Green Chemistry Class at Rio+20

By Bicky Corman

On Saturday, June 16, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on Green Chemistry hosted by the United National Global Compact (UNGC) and United National Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

In his introduction, UNIDO’s Heinz Luenenberger warned us it was likely to be wonky, but it was actually quite energetic. The speakers included: Dr. Professor Rodrigo Souza, of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a green chemistry academic expert; Neil Hawkins from Dow; Peter White from Procter & Gamble; and Jorge Soto of Braskem. There was a palpable enthusiasm from all sectors on the huge transformations possible from understanding and applying green chemistry, which is a game-changer.

Green Chemistry, pioneered 20 years ago by Paul Anastas and John Warner, is based on the premise that toxicity and hazard are not necessary results of manufacture, use or disposal of chemicals; rather, those features are “design flaws” that can be resolved with thoughtful design and understanding of the habits of particular molecules. The application of green chemistry spurs innovation, as manufacturers rush to create these green alternatives. Doing so will save them money in production, use and disposal, and it will help them produce compounds that are safer for their workers and for the ultimate users. Green Chemistry is only gives manufacturers a competitive advantage; it’s also an important ingredient if we wish to promote economic growth and environmental protection.

When it was my turn to present, I had the honor of speaking about the contributions EPA has made in the field of Green Chemistry. EPA has been advancing green chemistry through research, collaboration and recognition for many years.

EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Award, which is given to honorees in industry, academia and NGOs, has stimulated innovative design of chemical products in both big and small companies. Dr. Hawkins commented that the receiving these awards has been quite meaningful to Dow, and we’ve seen what the winning technologies have accomplished: Since the program began, participating companies and academic institutions have together eliminated 544 million kilograms of hazardous chemicals and solvents each year, and are eliminating each year about 158 million kilograms of carbon dioxide releases to air.

Throughout the discussion the audience members were very engaged, and commented that the various presentations made them optimistic. I have to agree; this was certainly the most enjoyable chemistry class I have ever attended!

About the author: Bicky Corman is the Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.