Why Greener Chemistry Education Matters—and How to Support It

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By Amy Cannon, Ph.D., Co-founder and Executive Director, Beyond Benign, and Jeffrey Whitford, VP of Sustainability and Social Business Innovation, MilliporeSigma, (Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany)

 

New expanded partnership between global green chemistry nonprofit, Beyond Benign, and global science and technology company, MilliporeSigma, equips educators and students with green chemistry resources—essential to accelerating sustainable science and reducing environmental and human health impact.

By Dr. Amy Cannon, Co-founder and Executive Director, Beyond Benign, and Jeffrey Whitford, Vice President of Sustainability and Social Business Innovation, MilliporeSigma, the U.S. and Canada Life Science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

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Green chemistry education provides a framework to teach students how to design products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances—which is key to creating a more sustainable future. But despite its undisputable benefits, integrating green chemistry into higher education curricula and practice has been slow to gain traction around the globe.

A rapidly changing world

The subjects taught in classrooms continue to vary greatly over time, to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. While science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been taught for centuries, other subjects have come and gone—think Latin, typing, or home economics, just to name a few. Recent decades have seen an influx of new subjects into the curriculum, most of which are related to modern technologies or to topics centered around environmental studies, social studies, and governance.

However, while STEM subjects are a mainstay of primary, secondary, and postsecondary education, the approach to teaching STEM subjects is often not reflective of the times. In particular, with a growing global understanding and concern around the unsustainable nature of the chemical enterprise—including the ubiquitous consumption of nonrenewable resources and the presence of hazardous compounds and chemical products and by-products in our environment—the lens through which chemistry as a subject is taught must shift towards greener and more sustainable practices.

As one of the central sciences, chemistry plays a foundational role in our materials economy. Chemistry students learn how to use the tools of chemistry in designing molecules and materials, and as a result, there is a growing moral and ethical necessity to integrate greener practices and sustainability into that training that also results in real, tangible benefits down the road (including reduced costs associated with hazardous chemical use and disposal, increased efficiencies, improved safety, and more). Inaction on this front represents a missed opportunity to better prepare students with the skills to address sustainability within the practice of their trade and provide them with a differentiating skillset for their professional careers. Having a background in green chemistry also contributes to more circular thinking and is essential to students contributing towards achieving their future employers’ sustainability goals.

However, despite these many clear benefits, integrating green chemistry into higher education remains a challenge for institutions globally, due to a lack of green chemistry content in textbooks, a lack of resources to develop green chemistry education materials, and an information gap among educators.

A dedicated organization

Beyond Benign is dedicated to removing the barriers that keep green chemistry out of classrooms—by empowering educators with the tools, training, and support to make green chemistry an integral part of chemistry education. Established in 2007, Beyond Benign is a global green chemistry education nonprofit that works directly with educators and a network of strategic partners focused on science education, sustainability, innovation, and initiatives supporting human and environmental health to provide an educational continuum from K-12 through higher education.

Many organizations share Beyond Benign’s passion and commitment to making green chemistry an integral part of chemistry education and empowering educators, students, and the community at large to practice sustainability through chemistry. More than 120 higher education institutions have signed its Green Chemistry Commitment, celebrating its 10-year anniversary in June 2023, which underscores their common goal to increase global access to science and science education while reducing environmental impact.

A powerful partnership

MilliporeSigma, the U.S. and Canada Life Science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has a lot in common with Beyond Benign, specifically, being committed to transforming chemistry education to better prepare the next generation of scientists with skills to address sustainability through chemistry.

Our organizations recently expanded our partnership, with a multi-year contribution from MilliporeSigma. Underscoring MilliporeSigma’s long-standing commitment to employee and community engagement initiatives that aim to increase global access to science and science education while reducing environmental impact, its investment in Beyond Benign is the largest funded partnership ever supported by the company.

The expanded partnership also aligns with MilliporeSigma’s Sustainability and Social Business Innovation Greener Products & Solutions (GP&S) initiative. GP&S focuses on integrating sustainability throughout all phases of the company’s product life cycles and helps its customers become Sustainability Multipliers, increasing their impact by providing them with green chemistry principles and how to apply those principles in their day-to-day research and activities.

Together, our organizations are working to increase access to the resources and support needed to apply greener practices in chemistry education, and to reduce environmental and human health impact while simultaneously accelerating sustainable science. MilliporeSigma’s contribution will enhance capacity for Beyond Benign’s Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC) platform and expand global access to green chemistry education resources for more than 4,000 faculty members worldwide, reaching one million students annually.

Set to launch in August 2023, the GCTLC—developed also in partnership with the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute—is an online platform designed to bring together chemistry educators, students, and industry stakeholders from around the world in a shared virtual space. Features will include a comprehensive digital library of curriculum resources from green chemistry education leaders and access to professional development, peer-to-peer learning, networking, and mentoring.

Our expanded partnership also helps grow Beyond Benign’s flagship programs to 175 higher education institutions, advancing the nonprofit’s goal of providing 25% of the 22,000 graduating chemists annually in the U.S. with green chemistry knowledge by 2025. 

Beyond Benign and a MilliporeSigma representative joining forces to increase global impact at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2023 Conference. Pictured, left to right, Greg Sloan, Beyond Benign Lead Teacher, Dr. John Warner, Co-Founder and Board Member, Beyond Benign, Dr. Amy Cannon, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Beyond Benign, David Laviska, Portfolio Manager for Green Chemistry & Sustainability in Education, ACS Green Chemistry Institute, Dr. Natalie O’Neil, Director of Higher Education, Beyond Benign, Juliana Vidal, Program Manager, Higher Education, Beyond Benign, and Areej Nitowski, Green Chemistry Education Manager, MilliporeSigma.Beyond Benign and a MilliporeSigma representative joining forces to increase global impact at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2023 Conference. Pictured, left to right, Greg Sloan, Beyond Benign Lead Teacher, Dr. John Warner, Co-Founder and Board Member, Beyond Benign, Dr. Amy Cannon, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Beyond Benign, David Laviska, Portfolio Manager for Green Chemistry & Sustainability in Education, ACS Green Chemistry Institute, Dr. Natalie O’Neil, Director of Higher Education, Beyond Benign, Juliana Vidal, Program Manager, Higher Education, Beyond Benign, and Areej Nitowski, Green Chemistry Education Manager, MilliporeSigma.

 

In many countries, sustainability is not considered a core concept in undergraduate and graduate chemistry education. Our new partnership will impact higher education systems worldwide, helping educators to upskill future generations to make more sustainable choices. MilliporeSigma’s partnership with Beyond Benign also supports the goal of our parent company—Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany—to achieve human progress for more than one billion people through sustainable science and technology by 2030.

Chemists play a critical role in addressing the SDGs and achieving the targets outlined in policy initiatives, such as the European Green Deal. By driving systemic and sustainable change in chemistry education and investing in the scientists of tomorrow, we can all work together to improve chemistry’s impact on human progress on a global scale.

Learn more about Beyond Benign’s Green Chemistry Commitment or attend the 6th annual GCC Summit (June 12, 2023) in person the day before the GC&E conference (Long Beach, CA), or join virtually.  You can also learn more about how MilliporeSigma and our parent company, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, impact life and health with science in the 2022 Sustainability Report.