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Green Chemistry for Sustainability

Interview with ChemAlliance and Dr. Louis M. Scarmoutzos


ChemAlliance: What is Green Chemistry?

Green chemistry is the design and implementation of processes and products that minimize or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous chemicals, solvents and other substances which may have an adverse effect on the environment and on human health.

Green chemistry applies not only to the manufacture and use of chemical products- solvents, raw materials, and intermediates- but also to the manufacture and use of pharmaceutical and biotech products, consumer and household products and to just about any imaginable article of manufacture or manufacturing process you can name.

Green chemistry is a more ecofriendly green alternative to conventional chemistry practices. The green chemistry movement is part of a larger movement ultimately leading to a green economy- namely sustainable development, sustainable business and sustainable living practices.

ChemAlliance: What are the main challenges in implementing green chemistry initiatives?

Overcoming an inherent reluctance to change. In particular, changing existing and established processes and products. Unless statutorily driven, there is an inherent reluctance for business to change existing products and processes particularly those that are economical and profitable. This reluctance may be perceived or factual and founded in terms of added economic burdens such as manpower allocation, additional developmental activities (for product validation, etc.), capital expenditures and related.

Often the implementation of green chemistry initiatives may take years to pay back (i.e. return on expenditures or investments), which is at odds with the relatively short horizon and time span of many senior executives and company shareholders.

Reluctance to change may be also found in our habits and in our nature.

It is important to implement green chemistry thinking and practices up front and early on in the development of new chemical-based products and chemistry-based technologies. Once a product or process has been established and validated, there is a reluctance to change it.

Education is also a challenge to the implementation of green chemistry, particularly the education of budding chemists and scientists at the undergraduate and graduate college level. Grad school labs are filled with non-ecofriendly solvents and chemicals amassed from previous experiments and from earlier generations of students. It is much easier to reach for what is already on the shelf rather than give much thought to green chemistry principles, particularly since the professor is usually much more interested in the targeted molecule or outcome of the study.

In graduate chemistry studies, the overwhelming goal is usually a targeted molecule or targeted experimental outcome with minimal thought given to how those goals will be achieved. It may take a new generation of graduating chemists and scientists to fully accept and implement green chemistry.

ChemAlliance: What are the main drivers for implementing green chemistry initiatives?

In a nutshell, the main drivers are economics, the environment and societal issues.

In those clear or demonstrable cases where there is potential of lowering costs or receiving tax breaks, economics can be a powerful driver for businesses, particularly if those economic results can be realized over a relatively short period of time.

Notwithstanding the obvious benefits of green chemistry to the environment and to human health, there is growing motivation for businesses and manufacturers to adapt green chemistry processes and to develop or use green products. Consumer sentiment is increasingly favoring eco-friendly and green alternatives over conventional products and processes. Consumers are generally becoming more "green" in their purchases and lifestyles. Whenever price and quality are comparable, the environmentally responsible product will have the advantage. All things being equal, the "green" consumer is becoming mainstream.

Green chemistry can be very good for business. The implementation of green chemistry approaches can provide for a powerful marketing campaign for products and processes- namely the marketing of products as ecofriendly products or products manufactured using green processes. Again, increasingly more consumers are voting at the marketplace by selecting ecofriendly or green products over their conventional counterparts.

ChemAlliance: Can you provide some specific benefits that can be gained?

In the paint and coatings industry, solvent reduction (VOC reduction) and energy efficiency have improved air quality.

In addition to the beneficial health and environmental effects, increased goodwill with customers, vendors and company stakeholders.

Also, see below (measurables).

ChemAlliance: How should a company go about beginning an initiative, and what are the key factors that result in a successful program?

Start simply and track your progress.

Report and publicize your results.

Recognize and reward employees for their contributions and for their suggestions.

Top to bottom participation from all aspects of the business enterprise and its activities.

Keep initiatives simple at first. Target obvious changes, the results of which can be readily seen by co-workers and employees. This will instill a certain momentum and pride moving forward.

Green chemistry should also be looked upon in a much larger context, notably sustainable business practices. Sustainable business practices and initiatives may come from non-technical or non-chemical arenas such as business operations and should be welcomed. Some obvious sustainable business efforts include recycling and energy efficiency.

Tracking your progress and its success may include:

(1) Economic Measurements - Such as waste costs, recycling revenue, materials costs, energy costs, etc.

(2) Environmental Measurements - Such as the amounts and nature of toxic materials used, CO2 emissions, energy consumption, etc.

(3) Sociological Measurements - Such as enhanced company spirit, quality of work life, employee absenteeism or illness, goodwill (customers, vendors, stakeholders), etc.

* * * * *

Dr. Louis M. Scarmoutzos, or "Dr. Lou" as his colleagues and friends fondly call him, is a Managing Partner and Founder of MVS Solutions Incorporated- a corporate and technology development company and consulting firm that provides scientific, technical and business assistance to business, government, and nonprofits in the biotech, chemistry, life sciences, medical device, healthcare and related industries. Dr. Lou can be reached at lscarmoutzos@mvssolutions.com or at (617) 283-2182.

ChemAlliance provides up-to-date information concerning environmental regulations affecting the chemical industry and is operated by a partnership of environmental professionals in academia, government and industry. Additional information concerning ChemAlliance can be found on the Internet at www.chemalliance.org.

The news article resulting from this interview first appeared in the May 20, 2005 issue of ChemAlliance, written by Cynthia A. Challener, Ph.D.




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