Sustainability Science Literacy and Education That Enables the Adoption of More Sustainable Practices in the Chemical Industry
Progress in all other areas discussed so far depends upon greater literacy in what is coming to be called sustainability science, which brings together “scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicine.”1 Given its ubiquitous influence over economies, effective transitional steps for the chemical industry to move toward sustainability are based fundamentally upon the initial stepping stone of communicating the dispersed science knowledge that makes sustainability thinking clear. While seemingly fragmented, the fields of green chemistry, industrial ecology, and earth systems science are interconnected constituents of this knowledge. Exposure to these ideas through education and training is essential to chemical industry adoption of practices that will enhance the nation’s economic strength and security, and position the industry advantageously as an innovative force for future prosperity. Engagement with sustainability principles offers the United States the opportunity to lead on the inevitable path toward more intelligent industrial activity with respect to nature’s dynamics, human health, and political stability.
THE CHALLENGE OF COMMUNICATING SUSTAINABILITY
Addressing the gap between the dominant conventional understanding of the nature-human relationship on the one hand, and the different
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
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.
Many describe the situation as humans consciously and unconsciously designing (engineering) natural systems.2 For example, gene manipulation is an example of conscious engineering, and ozone depletion, and dead zones in coastal areas are examples of unintended engineering. The first step in a research agenda for sustainability in the chemical industry should include how to effectively educate the people in industry to this reality.
Enhancing the level of sustainability literacy generally and incorporating the concepts and strategies of sustainable practices in science and business education are key to attaining sustainability in the chemical enterprise. Broader implementation of sustainable practices depends both on “market pull” from consumers and “technological push” from the research and development community. Priorities for education efforts in sustainability should thus address the purchasers of innovative products, the designers, and the business practitioners. Goals for sustainability literacy and education must include:
Supporting the research agenda put forth in the preceding sections of this report through education about underlying drivers and science
Stimulating demand for environmentally benign technology among industrial scientists, business people, and consumers
Advocating a better understanding of the science challenges and opportunities associated with sustainability within the chemical enterprise, and overcoming resistance within the disciplines
A number of barriers to change exist. One of these has to do with the ability of industry to adopt new practices, which can be difficult because of: (1) mature products and processes that make innovation risky, difficult, or unwarranted, (2) lack of reliable metrics to drive decision making and societal impact quantification, and (3) the perception that economic pay-offs are too distant and not well understood.
In fact, the contribution to corporate value creation is increasingly well understood. While changes in course content are relatively constant, there needs to be integration of “green” into standard course materials. Textbooks need updating. New approaches that focus more on sustainability take time and resources to develop and implement, compete with existing programs, and must overcome the inertia of well-entrenched
See comments by Brad Allenby in the Workshop Summary, Appendix D, p. 103.
Many people today distrust business. Yet younger people, idealistic and full of creative ideas, want to do meaningful work. What if research and educational funding supported clean technology innovation and a shift toward sustainability practices? Why couldn’t, why shouldn’t, this country lead in ideas, education, and the transformation of its economy.
Andrea Larson, Darden Graduate School of Business Administration
teaching practices. Thus updates to core and essential course materials are essential. In addition, accreditation and standardized testing procedures favor the existing programs, contributing an additional barrier. Finally, there has been little recognition of economic opportunities for business creativity, opportunity, and innovation inherent in addressing issues of sustainability, making the field less attractive to researchers and educators and keeping the issues marginalized as “ethics” or “environmental compliance.” A shared barrier in both the industrial and academic venues is a lack of clear definition of terms describing the field (e.g. “green” vs. “sustainable” vs. “green chemistry”). Again, there exists the research challenge of framing and articulating science knowledge in terms and ways that the ideas are well communicated to diverse audiences. The timing for change is now. A wide variety of factors have converged to stimulate change. Among others are shareholder petitions, Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes driving corporations to achieve sustainability goals, global full cost accounting and financial reporting standards, and leadership by firms through organizations such as the World Business Council on Sustainable Development.3
There is an opportunity to improve sustainability education at every level—from informal education of current and future consumers and citizens to future scientists, to the chemistry and engineering practitioners, to the business leaders who sell these products and define corporate strategy. In order to make progress toward this goal, these efforts need to be prioritized, identifying the audiences to target and what they need to learn. In the short term, efforts should be placed on educating the practitioners of the field (scientists and engineers) who are capable of discovering and developing new, more sustainable technologies and the business leaders who will decide if and how these technologies are implemented. In the longer term, educational efforts that target K-12, university students
and teachers, consumers, and policy makers are needed now to create demand for more sustainable products and practices. Efforts by pioneering individuals and institutions are already underway. Identifying and supporting these early efforts and seeding additional initiatives are essential. As with any new area that changes how people think, and therefore act, the pioneers often work in relative isolation and even opposition. If these topics are to be taken seriously by the U.S. government, those who have laid the cornerstone to the new house need support.
