What Is Green Chemistry?

The concept of greening chemistry developed in the business and regulatory communities as a natural evolution of pollution prevention initiatives. In our efforts to improve crop protection, commercial products and medicines, we also caused unintended harm to our planet and humans.   

By the mid-20th century, some of the long-term negative effects of these advancements could not be ignored. Pollution choked many of the world's waterways and acid rain deteriorated forest health. There were measurable holes in the earth's ozone. Some chemicals in common use were suspected of causing or directly linked to human cancer and other adverse human and environmental health outcomes. Many governments began to regulate the generation and disposal of industrial wastes and emissions. The United States formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, which was charged with protecting human and environmental health through setting and enforcing environmental regulations. 

Green chemistry takes the EPA's mandate a step further and creates a new reality for chemistry and engineering by asking chemists and engineers to design chemicals, chemical processes and commercial products in a way that, at the very least, avoids the creation of toxics and waste. 

Green Chemistry is not politics. Green Chemistry is not a public relations ploy.  Green chemistry is not a pipe dream.

We are able to develop chemical processes and earth-friendly products that will prevent pollution in the first place. Through the practice of green chemistry, we can create alternatives to hazardous substances. We can design chemical processes that reduce waste and reduce demand on diminishing resources. We can employ processes that use smaller amounts of energy. We can do all of this and still maintain economic growth and opportunities while providing affordable products and services to a growing world population. 

This is a field open for innovation, new ideas, and revolutionary progress. This is the future of chemistry. This is green chemistry.

Green Chemistry Definition

Sustainable and green chemistry in very simple terms is just a different way of thinking about how chemistry and chemical engineering can be done. Over the years different principles have been proposed that can be used when thinking about the design, development and implementation of chemical products and processes. These principles enable scientists and engineers to protect and benefit the economy, people and the planet by finding creative and innovative ways to reduce waste, conserve energy, and discover replacements for hazardous substances.

It’s important to note that the scope of these of green chemistry and engineering principles go beyond concerns over hazards from chemical toxicity and include energy conservation, waste reduction, and life cycle considerations such as the use of more sustainable or renewable feedstocks and designing for end of life or the final disposition of the product.

Green chemistry can also be defined through the use of metrics. While a unified set of metrics has not been established, many ways to quantify greener processes and products have been proposed. These metrics include ones for mass, energy, hazardous substance reduction or elimination, and life cycle environmental impacts. 

ACS GCI's Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference

The 28th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference will be held June 2-5, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia, with the theme AI-Generated Green Chemistry.