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Saint Francis University Chemistry Club: Learning to be green

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Contributed by Cathleen M. Fry, Dallas R. Mosier, and Edward P. Zovinka, Department of Chemistry, Saint Francis University, Loretto, PA

Before arriving at Saint Francis University (SFU), many of our Chemistry Club members have never heard of green chemistry, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. Green chemistry is an integral part of the SFU lab culture. For the majority of the Chemistry Club members, our initial exposure to green chemistry was in our very first laboratory activity of general chemistry. Along with the safety introduction, the instructor outlined the Principles of Green Chemistryi  and we completed an activity using M&Ms to learn about E-factorii . Most of the SFU faculty also practices green chemistry principles in their own research labs. Their focus has been on using less toxic chemicals and producing less waste. While green chemistry was practiced in the laboratory, we, as a club, had a difficult time distinguishing green chemistry practices from sustainability.

At the 2015 ACS National Meeting in Denver, CO, we watched other Green Chemistry Student Chapters receive their awards, but we could only observe since we didn’t earn it that year. The club was upset, and we didn’t understand why we hadn’t received an award for green chemistry. Upon returning to campus and reviewing the Green Chemistry guidelines on the ACS website, we realized that our aim was off target; we had been focusing on sustainability activities and not green chemistryiii . While performing sustainability activities, such as checking the water quality of a local lake, are commendable community activities, they do not teach or train someone how to develop less wasteful methods in the chemistry laboratory.  In order to earn a Green Chemistry award, a chemistry club must ensure that the activity is directly connected to one of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry or the Design Principles of Sustainable & Green Chemistry and Engineering. Green chemistry awards focus on lab practices and educational outreach on Green Chemistry principles while sustainability initiatives focus on activities such as environmental monitoring or road cleanups. Using the information from the ACS GCI, we were able to focus our chemistry club activities towards the Green Chemistry guidelines – and hopefully earn some Green Chemistry awards!

Dr. Rose Clark.jpgTo begin the academic year in the spirit of green chemistry, the faculty and students signed an online green labs pledge to uphold the principles of green chemistry in our labs and to do their very best in promoting green chemistryiv . We also completed a SFU department and school Green Chemistry Commitment. The Commitment was a document stating that the Saint Francis University Chemistry Department would follow the principles of green chemistry and ensure that each laboratory used green chemistry as much as possiblev . The agreement was signed by Dr. Rose Clark, the Chemistry Department Chair, and Dr. Charles MacVean, Dean of the School of Sciences.

Another major project that our student chapter has worked on is a green chemistry poster. The poster was created by the four chemistry club officers and enhanced by asking faculty where they apply green chemistry principles in their everyday activities and incorporating their comments.  Overall, our poster outlined the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry in a fun and creative format and included ways in which Saint Francis University upholds green chemistry principles. Our poster will be mounted outside the laboratories as a reminder of our pledge to green chemistry practices.

Our green chemistry practices at Saint Francis University are extremely beneficial to the SFU students, as they enable us to be better chemists. Green chemistry is guiding us to complete experiments with safer alternatives, eliminating unnecessary chemical waste and reducing our energy consumption. We are producing less waste and saving money. More than anything, green chemistry is teaching students at Saint Francis University to do more with less.

iAnastas, P.T.; Warner, J.C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice; Oxford University Press, 1998.

ii (accessed 14 September 2015).

IiiAmerican Chemical Society. (accessed 15 September 2015).

ivMy Green lab. (accessed 14 September 2015).

vThe Green Chemistry Commitment. (accessed 14 September 2015).

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