The American Chemical Society (ACS) just wrapped up its first Virtual National Meeting & Expo. Pivoting from the planned in-person meeting to an online event proved challenging given the size of the National Meeting. Despite these challenges, more than 4,000 scientists were able to share their work through the virtual meeting platform, demonstrating that the advancement of science continues even during a pandemic.
ACS staff and volunteers met with several committees during the National Meeting to share preliminary plans for the Society to address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As you know, the chemical sciences are essential in achieving the SDGs and chemistry is reflected in many of the 17 goals. Through its sustainable development initiative, ACS hopes to have a measurable impact on the U.N. SDGs during the coming decade.
The proposed strategy addresses three themes aligned with the SDGs: Research, Innovation, and Translation (SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure); Sustainable Manufacturing and Chemicals Management (SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production); and Transforming Chemistry Education (SDG 4, Quality Education). These themes build on ACS’ strengths and capabilities and connect with ACS members across sectors and disciplines.
The Society’s ongoing advocacy efforts support an increased federal focus on sustainable chemistry research, which helps advance the Research, Innovation, and Translation theme. New models for conducting research can bridge the gap between academic research and commercialization. Creation of an international collaboration research fund could further accelerate the pace of discovery and implementation of green and sustainable chemistry and engineering technologies.
Policy and regulation also play a role in promoting the second theme of Sustainable Manufacturing and Chemicals Management. Manufacturing must develop new ways of making products in order to avoid harmful environmental and human health consequences. New federally sponsored programs, modelled after the Department of Energy’s RAPID Institute, could support academic-industry partnerships in accelerating the deployment of more sustainable manufacturing technologies.
In order to create the workforce needed to apply chemistry to the global challenges articulated in the SDGs, we need to change the way we educate our students. Chemists need an understanding of life cycle and systems thinking in order to recognize the impact of the choices they make in selecting chemicals, designing syntheses, and formulating products. Transforming chemistry education, though not an easy task, would better prepare our students to meet the grand challenges of sustainability.
I welcome your feedback on these initiatives related to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, along with your ideas on how ACS can have an impact on the SDGs. Please send your comments firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe and I look forward to your input!