In this interview with Amy Cannon, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Beyond Benign, learn about the Green Chemistry Commitment as it celebrates its 100th signer—How did this initiative start and evolve, where has it been adopted, and where is it going in the future?
In a few sentences, what is the GCC for those who may not have heard about it?
The Green Chemistry Commitment (GCC) is a consortium program for college and university chemistry departments to voice their commitment to integrating green chemistry in their chemistry courses and programs. It’s a flexible and adaptable program that allows departments to use their own resources and expertise to integrate green chemistry in their own unique way. The program is aimed at supporting faculty to bring green chemistry to their entire department, with the goal of creating systematic changes in chemistry education. Each GCC signer is on their own path to including green chemistry in chemistry education—so, we shine a light on those paths, with the aim to inspire others to find their own.
What was it like getting the first few signers, and how did the process evolve? What did you learn from interested institutions throughout this period? Are you noticing any changes in receptivity?
The idea was inspired by Second Nature’s Presidents’ Climate Commitment (now called The Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments). I was on a Sustainability in Education panel with Tony Cortese (founder of Second Nature) and was inspired by the Climate Commitment’s non-regulatory approach to addressing climate change through college campuses, which collectively have tremendous potential to lower climate impacts. It got me wondering if college chemistry departments could take a similar non-regulatory approach to move the field of chemistry towards greener chemistry. I vetted the idea with our faculty partners and assembled an advisory group of U.S.-based faculty, who ultimately deconstructed, then re-constructed my idea. What they came up with was the Green Chemistry Commitment—centered around 4 student learning objectives essential to learning and practicing green chemistry. The founding 13 signers were the early adopters eager to catalyze change in chemistry education and are tremendous ambassadors for green chemistry today.
Can you share any trends about the signers—geographic patterns, types of institutions, firsts in a category, or other highlights?
Within the United States (77 signers), we see higher concentrations of GCC signers from regions that have had a greater amount of green chemistry activity - California (11), the Great Lakes Region (21), and Massachusetts (8), have the highest number of signing institutions. These regions had strong support for green chemistry research and education, such as regional conferences and funding for universities. We have also seen significant growth internationally (23 signers currently)—reflecting the global appeal of green chemistry. Canada (3), Brazil (5) and Germany (3) are regions with a growing number of signers—and the GCC has also been piquing interest in Africa (4), with many great partners on the ground. The most exciting development that we have seen is the engagement with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Here in the U.S., four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have recently signed on to the GCC, along with 6 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). MSIs are essential in bringing the entire community together to change chemistry education and prepare all students with green chemistry skills.
What is your next goal and what will it take to get there?
In 2021, we launched an ambitious goal to reach 25% of graduating chemists within the United States through the GCC by 2025. Our current GCC signers represent 10% of all graduating chemists (at all levels) (the U.S. graduates around 22,000 chemists annually). A central part of this goal will be engaging with MSIs and bringing a more diverse representation of future chemists into the field of green chemistry. If we are truly going to change chemistry education, it will take a critical mass of community members to move the needle and, must include institutions and students representing all types of institutions that teach chemistry. We look forward to sharing more about our MSI initiative and will have some good opportunities for faculty and students to participate, including support and leadership opportunities.
Secondly, we are developing a new online platform, in collaboration with the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC). This platform will be a place to network, share, and participate in building a global community of green chemistry educators. We will have some ambitious goals for the GCTLC and see it as a tool for elevating green chemistry education on a global scale. It’s set to launch in 2023 and we can’t wait to engage with educators, industry and professional partners, and student leaders through the platform. This platform will be an essential tool and resource for the GCC signers and the community as a whole.
What do you hope will be the impact?
I believe that chemistry is central to solving sustainability challenges. As molecular designers, chemists have tremendous potential to solve problems at the earliest stages of a product life cycle. However, in order to solve these problems, chemists must come to the workplace prepared with the skills to tackle these challenges. This means that chemistry education must change. The world today is demanding better, safer, more sustainable products. This can only be achieved if chemists have the skills to create better products. We are hoping that the GCC will inspire college and university chemistry departments to rise to the challenge and integrate green chemistry into their teaching and practice—preparing a pipeline of professionals ready to tackle sustainability through chemistry. We have a long way to go but the more institutions on board, the more impact we can have collectively. We encourage college faculty to join the GCC community and become part of the change we would all like to see. To learn more about the benefits of joining the GCC community, those interested can share their email with us here to learn more. Join us to be a catalyst for change!
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