Building a sustainable world – a world where today’s society meets its needs while preserving the ability of future generations to meet their own – is the single most important challenge of our time.
Meeting this challenge will be a worthy intellectual exercise, requiring the absolute best that we have to offer in terms of scientific creativity and ingenuity.
But sustainability also offers an incredible opportunity.
By inspiring a new generation of scientific and technological innovation, the path toward sustainability will simultaneously spark vibrant economic growth and revolutionize society’s relationship with our environment. The payoffs will be measured in improved human health, thriving ecosystems services, and a robust economy—for today and generations into the future.
If we are to move toward a sustainable society, we need to incorporate the principles of green chemistry: the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. The 12 principles of green chemistry provide a framework for generating the materials and energy that are the basis or our society and economy in ways that are benign to humans and the environment.
This emerging and powerful new paradigm calls on us to utilize our collective expertise and knowledge for manipulating the basic chemical and physical properties of materials to invent new sustainable products, processes, and systems. In the same way that chemists today design a substance for a particular property, such as color, strength, or elasticity, we now need to hone our skills to design substances that are nontoxic and sustainable.
Green chemistry is the chemistry of sustainability
Sustainability and the reduction of hazards to human health and the environment must be explicit performance criteria for measuring our success. The products and materials that we introduce in the world should be designed so that they degrade through natural biological or physical systems without persisting, bio-accumulating, and biomagnifying.
The 12 principles of green chemistry cut across the lifecycle of every product or process. Anytime a chemist puts pencil to paper or reaches for the computer mouse to begin the process of designing a chemical product or synthetic methodology, they have the opportunity to embrace green chemistry and help society move forward on the path to sustainability.
Paul Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the Science Advisor to the Agency. He was the founding Director of the Green Chemistry Institute and has been recognized for his pioneering work on green chemistry with a host of awards and accolades including the Vice President’s Hammer Award, the Joseph Seifter Award for Scientific Excellence, the Nolan Sommer Award for Distinguished Contributions to Chemistry.
Read more about Paul Anastas at US Environmental Protection Agency…