Sustainable and Green Chemistry

The evolution of green chemistry started in response to the increasing number of environmental problems in the 1980s and has rapidly developed to become a guiding concept. Our research and teaching strategy is based on the “Introduction: Chemists Should Be Aware of the Environmental Implication of Their Chemistry” of the special issue  on Environmental Chemistry of Chemical Reviews in 1995, which also contains one of the earliest and published definitions of Green Chemistry: “It is no longer sufficient to make “marvelous” new molecules solely on the basis of their marketable properties. Although marketability is an appropriate goal, we, as scientists, must also be concerned with our creations’ potentials for environmental impact

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The accurate definition of green chemistry (Anastas, P.T. and Warner, J.C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998) in combination with the development of green chemical engineering (Allen, D.T.; Shonnard, D.R. Green Engineering: Environmentally Conscious Design of Chemical Processes, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 2001) initiated a paradigm shift in all parts of the chemical enterprise. The gradual replacement of the end-of-the pipe control with prevention by design has the power to lower or eliminate the hazards of chemicals and chemical processes all together.

Contrarily, sustainable development was poorly defined [World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Oxford (1987)], since the key requisite to accurately predict the needs of future generations has been impossible to meet, due to the extremely fast rate of scientific and technical advances. Unfortunately, sustainability was replaced with suitability by many stake holders, as they have vested interests to call suitable developments to sustainable developments, e. g. to make profits by businesses, get funded by NGOs, or to be elected/reelected by politicians and political organizations.

We have recently reported an alternative definition of sustainability (Catal. Today, 2015), which should be an intrinsic property of a molecule, a material, a reaction, a process, or a technology: Nature’s resources, including energy, should be used at a rate at which they can be replaced naturally and the generation of waste cannot be faster than the rate of their remediation. Consequently, sustainability is independent from economical and societal issues and stands on two legs, natural replacement and natural or man-made remediation turnover numbers, It should be emphasized that sustainability can be dramatically increased by using sustainable repairing, reconditioning, re-manufacturing or recycling methods, processes, and technologies. The big-Rs, and the integration of the use of energy, chemicals, and materials, could increase the overall sustainability locally and globally, as both the resource demand and the proportional waste generation could be decreased.