Benefits and Opportunities
Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal. Green chemistry is also known as sustainable chemistry.
- Prevents pollution at the molecular level
- Is a philosophy that applies to all areas of chemistry, not a single discipline of chemistry
- Applies innovative scientific solutions to real-world environmental problems
- Results in source reduction because it prevents the generation of pollution
- Reduces the negative impacts of chemical products and processes on human health and the environment
- Lessens and sometimes eliminates hazard from existing products and processes
- Designs chemical products and processes to reduce their intrinsic hazards
In their book Green Chemistry Theory and Practice, Paul T. Anastas and John C. Warner define it as “the utilization of a set of principles that reduces or eliminates the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemical products.[i]” Theirs is a ground-breaking book and well worth reading.
Implementation of green chemistry can be thought of as an assurance by businesses to stakeholders, much like the medical motto “First do no harm” and is supported by 12 principles. These principles give direction to those seeking to integrate the advantages of green chemistry into their business practices. They also act as signposts for the future of chemical, product, and process development, and provide historical markers documenting the concept’s beginning drivers and problem-solving aspirations.
The real strength of the concept is that many of the 12 principles can be easily integrated into many areas of business; the rest, with minor adjustments, can also fit into a strong foundation for risk management, resiliency, and sustainable growth.
This universality works both ways: companies may find that due to other considerations and goals, they have already integrated many of the principles of green chemistry into their policies and procedures, and the infrastructure is in place to expand these programs and incorporate more of them.
Adoption of green chemistry and its underlying 12 principles requires a change in thinking and perspective as business objectives and goals are developed. For example, a Sustainability Index can be an added measurement for products, services, and processes. It can also be used in contractor and business partner selection, supplier engagement, and performance metrics.
Cradle-to-grave reaction can give way to cradle-to-cradle design. Ideas for new products and processes will begin with the end in mind. Truly integrated reporting ensures that a systemic examination from all stakeholder points of view will help identify risks and opportunities and gain and maintain a social license to operate.
Adopting green chemistry requires careful planning and a willingness to expand considerations beyond the usual business parameters and executive focus. Primary and secondary stakeholders need to be identified, and company vision, mission, and values elevated as co-equal factors in the decision-making process. Empty slogans and greenwashing don’t work in a connected world. Full integration of green chemistry also requires bringing HSE professionals into the decision-making process early as subject matter experts and executive team members.
True green chemistry integration is rewarding on many levels. It can elevate brand image both socially and financially, while adding sustainability and resiliency to business planning and risk management. It can promote life-cycle thinking and long-term planning, helping to minimize – even avoid – negative outcomes. It can positively impact all aspects of business, including products, services, priorities, and company image.
Future posts will delve more deeply into the various aspects and opportunities of green chemistry integration, as well as tools and strategies for harnessing its full potential.
[i] Green Chemistry Theory and Practice, Paul T. Anastas and John C. Warner, Oxford University Press, 1998, page 11.