Celebrating 25 Years of Sustainability with the 2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards

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Contributed by Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards and it’s an opportunity to celebrate a quarter century of groundbreaking scientific solutions that have and will continue to make a positive impact on human health and the environment.

That’s why I’m looking forward to joining you at the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in June to present the 2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards on behalf of ACS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These awards are a wonderful way for us to recognize innovation by American businesses and researchers that have redesigned chemical products and processes to reduce or eliminate the use and manufacture of hazardous substances. These innovations help protect vulnerable communities, prevent pollution at its source, and keep U.S. businesses globally competitive by creating more sustainable products. 

Green chemistry is one way of providing solutions to some of the most significant environmental challenges we’re facing today, like climate change. Tackling climate change requires innovative and sustainable solutions, some of which can be provided through green chemistry. A past Green Chemistry Challenge Award winner engineered yeast to make a renewable diesel fuel with the potential to produce over 80% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum diesel. One winner harnessed spider venom to provide a new pest management tool with less environmental impacts. And another winner developed a new form of plastic for things like bags and cell phone cases that is net carbon negative and performs as well as traditional plastics.

These and other examples of green chemistry are proof that all of us, including environmentalists and industry, can work together to design safer chemistries and then use them to protect our natural resources. Talking about these success stories and finding ways to apply these practices in real-life situations is an investment in our future, ensuring all generations will have access to clean air, water, and land.

As a chemist myself, I have a particular appreciation of the creativity and hard work that goes into the innovations that are being recognized by the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. But the point of green chemistry is to make an impact in the real world, and, over the last 25 years, these awards have commended technologies that have:

  • Eliminated the use of 830 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents each year;
  • Saved 21 billion gallons of water each year; and
  • Eliminated the release of 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents to air each year. 

Celebrating green chemistry through these awards is also an opportunity to look ahead towards the next generation of innovations, paving the way for future scientists to find new ways to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and prevent pollution. The “Green Chemistry Challenge Awards Past and Present” session at the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference will feature presentations from award winners from the current year as well as the past few years. I hope you will be as inspired as I am by the winners and their outstanding work. I also hope this amazing work will inspire some of you to be future Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners.

Learn more about Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners at https://www.epa.gov/greenchemistry/green-chemistry-challenge-winners.

More information on the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference can be found at https://www.gcande.org/.