Pollution Prevention & Early Advocates Of Green Chemistry

In 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act, a policy that states that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source and recycled in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible, and that unpreventable pollution should be treated and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. The Act set a precedent of eliminating pollution from its source, and 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted this principle as one of its declared objectives.

The groundwork for the movement that became Green Chemistry emerged from these two events and developed further through the efforts and collaboration of several key advocates in the US Government. In the early 1990’s, Kenneth Hancock, Director of the Division of Chemistry at the National Science Foundation (NSF), advocated the role of chemistry and chemists both in mitigating the environmental effects of past inventions and in preventing environmental problems in the future—all in an economically feasible way. Dr. Hancock died unexpectedly in 1993 while attending a conference in Eastern Europe. The Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial Award provides national recognition to outstanding student contributions to furthering the goals of green chemistry through research or education.Several early advocates of Green Chemistry were instrumental in the founding of the Green Chemistry Institute in 1997.

Joe Breen, whose twenty-year career at the EPA informed his understanding of the necessity of sustainable chemistry, was a pioneer and relentless early advocate of Green Chemistry. As the co-founder and first Director of the Green Chemistry Institute in 1997, he toured the world talking with students, teachers, and scientists about the urgency of promoting Green Chemistry. At his death in 1999, he was called the “Heart and Soul of Green Chemistry.” In honor of his efforts, the Joe Breen Memorial Fellowship award sponsors the participation of a young international green chemistry scholar in a green chemistry technical meeting, conference or training program.

Dennis Hjeresen, a subsequent Director of the Green Chemistry Institute and currently at Los Alamos National Laboratory, also worked to make Green Chemistry a known entity in the chemistry world; through his efforts, the American Chemical Society, intending to focus on the role of chemistry in the environment, formed an alliance with—and began to provide core funding for—the Green Chemistry Institute.

The Founding of Green Chemistry: A Collaboration Of Government & Industry

Green Chemistry gained its current standing as a scientific discipline as well as practical means to pollution prevention as the result of collaboration between the US government, Industry, and Academia. In the early 1990’s, Paul Anastas, who was then the chief of the Industrial Chemistry Branch at the US EPA, moved forward the concept of Green Chemistry. Despite the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and the early work of several tireless advocates, the focus of the US EPA at that time remained on end of pipe regulations, pollution clean-up, rather than preventing pollution. These discussions lead to Paul Anastas and John Warner to develop the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry: a framework to help us think about how to prevent pollution when inventing new chemicals and materials, by the mid-1990’s. Paul Anastas and John Warner’s work as founders of a new field called Green Chemistry, based on the productive collaboration of government and industry, was just beginning.

In 1996, John Warner and Paul Anastas and others were stakeholders in the founding of Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. This award increased awareness of Green Chemistry in industry and government by annually acknowledging individuals, groups, and organizations in academia, industry, and the government for their innovations in cleaner, cheaper, smarter chemistry. This remains the only award given by the President of the United States specifically for work in chemistry.

In 1998, John Warner and Paul Anastas published the seminal book Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, which gave a precise definition to Green Chemistry and enumerated the Twelve Principles fundamental to the science. The definition and principles have become the generally-accepted guidelines for Green Chemistry. The book has achieved world-wide renown and has been re-printed in several languages.

Paul Anastas went on to become the director of the U.S. Green Chemistry Program at the EPA. He also held the role of Director of the Green Chemistry Institute, where he established twenty-four Green Chemistry chapters in countries around the world. He went on to found a Green Chemistry program at Yale University. In May 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Paul Anastas to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Research and Development. The nomination is a decisive achievement for the adoption and advancement of the principles of Green Chemistry.

John Warner turned his focus next on the need for educating a new generation of scientists in Green Chemistry principles. He founded the world’s first Ph.D. program in Green Chemistry as well as a Center for Green Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts. In 2007, John Warner returned to industry to develop green technologies, partnering with Jim Babcock to found the first company completely dedicated to developing green chemistry technologies, the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. The Institute was created with the mission to develop nontoxic, environmentally benign, and sustainable technological solutions for society. Simultaneously, John Warner founded a non-profit foundation, Beyond Benign, to promote K-12 science education and community outreach.

Green Chemistry Today: World-Wide Initiatives In Government & Academia

Individuals and organizations are consistently becoming more aware of the growing need for more sustainable product and processes, Green Chemistry has emerged as a definitive answer to that need. As a result, Green Chemistry is becoming a focus for governments as well as academic institutions around the world.

Countries throughout the world are engaging and adopting Green Chemistry as a sustainable and economical development. The year 2000 marked the founding of the Green Chemistry Institute of Spain; the Green and Sustainable Chemistry Network in Japan; and the Centre of Green Chemistry at Monash University in Australia. In early 2009, PARTEQ Innovations founded GreenCentre Canada, North America’s first all-inclusive commercialization center for Green Chemistry research innovations. It was founded with the mission of developing and commercializing early-stage Green Chemistry discoveries generated by academic researchers and industry.

An integral component to the growth of Green Chemistry is the proliferation of Green Chemistry education and research. To this end, several universities around the world have created specific departments focused on teaching, studying, and expanding Green Chemistry.

Since 1997, the University of Oregon has been developing undergraduate chemistry curricula that incorporates the principles and practices of Green Chemistry into both laboratory and lecture classes. Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, has established the Institute for Green Science, a center focused on research, education and development. Since the fall of 2001, the University of Massachusetts has offered a Green Chemistry Track in the Chemistry Ph.D. program; it was the first such program in the world. In England, the University of York houses the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, supporting Green Chemistry research, industrial collaboration, and development of educational materials, including Masters course in Green Chemistry and Sustainable Industrial Technology. The University of California at Berkeley, which has the US’s #1 ranked chemistry program, has founded the The Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, which aims to advance green chemistry principles and practice through interdisciplinary research, education, and novel collaborations among investigators working at the intersection of chemistry, toxicology, environmental health, business, law, and public policy.

Recent Developments in Green Chemistry: Legislation

In April 2007, the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) began a Green Chemistry Initiative to promote innovation, create new jobs, and keep people safe from harmful substances. After gathering input from over 600 participants, including industry leaders, community organizers, and scientists, Cal/EPA created a series of options of ways to reduce the effects of toxic chemicals on people and the environment. In September 2008, following advice from the Cal/EPA, California legislature passed two landmark bills focused on promoting Green Chemistry. California was the first state to pass a comprehensive Green Chemistry policy.

The bills set a precedent for Green Chemistry legislation, and states around the nation and countries around the world have been following suit. In 2008, for example, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality began the first stage of a multi-step process entitled “Advancing Green Chemistry” in 2009, the Michigan legislature passed several bills promoting Green Chemistry innovation and development. Other states, including Minnesota, and other countries, including Canada, Spain, and China, have hosted large conferences to discuss the opportunities and applications of green chemistry on local, national, and international scales. With these initiatives and still others announced on almost a daily basis, Green Chemistry continues to grow in importance and impact on both national and international stages.