ACS Green Chemistry Institute's Nexus Newsletter

October 10, 2012

This will be my farewell letter to you and by the time you read this issue of the Nexus, I will have departed as your ACS GCI Director. Looking back, I am amazed at all we have accomplished together over the last 4.5 years especially since it was done in one of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Working with our Governing Board, we developed and implemented a new strategy for GCI and drove a new operating model that has done extremely well. Each year we have seen dramatic growth in our roundtables, our annual green chemistry conference, our suite of offerings, our outreach, our international connections and impact, and participation by industry. This last point is vitally important to me because, at the end of the day, it is the corporate players who will implement our new green chemistry. Regardless of how innovative and creative we are in the laboratory, it only matters if it is translated into use by business leaders who are really the sole arbiters of success. Please, we must learn to speak their language. It is not good enough to do great science.
Looking to the future, I see several challenges that lie before us. Pike Research issued a report in June of 2011which gave us a snapshot of the global chemical enterprise and how and where green chemistry fits in. The good news, there is progress and industry in stepping forward to adopt green chemistry. Industry gets this at many levels, but green chemistry penetration is still exceptionally small and business needs our help to see the value. Who does not get green chemistry and sustainability are our universities, professional societies and our governments. Our society, our government, industry and ACS, have continued to underfund efforts in this area which are so critical to solving the challenges of the 21st century in a sustainable manner. We have been teaching and practicing chemistry essentially unchanged for more than 100 years. It is time to bring green chemistry into the core curriculum. Not as a single course, because it is not a “discipline” of chemistry, but rather it should pervade the basic training of all chemistry going forward. We now have a much deeper understanding of the mechanisms of toxicology and we now have the tools to design new molecules that deliver functionality and at the same time are safer for human health and the environment. No chemist or chemical engineer should graduate with an advanced degree without a firm grasp of the practice and principles of green chemistry and engineering. Chemists, the molecular architects of our society, should have an understanding of mechanistic toxicology, life cycle analysis, and environmental fate. No, they do not have to be experts, but they should develop enough understanding to know what questions to ask and how to talk to colleagues for assistance in these areas. This will go a very long way to minimizing the unfortunate consequences and regrettable substitutions of the past. There is just no reason to create a new molecule or process that has not “cleared” a green screening assessment. The good news is there are institutions around the world that have made the commitment to begin the transition to green chemistry. They are developing programs, curricula, materials, and tools that are widely available. To those universities who have stepped up to this challenge – congratulations – you are the pioneers. It’s a start, but there are too few and incorporation it is not fast enough. To students, I urge you to tell your professors you expect more and that green chemistry and engineering must be incorporated into your training. Professors, I urge you to be bold, reinvigorate your sense of discovery and learn the new tools of green chemistry and engineering and embed them in your teaching and your research. Industrial scientists, go talk to your management and explain to them what green chemistry has to offer – the benefits are well proven and documented, starting with the winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners. Executives challenge your scientists and engineers to step up and bring forward the innovations green chemistry has to offer – I promise you it will have a positive impact on return-on-investment and shareholder value!