By Adelina Voutchkova-Kostal, Director, ACS Office of Sustainability; David A. Laviska, Green Chemistry Education Portfolio Manager, GCI; and Christiana Briddell, Communications Portfolio Manager, GCI
Recently, the ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) revised the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs to include green chemistry and systems thinking in the curriculum. Successfully integrating green chemistry throughout the chemistry curriculum is a long-term strategic goal of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI), as well as that of key partners, such as Beyond Benign and the IUPAC Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education Initiative.
Over the last three decades, there have been a plethora of concerted efforts to infuse green chemistry into the K-12 and college curricula. Uptake was initially slow as curricular materials in the field were sparse. Over the last two decades, a significant number of faculty have taken the lead in developing and sharing new teaching materials that focus on green chemistry. The GCI, in partnership with Beyond Benign, the ACS Committee on Environment and Sustainability, and the IUPAC Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education group has worked tirelessly to catalyze resource development, as well as foster a community of instructors. To that end, Beyond Benign challenged chemistry departments to sign the "Green Chemistry Commitment," which urges more extensive incorporation of green chemistry throughout the curriculum, and by last year, over 100 universities in the U.S. had signed this commitment. This critical mass has provided the necessary support to expand the network of faculty engaged in teaching and developing new materials.
Still, many recognized that moving from a strong early-adoption phase to a majority of institutions teaching green chemistry would require mainstream support. One such avenue would be the inclusion of green chemistry in the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs. The ACS Committee on Professional Training establishes these guidelines as a basis for approving undergraduate chemistry programs that meet rigorous standards and define markers of excellent programs. ACS, through the work of CPT, periodically updates these guidelines to reflect current and emerging trends in undergraduate chemistry. There are currently 701 ACS-approved chemistry programs in the U.S.
The previous version of the ACS Guidelines, approved in 2015, did not include green chemistry. In 2017, the ACS Committee on Environmental & Sustainability, with the support of GCI staff and educators in the green chemistry community developed a Green Chemistry in the Curriculum supplement to the guidelines that highlighted the need to integrate green chemistry principles and systems thinking throughout the traditional chemistry subdisciplines and provided some guidance for approaching chemistry education from a context-rich or systems thinking perspective. Such integration is critical for empowering chemists to address grand sustainability challenges.
So, what has been added to the guidelines?
The approved 2023 ACS Guidelines state as a critical requirement that, to maintain or obtain ACS approval, the curriculum must provide students with a working knowledge of the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry. Although not required for approval, suggested practices include using case studies that demonstrate the interplay of chemical, environmental health, regulatory, and business considerations that dictate chemical processes and product design. For programs wishing to go further, the Guidelines suggest as an optional “Marker of Excellence”, that students should be given the opportunity to assess chemical products and processes and design greener alternatives, and to evaluate the environmental, social, and health impacts of a chemical product over its life cycle. Additionally, as an optional Marker of Excellence, programs can provide students with access to a course in chemical safety and/or toxicology. In the opinion of the authors and others in the green chemistry community, including a course in toxicology would represent a huge step forward, given that it is very difficult for chemists to design functional and safe chemicals without dedicated training in chemical toxicology.
In addition, ACS Approved chemistry programs are expected to demonstrate the importance of developing a comprehensive view of the interconnection between physical, chemical, and biological systems. This “systems thinking” skill set is now a part of the professional skills and competencies section of the guidelines. Other additions in the new 2023 guidelines include increased focus on safety, a formal Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Respect (DEIR) requirement, and expanded emphasis on student skill development in the classroom and laboratory.
To support the community through this transition, the ACS Office of Sustainability, which includes the GCI, has launched a Reimagining Chemistry Education for a Sustainable Future campaign, which aims to provide chemists in all sectors with the critical resources for teaching and training in green chemistry, systems thinking, and sustainability. This new initiative builds on decades of pioneering work by the GCI in collaboration with partners, such as Beyond Benign and the Division of Education at ACS.
We are very enthusiastic about the future of green chemistry education based on the latest version of the ACS Guidelines. The inclusion of green chemistry and systems thinking in the guidelines should be applauded. It takes passion and commitment from ACS as well as the broader green chemistry community, to make changes like this that will enable widespread adoption of green chemistry principles and practices in chemistry education.
To meet anticipated interest, in future issues of The Nexus, we will be sharing with our readers resources supporting the adoption of green chemistry in the curriculum and hope that you will share them with your colleagues. We are grateful to all the dedicated green chemistry advocates who have brought us to where we are today and will count on your continued engagement to empower all chemists with needed curricular tools and expertise in green chemistry.
(This article was updated 9/19/2023.)
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