Green Chemistry– Driving sustainable innovation across industries

Green Chemistry– Driving sustainable innovation across industries

Published June 28, 2024

4 minute read

Exploring the principles, benefits, and applications of Green Chemistry today

Recently, more and more businesses are shifting towards sustainable practices. These days, buzzwords like eco-friendly, carbon neutral, biodegradable and circular economy are everywhere. From tech and pharma to agriculture and construction, big industries are getting greener. A driving force behind this global movement is the field of green chemistry.

In the following blog post, we’ll learn more about the exciting world of green chemistry.

Specifically, we’ll explore:

So, what is green chemistry?

Green chemistry involves creating products and processes that minimise the use and production of harmful substances. This approach reduces environmental impact across a chemical product's entire life cycle. From design and manufacturing through use and disposal, green chemistry tries to prevent pollution at a molecular level.

Traditional methods usually prioritise cost and efficiency over environmental concerns. Green chemistry takes both environmental and economic objectives into account. It offers businesses practical motivations to embrace more sustainable practices. 

What are the 12 principles of green chemistry?

The 12 principles of green chemistry were developed by scientists Paul Anastas and John C. Warner. These principles are outlined in their 1998 book Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice. The book offers a helpful framework for developing greener chemical processes. It also serves as the primary resource for the movement today.

According to Anastas and Warner, the green chemistry principles are:

  1. Prevention: It’s better to stop waste from happening than it is to try and clean up the waste after it exists. Businesses should put plans in place to minimize waste at every step.
  2. Atom Economy: Make the most out of your materials and save those precious atoms! Design syntheses so your final product uses as much of your starting materials as possible.
  3. Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses: When possible, use/produce substances that aren’t toxic.
  4. Designing Safer Chemicals: Chemical products should be as harmless as possible.
  5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries: Try to avoid using auxiliary substances. If these are necessary, choose the safest options.
  6. Design for Energy Efficiency: Create production methods that conserve energy. This often includes operating at ambient temperature and pressure.  
  7. Use of Renewable Feedstocks: Make sure your starting materials (feedstocks) are renewable. Consider reusing materials that are leftover from farming or other processes.
  8. Reduce Derivatives: Avoid unnecessary derivatization. These steps need extra reagents and will thus create waste.
  9. Catalysis: Reduce excess waste by using catalytic reactions. This decreases reaction times and energy demands.
  10. Design for Degradation: Design products that will decompose into harmless substances.
  11. Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention: Monitor reactions to keep toxic substances from forming.
  12. Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention: Use procedures that are as safe as possible. This will lessen the chance of accidents like spills, explosions, or fires.

What are the benefits of green chemistry for businesses?

Green chemistry sounds pretty great, right? Let’s find out why it continues to gain popularity from an economic standpoint. 

The most compelling reason for businesses to embrace green chemistry is that– quite simply–it pays off. From 2015-2019, products marketed with green chemistry grew at a 12.6 times faster rate than those without it. 

Buyers are driving the demand for greener products. According to a recent study, 63% of companies that adopted sustainability initiatives saw a boost in sales. A 2023 report by NYU Stern found that products marketed as sustainable are growing twice as fast as those not marketed as sustainable. What’s more, 80% of people are willing to pay a 5% premium for sustainable goods.

These figures show a major trend towards products that are better for us and our environment. It comes as no surprise that stakeholders are interested in chemistries that appeal to the conscientious consumers of today.

The real-world applications of green chemistry

Green chemistry principles have applications across a wide range of industries. The green chemicals global market share boasts a compound annual growth rate of 10.8%. But what does green chemistry actually look like in practice?

Here are some of our favourite examples:

  • Packing peanuts are now being made from plant starch instead of oil-based polystyrene. These packing peanuts can be composted instead of thrown away!
  • Many agriculture companies are turning to bio-based pesticides and fertilizers. These are produced from renewable resources and are considerably kinder to the environment.
  • Manufacturers are using water to separate caffeine from coffee beans. This is a much safer method than using chemicals like benzene or methylene chloride.
  • Faraday has developed a plating process that makes chrome coatings from trivalent chromium. This alternative is less toxic than using hexavalent chromium.
  • Professor Yi Tang from the University of California developed a better way to make the cholesterol drug Zocor®. His new method uses a special enzyme along with less harmful materials. 

What are the challenges to Green Chemistry?

By now, you hopefully have an understanding of what Green Chemistry entails. As positive as this practice is, there are a number of potential obstacles to its success.

Some of the main challenges may include: 

  • Limited understanding: Not all companies are aware of the importance of green chemistry. They may not realize the benefits, or know where to begin with its assimilation. Without someone championing the cause, it's likely to fail. 
  • Cost restrictions: To get green chemistry right, it needs significant buy-in. Implementing new processes and sourcing greener materials is an expensive endeavour. Businesses must also have the budget for hiring staff to oversee this next phase. Recruiting qualified employees can be a difficult task in itself! Stakeholders may be reluctant to invest when the future benefits are unknown.
  • Technological barriers: Incorporating green chemistry requires new and advanced technologies. The proper systems and equipment may not be within budget or readily available. It's also essential to train staff on any new technologies, and this poses yet another hurdle.
  • Regulatory issues: Adopting green chemistries usually comes with a need for recertification. This is an expensive and time-consuming process. Incentives such as fast-tracking or fee reductions are often lacking.

Green chemistry is changing the way we approach production across industries. People are increasingly aware of the hazards of common chemical processes and more companies are trying to become as sustainable as possible. The marketplace is shifting and demand for green chemistry solutions will continue to rise.

By prioritizing sustainability, safety, and efficiency, green chemistry offers a promising future. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

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Author EcoOnline

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