Setting the Bar for Green Chemistry

July 31, 2013

*** Tanya Stan is the Regulatory Compliance Manager at Weatherford Engineered Chemistry Canada Ltd. (a division of Weatherford International that provides chemical treatments for oilfield application to maximize oil and gas well production). ***

Recent years have seen a dismaying string of revelations in which everyday items once considered safe to consumers – such as toys, packaging, and furniture -  are found to contain carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and other harmful chemicals with human health effects.  Growing demand for safer, less toxic alternatives in these and many other industries has encouraged companies to engage in sustainability practices that promote corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship.  A large focus of these efforts is in “green chemistry”.  This encompasses a range of scientific and technical developments aimed at improving the chemical industry’s environmental and health impacts. The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) defines green chemistry as “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. This green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.”   Guidelines on adoption of this approach are portrayed in the ‘‘12 Principles of Green Chemistry [1]’’ which have been embraced by professional societies of chemistry worldwide.

The extent to which green chemistry can change industrial production is uncertain but potentially vast.  Feasible outcomes include reducing environmental and/or human toxicity through reformulation and careful selection of raw materials, reducing pollution and waste, improving energy efficiency and resource use, increasing the use of renewable feedstocks as opposed to depleting ones, and developing products that are rapidly metabolized in biological systems and readily biodegraded in ecological systems.

Unfortunately, there is no single standard that exists to define what exactly constitutes “green”, “greener’, or ‘greenest”.  Furthermore, there exists little toxicological data to adequately identify the overall risk contribution of chemicals.  To address these issues and promote green chemistry and sustainability, new governmental initiatives and policies are being addressed globally.  The 2006 legislation by the European Union known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical Substances) is the most imposing. It mandates comprehensive toxicological information for all chemicals produced or imported into Europe.  Though the revolution still has a long way to go, the hope is that these initiatives will encourage companies to start generating more internal data and build new relationships across supply chains to make green chemistry more commercially viable.

 

Tanya Stan
 

1. ANASTAS P. T., WARNER J. C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practise. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998.