EDUCATING FUTURE PRACTITIONERS—WORKFORCE AND EDUCATORS
As the source of innovative ideas and technologies for the future chemical enterprise, future practitioners are a critical audience for educational programs that promote a more sustainable industrial system. Although the details of the changes in the curriculum will depend upon the target group, in general, changes in education should: address the interdisciplinary nature of the research problems introduced earlier in this report; develop the fundamental tools for solving complex problems; give students experience assessing the relative merits of different technological solutions; and help students appreciate the relevance of their work to industry and society as a whole. At the most basic, education is needed to communicate an understanding of why the chemical industry must change and the probable consequences of maintaining the status quo. More specific needs are described below for each group.
Within the context of this report, there currently exist three broad classes of educators: a small number that are already incorporating sustainability into their courses, a growing number who would like to do so, and many who are resistant to or unaware of this type of change. Thus, there is a need for new educational materials and incentives that support those who are pioneering or are interested in change and incentives that encourage faculty to incorporate sustainability into their coursework. Examples of educational materials that are needed will be described below. Although there has been considerable progress made in developing materials,4 there exists an appetite for new materials that span a broad range
from introductory, stand-alone materials to fully integrated curricula across multiple disciplines. Incentives to promote adoption include:
Resources to encourage development of new educational materials, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program;
Changes in the direction of accreditation and certification programs, such as the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training, similar to what the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has put in place to catalyze engineering curriculum reform through its Engineering Criteria 2000 (EC2000);
The inclusion of this subject matter on standardized exams (e.g., ACS subject exams); and
Opportunities to align faculty research and education objectives, such as the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program, which can be powerful motivators for young faculty to pursue activities that will promote a more sustainable chemical enterprise. Interested institutions can hold forums to disseminate the research and concepts to introduce young faculty to materials and topics. Pedagogy programs to consolidate and accelerate understanding can be established to move this agenda forward more expeditiously. This acceleration is necessary because the natural course of change will be slow due to disincentives. These include promotion paths that support specialization and discourage cross-discipline and cross-field research and teaching efforts, inertia that persists without funding to direct intellectual effort toward change, and the tenure system that defends and preserves the status quo knowledge.
Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Graduate Students
In order to solve the complex research challenges described earlier in this report, chemists and chemical engineers will need a range of skills that span from fundamental chemistry to applied science that enable them to work effectively with colleagues from biology to business. In addition, they will need to acquire new skills such as life cycle assessment and toxicology that permit them to assess and develop new technologies that offer high performance and have a minimal environmental footprint. The following elements are needed to prepare students to excel in careers in this area:
2002. Green Engineering: Environmentally Conscious Design of Chemical Processes. Prentice Hall; Parent, K., and M. Kirchhoff., eds. 2004. Going Green: Integrating Green Chemistry into the Curriculum. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society.
A strong component of interdisciplinary research that helps students learn to integrate their work with other disciplines while contributing to the development of a knowledge base needed to address sustainability challenges. In particular, activities that get chemists and chemical engineers working together should be included. Also important is research and curricula that span schools and disciplines to insure chemistry and engineering concepts are integrated with professional schools: medicine, business, and law.
A strategic approach that encourages students to apply their basic chemistry knowledge to real problems and provide them with familiarity of business thinking and industrial practices, business opportunities, and challenges.
An emphasis on skills such as communication and teamwork that are needed to work effectively with a broad range of professionals.
A basic understanding of current science and alternative risk assessment methods associated with the biological impacts on natural systems resulting from new compositions of matter and routes of exposure.
