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Lesson Three: Applying the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry

Module Two: The 12 Principles Applied


Video Lecture


Click the Video Lecture window to explore the details necessary to understanding this module's key ideas.

Learning Objective

At the end of this module, students will be able to:

Use the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry to identify what is and what is not sustainable about a chemical or chemical process by evaluating inherent hazards at every stage of its life cycle.

Although much of what is outlined in this module may seem a matter of common sense, the reality is that very few chemists and industries consider whether the products and processes they create and use are sustainable. This is simply because the performance of the chemical and its cost are the primary criteria for success; if a chemical gets the job done at a cost reasonable to the company producing it, then it is often developed without further consideration. Unfortunately, this ignores the other costs outside of the price of creating the chemical itself—costs to the environment, human health, and human infrastructure, to name a few.

Ignoring sustainability has consequences; the evidence of this is everywhere. Whole industries, for example, have been created to handle cleaning up after wasteful or dangerous chemistry when it would make more sense to avoid creating toxic and persistent chemicals in the first place.  The scientific literature is filled with synthetic pathways that are inefficient rather than efficient by design. The failure of exposure controls has endangered workers, communities, and ecosystems.

If we agree that a sustainable society is an important goal, then the approaches we are now using are clearly failing. Fortunately, the principles of green chemistry can be used to identify areas of concern, and then also supply a “tool set” for solving those problems.

This module will illustrate ways Green Chemistry’s Twelve Principles can first identify hazards in the chemical enterprise. Specifically, we will take an integrated look across a chemical’s life cycle—the raw materials that make it possible, the manufacturing process that creates it, its distribution and use in the real world, and what happens to it when its intended life has ended.

To explore this module's material in depth, view the lecture.

Key Points

  • Sustainability is not often a primary concern when new chemicals and chemical processes are created.
  • More thought and effort are often given to cleaning up after pollution or controlling exposure to toxins than designing chemicals in a sustainable way.
  • Ignoring sustainability in creating new chemicals and chemical processes has a real and important impact on the environment and human health.
  • The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry can be used to identify inherent hazards in a chemical's life cycle, as well as help design solutions that increase sustainability.