When considering many of the common substances in use for life today, often they come with a high ecological cost. While the space age was excellent for developing useful products, the concern for the environment in the development of these products was not necessarily of top consideration. Plastics, paints, even pharmaceuticals are derived from fossil fuels and are often culprits of pollution, waste, and non-sustainable technology.
Green Chemistry (or sustainable chemistry) is the focused effort whereby scientists and engineers develop ways to create sustainable versions of consumables while producing them in a sustainable manner: from renewable resources, using renewable energy resources, and implementing sustainable processes. The goal is to eliminate–or at the very least reduce–hazardous substances and the negative effects that humans have on the environment by using these chemicals and substances.
There are several ways of going about practicing Green Chemistry, beginning with the prevention of pollution at the molecular level and applying to chemistry at all levels and in all disciplines of chemistry. According to the American Chemical Society, Green Chemistry works with several principles in mind:
- Preventing waste by designing processes which need no cleanup or waste.
- Designing chemical products which are safer and minimize or eliminate toxins.
- Using solvents and conditions which are safer, or avoiding them all together.
- Maximizing the proportion of materials by wasting as few atoms as possible.
- Increasing efficiency in energy by using room temperature and room pressure.
- Avoiding derivatives which create chemical reagents and waste.
- Using catalytic reactions to minimize waste.
- Designing chemicals which are degradable following use.
- Minimizing chemical accidents with safety precautions.
- Analyzing and controlling processes to prevent pollution hazards.
- Designing chemical syntheses which leave no toxicity.
- Using renewable resources and/or starting materials.
As chemistry in this day and age becomes more green, business and regulatory communities have developed higher standards for the prevention of pollution and waste as a form of protecting the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency, beginning in 1970, was a catalyst for the changes toward a healthier environment through regulations and standards.
Developing earth-friendly chemical processes and products allows for the creative of alternatives to hazardous substances and promotes the use of healthier and sustainable source materials. As processes are designed to produce less waste and use up less energy, economic growth and sustainable development opportunities still remain on the horizon. Through innovative thinking and progress, Green Chemistry in technology offers hope for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable environment for today and into the future.