What do you see as the most effective role of government agencies? (Especially in states where the environmental agency is not considered a leader or agent of change?)
To develop the GC3's Agenda to Mainstream Green Chemistry, which recommends strategies to mainstream the field of green chemistry, we surveyed our members, did literature reviews, and conducted original interviews. Through this, we identified a number of barriers, including: the high cost to scale up, the lack of economically feasible alternatives, the high cost to research alternatives, the low cost of existing options, lack of customer demand. incumbency of existing materials in the marketplace, confusion and fear of switching, transparency, and more. I can't speak to why some companies are able to be more successful than others in incorporating green chemistry, but I think some of the answers might relate to not having as much money invested in old technologies, being smaller and more nimble, having a committed CEO, or having products that might be less risky or expensive to substitute with green chemistry.
The US prizes innovation; we have to sell green chemistry (through whatever examples we have) as a means to create better products (better meaning safer, lower environmental footprint, improved performance, lower costs). Right now we only sell green chemistry as a means to lower the environmental footprint – we’re selling the field short (I hope!).
One might borrow an approach pioneered by companies like 3M, where they often brag that x% of current sales result from products developed over the past z months, where z is 24 or less. Perhaps one can encourage companies to report % of sales resulting from products that represent green improvements over previous versions? If one is going to report such figures, then it prompts employees to dig for the answers, hence learning to what extent they are greening their operations and products.
I would, in addition to looking at scale (which suggests public companies), look at “exits” by smaller companies that incorporate green molecular design into their business model – private equity is becoming more involved with earlier stage companies than ever before, and the more good “exit” examples we have, the better we’ll look to capital markets in general.
In the green building arena, government was a strong early customer, which very much helped drive this field forward; I don’t see why this wouldn’t work with green chemical products as well.
Companies are highly varied in the raisons d'etre as well as their stage of growth. Companies that are incorporated with the intent of fulfilling a mission or commercializing a technology naturally hold that focus. Companies that have been relying on a technology for decades are reluctant to abandon that technology and convert to another, or they do so at a measured pace. An economic ecology requires a diversity of members to assure stability while accommodating change. Michael Porter speaks of the five forces in the marketplace, including innovation, competition, supply chain, barriers to entry, and demand. the green chemistry market is subject to the same forces, which can be used either to prvent change or to create it.
I think this is not only an environmental, but an economic development issue, and one approach is to try to get those two silos talking to each other to support green chemistry. In MA, I worked on a project years ago where we were trying to get the state to take a broad look at clean technologies of all sorts- clean energy, green chemistry, materials reuse and recycling, green building- and create an umbrella approach that supported all of these technologies and created synergies among them. It was a challenge- the environmental agency wasn't quite so interested in the economic development side, and the economic development side was interested, but said they wanted the environmental agency to take the lead. We didn't have success but I think the approach was a good one and could be tried elsewhere. Perhaps the change needs to come from the economic development agencies. A first step would be to bring together companies already in your state that are green chemistry companies and understand the economic and environmental benefits they bring, as well as what their challenges and needs are. Then set up a meeting with officials in the economic development and environmental offices to let them know and start raising their awareness. I think most state governments want to support economic development, so if they are aware of the size of the industry or the potential size and the jobs and revenue it would create, hopefully they could support it. But you'd definitely need to have a clear "ask"- do they need tax breaks, equipment loans, land, job training, etc.
Not related to government, but to green building: LEED could be a driver of green chemistry. I am not a LEED expert, believe that builders get points on using low toxicity products. Also for local products. So if you have a local company making products using green chemistry, let architects and builders know about it.
How can we get better at this? We do we in the field of green chemistry need to do to make its value clearer?