Issue Date: August 24, 2009
What it means to be green could soon become clearer. Proponents of green chemistry and engineering have started an effort to create a comprehensive industry standard that unambiguously identifies greener chemicals and process technologies.
The green standard, expected to be completed in draft form for public comment by the end of this year, will set criteria by which chemical producers and users can gauge the environmental impact and sustainability attributes of chemicals and their derivative products. On Aug. 16, at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Washington, D.C., ACS Green Chemistry Institute Director Robert Peoples provided an overview of the initiative.
Many green standards already exist under the banner of ecolabels, Peoples explained. Those standards are typically issued by companies themselves, industry trade groups, or environment-focused organizations and center on one or two attributes, such as volatile organic compound emissions or percent of recycled content, he said.
"We want to build a comprehensive, multiattribute, consensus-based standard with third-party verification that a company can certify against to say its product is green or that its manufacturing process or facility is green," Peoples said.
Nearly 50 stakeholders are helping establish the standard, including representatives from ACS, major chemical and pharmaceutical companies, trade groups such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC), nonprofit environmental organizations, and academia. The goal is to have the standard certified by the American National Standards Institute in June 2010, Peoples said.
The standard will include guidelines on process efficiency, including raw materials, water, solvent, and energy use; air emissions and solid-waste generation; and recyclability, Peoples noted. One outcome could be a green product label, akin to a food nutrition label or appliance energy guide, that would make it simple for consumers-either businesses or individuals-to judge for themselves the greenness of chemical products and the processes used to make them.
"There is now a greater awareness around the globe that we have to be more accountable for our existing practices and the new ones that we are developing," commented toxicologist Carol J. Henry, a former ACC staff member who is now a consultant and represents the Society of Automotive Engineers in the stakeholder group. A green standard will help improve quality and competitiveness going forward, as well as reward innovation, she told C&EN.
"Society deserves to have a method to evaluate whether or not any given technology is truly green," noted John C. Warner, president and chief technology officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, a member of the stakeholder group. But setting a green standard is complicated, in part because most green technologies have yet to be invented, he cautioned. "If done well, a standard can guide innovation and help steer creation of new materials and processes," he said. "If not, a standard can stifle innovation by creating a â€˜good enough' threshold."
"We are looking to use our resources more efficiently, minimize our environmental footprint, and provide value to our customers," added Anne P. Wallin, director of sustainable chemistry and life-cycle assessment at Dow Chemical, which is another stakeholder. "The green standard initiative is a tremendous opportunity to bring clarity, consistency, and reliability to communicating sustainable chemistry and engineering improvements."
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