character of industrial activity can and have already irreversible changed the chemical dynamics of what had once been considered “stable” systems in nature.
This reality needs to be communicated through education and training. Today, it is still relatively segregated and marginalized in the study of ecology and other environmental sciences. In management education, the actions are segregated (and therefore marginalized) in Environment Health and Safety (EH&S) offices or in debates about ethics and social responsibility. As central topics in the science communities and related to the health and stability of societies today, these issues are migrating to the core of corporate strategy, but education has not kept up. While having always influenced the physical environment, the reach of humans has been extended dramatically in the last 100 years through technology and globalization, yet we still design feedstocks and final products, and maintain industries that produce them as though we were ignorant of these changes. Anthropogenic impact fundamentally alters the chemistry, ecology, and biology of living and nonliving systems. Historically unprecedented population growth, with accompanying exponentially expanded throughput of industrial materials, has led to unavoidable pollution and health challenges. Moreover, growth demands and technological advances place ever growing requirements for natural and synthetic materials. The scale and accelerating rate of change results in activity and waste streams that disrupt and degrade natural systems worldwide (e.g. air, hydrologic, and biogeochemical cycles). Yet these same systems provide critical services on which society and the economy depend—clean water, healthy air, clean energy, productive soil, and safe food. This knowledge cannot remain marginal to the education of citizens. Not only does the knowledge base of scientists need augmenting but those working in industry, including throughout supply chains to final product users, need the systems orientation of green chemistry and sustainability science.
Recognition of this reality has spread outward from the scientific communities to governments, international and national standard setting bodies, advocacy organizations, and community- and professionally-based groups worldwide concerned with human health and environmental degradation. Greater awareness drives public policy decisions as well as corporate strategy to respond and adapt and attempt to function successfully given these changing conditions, but the knowledge of how to respond and adapt has to be communicated. In summary, population growth combined with the expanding materials intensity of economic activity and the scientific capabilities to better understand their implications presents the current generation with a simply reality: The global demand for resources and the waste generated now collide with the ability of natural systems to regenerate.