. "5. Sustainability Science Literacy and Education That Enables the Adoption of More Sustainable Practices in the Chemical Industry." Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs - A Workshop Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.
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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs
mindset required for businesses to function effectively going forward on the other, is the first hurdle. The gap will be filled with state of the art knowledge about the nature-human interface, which in turn establishes the requisite mindset for innovation. At present, the knowledge base is distributed across disciplines. But the challenge can be expressed simply. The chemical industry and society at large must understand the reality and implications of the economy existing within society, which in turn is embedded within a biosphere. The biosphere has countless interdependent systems from the planet’s scale to human’s most recent frontier of microscopic inquiry, the nanotechnology scale. Bench level chemistry changes in material design and diffused molecular concentrations above normal background levels influence and alter the dynamics of these systems. In other words, we are now engineering—or designing—nature, and should therefore proceed with as much caution and information about consequences as possible. In this context, the government must understand and guide economic development according to its best comprehension of conditions which favor greater prosperity for more people.
Unless we understand that something that is designed at bench scale will, in fact, in many cases, impact systems at regional and global scale, we have not yet begun to grapple with what is already occurring in our world; not what is going to occur, what is already occurring.
Brad Allenby, Arizona State University
Understanding Earth Systems
Adoption of “sustainability practices” in any industry presupposes at the outset a clear understanding of society at multiple levels and why one would be concerned about these issues. What does it mean when the term “sustainability” is used? While the term may sound ambiguous, there is consensus on the foundational science that forms the bedrock of sustainability frameworks currently used. Accumulated data from scientific communities, ranging from earth scientists and demographers to immunologists and toxicologists, argue that humans have become a central force in nature, shaping nature through potentially irreversible modifications to its systems. The distinction between “impacting” and “shaping the dynamics” of natural systems needs emphasis. As a species, humans have moved from the assumption that relatively small activity could have no enduring influence on nature, to understanding that such impacts have occurred. In 2005, there has been sufficient evidence that the scale and