Cultivating Green Philosophy and Habits

“Green” has evolved from a fringe idea into a profitable buzzword, yet it’s use in practice is far from widespread. As in many necessary paradigm shifts, education can play a prominent role in developing extensive change and acceptance. In this case, the education system should cultivate green principles as a key concept for societal innovation and foundation. Various curricula changes and sustainable approaches are slowly being introduced, but the speed isn’t on pace with the necessary implementation of green chemistry principles. Green chemistry should be present as an underlying practice in all fields, yet it rarely even appears in chemistry textbooks. The topic is mentioned in less than a quarter of current chemistry textbooks.(Cann 2011) As a student, formally or figuratively, one should be aware of this discrepancy and work to build green viewpoints and habits out of the current framework.

With direct attention, the green philosophy can be effectively learned in the present and more easily propagated in the future. Currently, there are more instances of traditional approaches than apparently green approaches in education, however, with consideration, positive habits can be formed. The habits learned as a student continue into future professional applications, and the conventions of one’s educator are often passed down, irrespective of benefit or intention. Both the teacher and student should be conscientious of this transfer; too often students proceed without question or full understanding. This may be prevented by the teacher’s focus on beneficial practices, and by the student’s critical assessment of situations. Of course, an academic laboratory experiment is designed to communicate primary ideas, but each experiment teaches lab skills, which should include green chemistry skills. Awareness of green principles and basic toxicology will allow greener alternatives to be realized, in addition to other core concepts.  Regular laboratory habits could still include pipetting by mouth, smoking cigarettes to detect gases, and putting hazardous waste down the drain if realization of detriment and means to replace these practices weren’t developed. Cycles of obsolete, institutionalized habits should be broken.

In considering traditional versus greener options, a greener option may not be developed yet, in which case, it is necessary to bring awareness to this situation and contemplate means for rectification in future encounters. It takes time to develop greener alternatives and mindsets, but the effort in the present will cultivate ease and assurance of green chemistry practices in the future.

“Green chemistry is successful when the term ‘green chemistry’ disappears because it’s simply the way we do chemistry.” -Paul Anastas, co-founder of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry (Jacobs 2011)

It may be easy to think that the scale of academic research or a laboratory experiment is comparatively small and insignificant to the industrial scale, but these “small” events add up and the learned habits and philosophy are directly transferred into one’s future practices. Therefore, it is important to instill the principles of green chemistry throughout the education system. These concepts are not only important in the development of chemists, they are also important to foster in other professionals who affect implementation and commercialization through their decisions in policy, profitability, engineering, regulations, public health, etc. Teaching green principles will allow the entire system to more quickly adopt and progress these ideas.

The push for teaching green chemistry skills is supported by the growing desirability and acceptance in industry, albeit this is also in need of improvement and infusion of proper methodology. Nonetheless, sustainability is viewed as the next “business megatrend” (Lubin 2010), and businesses are seeing profit in the 12 green chemistry principles; reduce waste in chemical production, use less-toxic alternatives, and replace petroleum products with more renewable alternatives. The green chemistry industry sector focusing on these areas is predicted to grow from $2.8 billion in 2011 to $98.5 billion by 2020 (Navigant Research). Yet, to put this in perspective, this represents a growth of only 0.07% to 2% of the global chemistry industry. Green chemistry enables reductions in environmental impact, toxicity, and waste, but clearly, commercialization requires extensive progression in philosophy and tools of the decision makers. Appropriate education can accelerate this evolution.

The developing conquest in green chemistry has vast room for improvement, in which each person is responsible. It is the obligation of each individual to learn and pass on the necessary principles in an effort toward changing the whole.

“If you really care about something, you care enough to learn about it.’” -Paul Anastas (Jacobs 2011)

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Works Cited:

  1. Cann, M.C., The Imperative for Infusing Sustainability into the Chemistry Curriculum, ACS Symposium Series, 1087,113-118, 2011.
  2. Jacobs, J.P. 2011. ‘Green Chemistry’ Guru Charting New Course for EPA Science. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/06/20/20greenwire-green-chemistry-guru-charting-new-course-for-e-47583.html?pagewanted=all . Accessed March 10, 2014.
  3. Lubin, D. A., Esty, D. C, The Sustainability Imperative, Harvard Business Review, 42-50, 2010.
  4. Navigant Research. Green Chemical Industry to Soar to $98.5 Billion by 2020. Press Releases. http://www.navigantresearch.com/newsroom/green-chemical-industry-to-soar-to-98-5-billion-by-2020. Accessed March 10, 2014.