Green chemistry: Bright Futures and Dark Dilemmas
A very nice discussion of political and technical issues confronting the Green Chemistry community is found on
The site is written/run by a professional chemist (as is this one). The author is Mark C. Reid, and he offers well-reasoned opinions and extensive links to articles, websites and other resources.
Mark indicates that, in spite of the profound role of the US EPA and the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, Green Chemistry
- “has ironically not made as much impact in the US educational system as it has in Europe or Asia and elsewhere”
He suggests some reasons why the above is true, and why much cynicism remains in part of the US academic community about Green Chemistry (not that this is only a US phenomenon, but we in the US are the top dogs in this particular brand of cynicism).
I’ll suggest another reason: money. Research funding is so tight in the US that “traditional” disciplines are struggling to survive, and I personally know many who have given up academics, especially in the biomedical area. With money tight, the old-school chemical disciplines, which are not necessarily any less important than they ever were, are fighting tooth and nail to survive, and there isn’t much funding left, if any.
- In perhaps an unusual turn of affairs, we find industry in the US leading the way forward for Green Chemistry in many instances.
- Why? Because Green Chemistry can, has, does and will affect the industrial bottom line.
- I make the above statements without in any way trying to sound condescending- I’ve spent over half my career in industry.
- Industry has always led certain fields, but they only lead when it suits them.
- Green Chemistry suits people who are actually in the business of doing chemistry on a large scale and have to address issues of waste, safety, energy use, etc.
- Academic labs have always been far behind industry in these areas, in some cases feeling that the amount of waste they generate is insignificant, so they need not think about it.
- Part of it is machismo.
- Of course, I’ve seen that attitude in Europe too, if in slightly different form, with chemists waving unfiltered cigarettes around while they work with explosive solvents, just a few feet from me.
- So, the laboratory is where some of the educational opportunity is lost in the US (at the graduate level in addition to at the undergraduate level).
- The chemists of today and tomorrow need to be concerned with Green Chemistry: waste minimization, pollution prevention, energy use, etc.
- We are not necessarily training them to do so (with notable exceptions, as always).
© James K. Bashkin, 2007