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Need for a Green Chemistry Education Roadmap

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Over the past several months, I’ve been traveling from coast to coast and abroad discussing the idea of a green chemistry and engineering education roadmap. The concept of a roadmap has emerged from listening to the needs of the green chemistry community. We’ve heard from leaders in green chemistry education, people just getting started, industrial scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers of all levels, and other organizations working in this area. What we hear is a lot of interest in incorporating green chemistry ideology into course and lab work, a lot of individual initiative, as well as some real challenges. Advocating for progress in education & communication of green chemistry concepts is one of the Institute’s strategic goals, and our interest is to convene and catalyze educational initiatives.

Over the years ACS GCI has done this in several ways. We’ve partnered with the U.S. EPA and authors to publish several of the earliest textbooks and lab manuals. We continue to support the incorporation of green chemistry into textbooks such as Chemistry for a Changing Times. Understanding the importance of finding platforms for presenting their technical work and interacting with leaders in this space, we provide several travel awards for students to attend green chemistry meetings. We also continue to support the growing number of ACS Student Chapters focusing on green chemistry. In addition, we have held an annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Student Workshop in conjunction with our Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference for many, many years.

The state of green chemistry education Let’s face it. chemistry is not the most popular subject in school. According to the National Science Board, 92% of U.S. high school students report that chemistry was their hardest subject. At universities, only 1-3% of students end up majoring in the physical sciences. Little wonder that the public remains widely illiterate when it comes to chemistry. Many are unable to make the connections between basic concepts in chemistry and everyday life. Fortunately, what we have also seen is the ability of green chemistry to make these connections and breathe new excitement into chemistry education.

Incorporating green chemistry into labs and curriculum benefits educators in many ways. It modernizes a curriculum set in the early part of the 20th century, helps prepare students for real industrial challenges, creates a safer laboratory environment, costs institutions less money (e.g., hazardous waste disposal, energy, and liability costs), boosts institutional sustainability initiatives, and many other benefits.

Over the last fifteen years the growth in green chemistry research and industrial adoption has been steady. For example, the number of publications containing the term “green chemistry” has risen from around 750 in 1999 to about 3750 in 2013. Educators too have been responding to meet the interest of students. Many are already incorporating green chemistry in their classrooms and contributed to curriculum development. There are local and regional efforts to promote curriculum changes. So this is all good, but… there are many challenges including a lack of coordination, duplicate efforts, and unmet needs.

What is a roadmap?

An educational roadmap is both a destination and a path. It is a consensus-building tool that helps us coordinate, invest, and partner in a strategic manner for the best long-term results. Roadmaps have been created successfully in other disciplines, such as geography, as well as in evolving industries, e.g., the Semiconductor Industry Association.

Roadmaps help a community outline its needs, coordinate efforts and distribute materials, encourage funding and investment, and leverages resources and make connections. By bringing together a diverse group of participants, roadmaps can help answer questions like:

- What do green chemists need to know?

- What are the gaps in existing resources?

- How will those gaps be filled?

How would a roadmap be useful to you?

We believe that an educational roadmap for green chemistry would define and clarify methods of incorporating green chemistry into the curriculum. The goal of this process is to make it easier for educators who are interested in:

- Finding and adopting the best materials and approaches

- Getting funding to develop and adopt materials

- Building capacity to adopt and teach green chemistry topics and themes

- Building capacity to create and develop innovative new materials

As we develop this idea, we’ll keep you updated in the pages of The Nexus. If you’d like to share your thoughts feel free to comment here on the blog or email me at We’d love to hear from you!

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To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.