A model similar to the NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program—which helps establish innovative new models for graduate education and stimulates collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries—would seem an excellent way to provide incentives for faculty to change curricula while addressing the needs of graduate students entering this complex field. 5
Specialized Masters Degree programs that assist students in applying the basic science they have learned during their undergraduate education toward industrially-relevant problems may be an important approach to assist students in preparing to make contributions to the challenges faced in developing a more sustainable chemical enterprise.
Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Students
At the undergraduate level, effort should be made to introduce students to the concepts of sustainability within the context of the core curriculum. Although there is considerable pressure to add new material to the curriculum, it is possible to incorporate green chemistry (and related topics regarding sustainability) without giving up the core learning objectives. Students are often more interested in learning these core objectives
This NSF-wide endeavor was initiated in 1997, is now comprised of approximately 125 award sites, and in 2005 continues into its sixth annual competition. For more information see the NSF-IGERT web site: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/igert/intro.jsp
when the relevance has been made clear, for example through relationship to their everyday lives or to the environment. Chemistry majors who gain exposure to these topics are better prepared to address sustainability challenges in the workforce or in their graduate work.
… it is important to hold students’ interest in green chemistry as early as possible, and to show them that chemistry is not the grand polluter of the planet and, instead, offers solutions to some of these environmental challenges that we face.
Mary Kirchhoff, American Chemical Society
Research and Development Managers
As the industrial world begins to shift to the production of more and more sustainable products and services in response to a changing market place, R&D managers will have to understand and support innovations that have a reduced environmental and social impact. They will need the tools and time to be able to teach the chemists and engineers in their organizations the basic concepts of sustainability in business, and green chemistry and engineering. These tools can take many forms from external short courses certified by the ACS and AICHE to internal topical symposia to self-taught e-learning tools. To ensure this happens it is recommended that this responsibility of research management be codified in their annual performance goals. These managers will be more successful the more they understand the interrelationship between synthetic chemistry and the natural biological systems in nature. All research directors will be best served by being prepared in the biological sciences. As petroleum based raw materials become scarce and costly, renewable (biobased) sources will likely become preferred based on their life cycle and more competitive as well as benign to the biosphere and human health. With these factors in mind, science majors in their educational preparation and industrial scientists in seeking diversity in their work experience, will ultimately reshape our future.
Business Administration Education
MBA Students and Executive Education
Awareness of cost reduction, risk avoidance, market differentiation, and other benefits from sustainable business strategies is spotty at best in
MBA curricula and advanced management training. This is not to ignore the leadership role of a small number of faculty. However, these early stage efforts need resources to accelerate and deepen their influence. The contribution sustainability can provide to business practices and financial performance (as well as public health and safety) needs to be disseminated through teaching materials at both the MBA and executive levels to address deficiencies in current education and to inform working managers and executives of changing competitive conditions. Business education is key to the transformation of the chemical enterprise because most chemists and chemical engineers in firms are not business unit managers, nor are they typically on senior management teams. Yet it is these positions that determine operating and strategic policies within firms. The science and empirical evidence driving markets toward green chemistry alternatives, as well as the market shifts that create opportunities for new products and processes based on sustainability concepts, are urgently needed in management education. Programs that collect, integrate, and disseminate teaching materials are needed. Research funding that rewards research and knowledge creation is also essential to overcome obstacles to change.
In order to increase the demand for more sustainable products, education within the K-12 school systems, in introductory university courses, and of consumers will be essential. This education is necessary to allow for change within the industry as this creates the consumer pull for sustainable processes and products. Development of materials for use in K-12 settings and getting greater involvement of graduate students (such as supported by the NSF GK-12 fellowship program), ACS student affiliate groups, and others familiar with sustainability concepts in these settings can help K-12 students and teachers become more familiar with the opportunities for young scientists to craft a more sustainable future through science or citizenship. In the universities, introductory science courses that include the concepts of sustainability or multidisciplinary nonmajors courses that bring together chemistry or engineering with other disciplines such as business, public policy, or environmental science can be excellent vehicles to raise awareness among nonscientists within our universities. Universities and businesses should collaborate with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to educate the broader public about the choices that they make as consumers and citizens and how these choices can promote a sustainable future.
