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Lesson Three: Applying the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry

Module One: The Metrics of Green Chemistry


Overview

Video Lecture

Metrics of Green Chemistry

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

Learning Objectives

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

  • Determine if a chemical process is “green,” and define why it is green or not.
  • State how the 12 principles of green chemistry can be used to measure the sustainability of a chemical process.

 

If we take a few minutes to analyze the way that we currently practice chemistry, it becomes painfully clear why we must change our approach. The practice of green chemistry represents the best way to make that transformation.

We know from lessons one and two in this course that green chemistry is “the design of chemical products and processes that reduces or eliminates the use and generation of hazardous substances.” The use of the word “design” is not accidental.  Sustainable chemistry requires the deliberate, thoughtful application of what we currently know about chemistry and biology to develop compounds and processes that are not toxic, destructive, or dangerous to human life or the Earth’s ecosystems.

Knowing why we must change the way we practice chemistry is a first step, but it’s not enough. We must also know how. The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry supply us with a tool set for tackling the challenges we face on a practical level.

In this module, we will examine how the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry can be used to determine the sustainability of a chemical or chemical process by looking at:

  1. The chemical's life cycle in its entirety (from origin to recycling).
  2. How much toxicity and waste a chemical generates in both its production and its destruction or disposal. (For example, how persistent the chemical is in the environment after it has served its purpose. How much energy  it consumes in the course of its life and death.)
  3. The human factor: How we can ensure that when we talk about greener approaches to chemistry we do it in a way that all players in the field, from government agencies to businesses to factory workers understand the issues. Each of these stakeholders has a different point of view, set of values, context and experience. It is crucial that all viewpoints be addressed if we hope to make progress.

By taking this multifaceted approach, the Twelve Principles provide a valuable tool we can use to measure whether a chemical process is sustainable or not.

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

Key Points

  • Knowing why we must change the way we practice chemistry is important, but it’s not enough. We must also know how.
  • The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry provide a tool set for tackling that challenge, and can be used to evaluate the sustainability of a chemical or chemical process.
  • A chemical’s life cycle in its entirety—and all of its properties—must be sustainable for it to be truly green.
  • The production process of a chemical as a whole must be evaluated for sustainability.
  • Human interaction on all levels must be considered when discussing greener approaches to chemistry. It’s important to speak to all constituencies if we hope to create real change.
  • It is only by specifically applying the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry that we can replace our current methods with ones that are sustainable.