This question begets the bigger question, what is the role of government? Government can fund basic research (e.g.,NSF), can establish programs to pursue research and development (i.e. NASA), maintain a level economic playing field (e.g. SEC or Dept. of Commerce), etc. Over the past two decades, the country has diminished these roles of government and transferred those roles increasingly to the private sector. A blend is probable appropriate, and the balance point will shift with shifting priorities, over time.
Thanks for putting this together.
I have a multi-part question. In order to mainstream green chemistry, we need to have a well-informed public to get behind and support innovative technologies. What kind of strategies can we employ to make the public trust that the chemical industry, in its use of green chemistry, is making an effort to move towards a sustainable future? Would short-term advertising campaigns be better, or would long-term strategies like curriculum development be most effective? Are there any specific examples that you have seen that are particularly successful in getting the public/customers to support a green chemistry innovation?
One of the primary barriers to adoption of green chemistry is the complexity of the supply chains that these chemicals go into, along with the power of incumbency and installed capacity. Producers of green chemicals are generally at about 3 levels of the supply chain away from OEM's Brands and Retailers, and that much further from the consumers who have the need for more sustainable solutions. Marketing across the supply chain (Market 'Pull in addition to Market 'Push'') is required to ensure that the OEM's brands and retailers that are closest to the consumers are aware of what green chemistry can do, which comes from the beginning of the value chain. Green chemistry providers need to play an integrator role across the supply chain to make sure that supply meets demand at the opposite end of the value chain, and solutions are integrated across it. Another barrier is higher cost of products based on green chemistry because of the small scale at which they are made today. This will not change until commercial capacity is available more broadly, and economies of scale can be achieved. This will be driven as much by market demand as by technical success, if not more so, so as per the above, getting to the companies at the level of the value chain that serve the consumers and can create this demand is key.
Certain companies are more successful at incorporating green chemistry because they have a strategic vision and clearly-stated objectives to improve the sustainability of their products and services and work to execute on these. In other words, sustainability/ green chemistry is an integral part of the company's business case for change, growth and profitability. In other cases, it is because there is a good fit between a solution based on green chemistry and the customer needs that the company serves.. A good example of this is the furanics technology from Avantium (PEF) to replace PET which is being driven by Coca Cola, Danone and other beverage brands.
Further, one of the bottlenecks in biorefineries is usually separations – in traditional refineries one uses very energy-intensive distillation, yet design of distillation processes has been known since the late 1920’s and now entirely computerized (meaning that even sophomore engineers can do it); this is not the case for many needed separations embedded within biorefineries. Further, more work needs to be done on the impact of variable feedstocks on the performance of the various processes within a biorefinery; this is entirely known for petroleum.
I feel sometimes like we spend a lot of time talking to our own communities about what we do. I think we need to do a better job of reaching out to other groups: investors, builders, retailers, economic development agencies, policy-makers, etc- about what we do and why they should care. We may also need more data about the field- the TruCost report that the GC3 and ASBC sponsored made the business case for green chemistry, but it would have benefitted by more current and available data. So we need the right kinds of data (see metrics discussions) and we need to be making the case to new audiences who can partner with us or perhaps even communicate better than us.
We don’t typically teach chemists or chemical engineers the innovation process, yet we do so for mechanical engineers, EE’s, and business majors. Is it any wonder that we see more innovation coming from those fields? Only 1 of 7 chemical engineering departments in the US even offers product design, the fraction of chemistry departments doing so is likely far smaller.
It’s not clear to me that larger, mainstream chemical companies have sufficient credibility with the public anymore to make a believable case for informing the public about the merits of green chemistry. However, there are companies whose “brand” represents a new way of thinking about chemically based products (Patagonia to Seventh Generation to Burt’s Bees to others); these companies would be the best representatives for a more sustainable future. If one is to put together a campaign, one has to edit the list of companies with great care!
We need to be clearer about the definition of green chemistry. The phrase is too vague to allow attribution of benefits. Go back to the Twelve Principles, which can be condensed to four categories: Sustainable sourcing; Zero waste; Renewable energy; Safety and health; As we look at each green technology, we can ascribe and communicate benefits to the specific technology.
I think that it's not necessarily about advertising. It's a complex issue. There's one of trust- brands like Seventh Generation are trusted to develop safe and sustainable products. People recognize that they walk their talk; that is key in building trust. One tool could be eco-labels that certify a product as safer. Apps such as Skin Deep (I'm not endorsing, just providing an example) can help consumers find safer products, letting the marketplace know that those are desired. I also think that companies developing greener solutions should keep open communication channels with environmental advocates about what they are doing and perhaps even the challenges they are facing so that the advocates can help explain the issues to their constituents, and so companies can understand what the issues are that consumers care about.
Something else that would help greatly where public trust is concerned is in labelling – the labels of ingredients on chemical products (for example, personal care products) still use euphemisms for the actual chemicals, making it very difficult for customers to see what it is they’re buying (I can’t tell half the time). Note that over-the-counter pharmaceuticals make it easy to see if you’re getting the same active ingredient as the name brand drug.