As sustainability (a holistic picture of what's necessary) collects social, economic, and environmental considerations, what can chemists do to make sure their chemistry is useful, and affordable?
Similarly, how we can reimagine the principles of green chemistry to incorporate these ideas?
I can imagine it will involve collaboration and interdisciplinary research, but am wondering what y'all think.
Hello Julian. This is a great question, and one that is very important. I don't pretend to be an expert on this topic for sure, but I would like to throw out an answer if I may. I think that your answer actually already lies in the 12 principles as written.
1. Prevention: Waste and the spills associated with it often disproportionately affects people in lower socioeconomic standing and also cost a ton of money to clean up.
2. Atom Economy: Being efficient with our use of atoms in chemistry can only serve to lower the cost of our products, thus bringing innovative chemistries to more people.
3. Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses: While not directly associated with our usual definition of social sustainability, it is important to consider that once chemistries are commercialized/industrialized, a larger number of people are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals in synthesis.
4. Designing Safer Chemicals: I think it goes without saying that safer chemicals are good for the environment, the economy, and society.
5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries: Solvents are not only hazardous, but also contribute to climate change and air pollution. The removal of organic solvents from chemical synthesis contributes very positively to the overall sustainability of the process...
We could continue to go through the 12 principles, but I think it is important to consider that it may not be the principles that need re-imagining, but the chemists themselves taking every principle into full consideration. Of course collaboration and interdisciplinary work are vital, there is no question about that, but pushing the limits of what we take into consideration when designing new chemistry and chemical processes, as well as questioning everything is equally, if not more important.
It's just my opinion, but I think we really need to push ourselves as chemists to answer these questions because the frameworks are there if we ask the right questions.
I think the economic aspect of the triple bottom line (people, profit, planet) gets considered automatically certainly in industry, and to a lesser extent in academic research. Any new technology will only be considered if it can be economically viable. The 12 principles of green chemistry don't explicitly discuss cost but by following them, you will end up at a more commercially attractive process.
In terms of the social aspect, I think a big part of it is engaging the public to be passionate about green chemistry innovations and products. If you are able to initiate a sustained demand for these products, you are well on your way to eliminating some of the dubious practices that are currently taking place in mining natural resources for example.
This is a great question. At the Lowell Center, we have developed a Framework for Sustainable Products that includes 5 elements:
Healthy for consumers considers whether the product design avoids toxic chemicals and whether the product is safe in use (e.g., not flammable or explosive; does not cause injury).
Environmentally sound considers factors such as: avoidance of toxic chemicals; energy, water and materials efficiency; durability; biodegradability; recyclability; and use of renewable resources.
Beneficial to local communities considers factors such as whether workers receive a living wage, community members have a voice in decision making, and whether some of the profits accrue to the local community.
Economically viable considers factors such as whether the product is responsive to market requirements and whether the product is priced to internalize social and environmental costs.
Safe for workers includes the following types of considerations: working hours and pace; whether the workplace is safe, ergonomically appropriate, well ventilated and free of toxic exposures; and whether workers.
As you can see, green chemistry is central to several of these elements, but adopting green chemistry is not enough to ensure that a product is fully sustainable. Rather, green chemistry can provide the building blocks to create sustainable products. The Lowell Center defines a sustainable product as one that minimizes environmental and social costs throughout the product lifecycle and aims to maximize environmental and social benefits to communities, while remaining economically viable. For more information: https://www.uml.edu/docs/A%20New%20Way%20of%20Thinking_tcm18-229911.pdf