The Green Chemistry Commitment

SUMMARY: The Green Chemistry Commitment, an initiative to get university chemistry departments to commit to integrating Green Chemistry into their academic curricula and transform how chemistry is taught and practiced in order to eliminate the numerous devastating neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals that characterize modern life and damage the global ecosystem, replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.

PROBLEM SPACE: Why are there hazardous industrial chemicals in our commercial products? One reason is because the people who design molecules receive little or no training in how to design them safely when they are students. This initiative seeks to make fundamental systematic change in the way we train our future scientists.

SOLUTION: Our initiative seeks to have College and University Chemistry departments commit to integrate Green Chemistry into their academic curriculum. The Nonprofit Organization Beyond Benign serves as central hub of this initiative. Over the past two years a steering committee from 9 universities has shaped this program. People directly impacted are chemistry and materials science undergraduate students destined to design the molecules in future commercial products.

The inspiration for this program stems from John Warner’s personal experience. John achieved success as a research scientist early in his career. He received several awards as a student in Chemistry, being named one of Boston’s “Best and Brightest” college graduates in 1984. While working in exploratory research at the Polaroid Corporation he made several inventions leading to numerous patents. While at Polaroid, Paul Anastas, who was working at the US EPA, co-authored the defining text for the field of green chemistry and wrote its “twelve principles”.

Suddenly in the middle of his sky-rocketing career, Warner tragically lost his two year old son to a birth defect of unknown origin. This caused him to question the classes that he had taken as a chemistry student. He realized that he had never had any course work that taught mechanistic toxicology or mechanisms of environmental harm. Upon further research he found that no colleges or universities require students in chemistry to take any such classes.

Because no chemistry faculty member is likely to have ever had these classes, who can teach them and what will they teach? Beyond Benign has been helping to develop a wide variety of curricula and educational materials appropriate for a wide variety of classroom environments with diverse cultural backgrounds. While achieving a truly sustainable future is complex, one critical important first step is to ensure that designers and inventors of our built world have at least some fundamental training on what actually causes the negative impacts of chemicals on human health and the environment.

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