the sustainability of the industrial chemical industry itself, which is threatened by the viability of its production due to the irreversible exhaustion of the sources of raw materials and the harsh controls in defense of society and nature .

In a way it could demonstrate Sustainable Chemistry as the chemistry of the XXI century, although there are other substantial issues for the progress of chemistry that are outside its scope. However, it can be claimed that all applications of chemistry are sustainable.

The field of sustainable chemistry is directed primarily to the preparative chemistry, and the greatest successes of its application have been given to the fine chemical and pharmaceutical industries. However, the XXI century chemistry presents itself with a much broader challenge: to cut off at its source any type of contamination and risk due to chemical substances and conversions.


The social demand for material goods is satisfied by various types of industries and sectors, which can be presented in four groups:


  • Production of energy (including transport)
  • Chemical industry (pharmacy, agriculture, textile fibers and dyes, plastic materials, pigments, solvents, paper, etc.)
  • Cement (and other building materials)
  • Metallurgy.


All these sectors without exception:


     a) Contribute directly to the generation and emission of chemical pollutants.


     b) They are mainly nourished by materials extracted from the subsoil.


For example, the production of coal-fired power is one of the oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, mercury and other toxic metals emitted into the atmosphere. The use of chemical substances in agriculture has led to the spread of polychlorinated insecticides throughout the planet, while a multitude of technological applications have justified the widespread use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), also present throughout the planet. Plastics are particularly persistent in the environment and appear scattered in many places. Something similar happens with cement and other building materials.


On the other hand, the extraction of oil and gas from the subsoil, coal mining and the essential processes of cleaning and refining are very important sources of contamination. The same applies to mining, both metallic and non-metallic, the immediate processing of minerals and the metallurgy of iron, steel and other metals, causing strong and persistent contamination by toxic metals, dust and rock acids (Bridge, 2004).

  In this XXI century, rather in this knowledge society, our role is to repair all the damage we have caused to this planet in previous centuries perhaps from the "industrial revolution" where industrial society was to produce and dispose of. Now we must accept our new way of doing things, every time we are going to create we have to also close in cycle that leads us to recycle to get back the raw material and thus again produce.