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ACS Comment: Sustainability in a changing world

by Elise Fox, Chair, ACS Committee of Environmental Improvement
August 8, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 27


Elise Fox.
Credit: Courtesy of Elise Fox
Elise Fox

In just a few weeks, over 10,000 chemical professionals will participate in the hybrid ACS Fall 2022 meeting in Chicago. The meeting’s theme, “Sustainability in a Changing World,” is timely and important. The Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI) is proud to team with the Division of Environmental Chemistry to lead thematic programming focused on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs). Technical divisions will host over 35 interdisciplinary symposia highlighting innovation in sustainable technologies and process development.

I encourage you to attend the keynote session on Sunday, Aug. 21 starting at 10 a.m. (CT) in the McCormick Place Convention Center. This session will have a diverse set of speakers from government, industry, and academia who will highlight the roles of food, energy, and water in accomplishing the SDGs. Carbon capture and utilization to meet net-zero goals, the circular use of polymers, and the partnerships key to meeting food security will also be discussed.

Another highlight of the meeting’s theme will be a full-day symposium titled “Environmental Justice: Achieving Global Equity through Green and Sustainable Chemistry” on Monday, Aug. 22, in the Marriott Marquis Chicago. The goal of this unique symposium is to bring together all sectors of the chemistry enterprise to listen, learn, and reflect on achieving global equity through chemistry. The issues related to environmental justice are connected to key sustainability challenges, as well as many of the SDGs. This symposium will kick off with a presentation by Matthew Tejada, director of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice. Also invited to speak are national and regional leaders who will identify legacy and emerging issues. This will set the stage for talks from Indigenous leaders, academics, and public servants who will demonstrate how chemical professionals from all sectors of the chemistry enterprise can, and do, contribute solutions using green and sustainable chemistry. This symposium will serve as a path forward and inspire participants to advocate and take action in their community.

This symposium will serve as a path forward and inspire participants to advocate and take action in their community.

Before and during the meeting, all chemical professionals are encouraged to take part in a community engagement project on Instagram called “Tell Us Your UN SDG Story!” using the hashtag #ACSmySDG. In partnership with the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) and students from Cornell University, we encourage everyone to share short videos and images about the critical role chemistry plays in addressing sustainability challenges for people and the planet. We will be curating a list of the best submissions to support efforts by GCI and the new ACS Office of Sustainable Development.

There will be a dedicated indoor space at the McCormick Convention Center for SDG resource sharing. Watch the ACS Meetings agenda and social media for additional details to be released soon. If you need inspiration to get started, ACS has chosen to focus specifically on seven goals that chemical professionals can help solve: zero hunger; good health and well-being; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; industry, innovation, and infrastructure; responsible consumption and production; and climate action. Sharing your story will inspire others to connect chemistry to these seven goals that touch lives daily and impact communities.

Responsible consumption and production will be at the forefront of many of the symposia at ACS Fall 2022. Plastic waste is a particular challenge that needs to be addressed. Effective July 1, 2022, India has banned many single-use plastics that have high littering potential and little potential for recycling. California has taken a different approach by reducing all single-use plastic production by 25% by 2030 and requiring that all single-use plastic packaging and food material be recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2030. These requirements mean new innovations in recycling will be needed. A presidential symposium on Sunday, Aug. 21, titled “Enabling the Circular Economy through Polymer Molecular Recycling” is a great opportunity to learn more about emerging technologies that will help make California’s goal a reality. Plastics have become ubiquitous in our lives. By closing the cycle, we can help minimize or eliminate associated waste. Transforming how they are used and what happens to them at the end of the product’s useful life is essential not only for responsible consumption and production but also for keeping our waterways and surrounding environment clean.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 Assessment Report provided a stark message on the peril of inaction toward addressing climate change. The warming planet, rising sea levels, and increased frequency and severity of storms are visible reminders that we, as chemical professionals, need to do our part. Increasing the sustainability of the chemistry enterprise and the products we create is an important step in the right direction.

Knowledge shared during the ACS Fall 2022 meeting will equip us to continue advancing this common goal. Beyond the meeting in Chicago, be on the lookout for additional CEI sustainability initiatives.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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