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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs
Many American students also obtain the best education in terms of the specifics of their disciplines. However, education at all levels currently lacks conceptual insight in sustainability and green chemistry. The curricula, teaching materials, and emphasis on multi-disciplinary programs that cover not only technical competence but also the social and environmental dimensions of green chemistry are missing. Allenby stressed that there is a need for the ability to understand large-scale systems at an appropriate scale, especially since this is not something that an individual scientist or firm will do effectively. “We need an institutional basis to maintain a dialogue with these systems so that, for example, when the atmosphere begins to display strange chemistry based on a very, very small percentage of CFCs, we are able to respond,” Allenby said.
There is also a need for an appropriate prioritization of values, ethics, and goals. Opinions differ on the values placed upon different aspects of green chemistry. “If I am working in a factory and you find a way to substitute for a carcinogen that I am being exposed to, then I am going to like that. I may not care too much if that has impacts down the line on ecosystems,” Allenby explained. These problems are currently being solved on an individual scale. The policy structure at the moment encourages the imposition of individual values, an adversarial process. A single set of values applied to difficult questions will most likely be inadequate, which the field of chemistry needs to move beyond. To achieve this, institutional capability must exist. However, Allenby warned that there might not be any easy solutions. “I think that we need to appreciate the complexity of what we are doing and begin to develop tools that allow us to do better in the short run, while we are working on evolving the institutions we need in the longer run,” he said.
Mary Kirchhoff of the American Chemical Society (ACS) looked at some trends in green chemistry education. The ACS Green Chemistry Institute is a strong advocate for green chemistry education. Other voices are also joining this call, which helps to build the case for increased education in this area. “Right now, there are a few champions who are very passionate about what they are doing, believe very strongly in green chemistry, but it is not across the board, and that is really where we have to keep working,” she said.
Schools with green chemistry courses include Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College (North Carolina), and Hendrix College. “You are not limited by the size of your institution, if you want to integrate green chemistry into the curriculum,” Kirchoff said. The green chemistry lab at the University of Oregon offers the most comprehensive approach she has seen. All undergraduates who take organic chemistry are exposed to a green chemistry approach in the lab. The University of Massachusetts has instituted a Ph.D. program in green chemistry. At the University of