Unified Instruction of Life Cycle Analysis/Life Cycle Inventory
Across the disciplines there is the need to develop methods that facilitate comparison of alternative technologies and processes. One of the most powerful approaches to make these comparisons is through life cycle assessment (LCA). The development of effective LCA tools and inventory information that can be used in these analyses would be of considerable benefit to students in chemistry and engineering from the undergraduate to graduate level. In each venue, an appropriate treatment should address the process of life cycle analysis, the influence of the inventory data on the analysis results, the interpretation of the results, and how results will be used. Awareness of the tools, frameworks (industrial ecology and green chemistry, for example), and how their application benefits companies must be addressed in professional schools, particularly business schools.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Progress in all other areas discussed so far—development of green chemistry and engineering capabilities, alternative fuels and feedstocks, and energy efficiency—depends upon greater literacy in sustainability science. Education targeted to business leaders, buyers, and product/process designers is essential. This educational agenda is the fundamental grand challenge. Chemists and chemical engineers need to have a firm grasp of their disciplines’ subject matter from the theoretical to the practical, but at the same time deeply understand how their work has global and local impacts, and how they can inform and be informed by other disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and business. Business decision-makers must understand why these are priorities and how to implement change. Exposure to these sustainability ideas through education and training is essential to chemical industry adoption of practices that will enhance the nation’s economic strength and security. These steps also position industry advantageously as an innovative force for national competitiveness and future prosperity. In summary, there is a need to improve sustainability education at every level—from informal education of consumers and citizens to future scientists to the practitioners of the field to the businesses that use and sell these products. In order to make progress toward this goal, attention must be given to a number of important research areas described below.
Promote incorporation of sustainability concepts—into curricula, particularly in chemistry and chemical engineering, but also spanning pro-
fessional schools with special emphasis on management education because knowledge in this sector can significantly accelerate application and learning in the “real” world of business and markets. Without this link, certainly industry will adapt much more slowly, particularly compared with its international competition that is under pressure from the same set of changing conditions. At a minimum, infuse fundamental concepts of sustainability—green chemistry, industrial ecology, earth systems science, ecology, biogeochemistry, and sustainable business innovation—into core curricula as appropriate.
Develop and promote educational materials (e.g. lab modules, LCA modules, new text books that infuse sustainability and green chemistry concepts into the core material). There is a need for new educational materials and incentives that support those who are pioneering or are interested in change, and incentives that encourage faculty to incorporate sustainability into their coursework. Incentives to promote adoption include resources to encourage development of new educational materials such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program.
Include sustainability concepts as part of standardized testing programs. Changes are needed in the direction of accreditation and certification programs such as those developed by the ACS Committee on Professional Training or ABET, and the inclusion of this subject matter on standardized exams such as ACS subject exams.
Develop effective life cycle assessment (LCA) tools and inventory information. LCA would be of considerable benefit to students in chemistry and engineering from the undergraduate to graduate level. In each venue, an appropriate treatment should address the process of life cycle analysis, the influence of the inventory data on the analysis results, the interpretation of the results and how results will be used. LCA is also a powerful teaching tool in business education. If business students have never heard of LCA (and other sustainability approaches and tools), their understanding of how these issues integrate into corporate strategic decisions will be limited.
Provide professional development opportunities for faculty. Educators need to learn about sustainability and how it can be advantageously incorporated into their research and education. Opportunities to align faculty research and education objectives such as the NSF Faculty Early Career Development—CAREER—program can be a powerful motivator for young faculty to pursue activities that will promote a more sustainable
chemical enterprise. More senior educators also need exposure and education. The problem is often lack of understanding, not opposition per se.
Provide sustainability focused NSF-IGERT-like training grants. Such programs are needed to help establish innovative new models for graduate education and stimulate collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. This would be an excellent way to provide incentives for faculty to change curricula while addressing the needs of graduate students entering this complex field.
Include sustainability as part of annual performance goals for R&D managers, product development heads, and business unit managers. As the industrial world shifts to the production of more and more sustainable products and services in response to feedback from nature and the human body and a changing market place, these managers will have to first understand and then support innovations that have a reduced environmental and social impact (or, literally eliminate risk). They will also need the tools and time to be able to teach the chemists and engineers in their organizations the basic concepts behind sustainability and green chemistry and engineering.