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Since the late 1990s, we have increasingly recognized that green chemistry and sustainability should be part of chemistry education. This recognition is concurrent with our growing awareness of chemistry’s impact on human health and the environment.

Image of Adelina Voutchkova.
Credit: Courtesy of Adelina Voutchkova
Adelina Voutchkova
Image of David Laviska.
Credit: Courtesy of David Laviska
David Laviska

Over the last 30 years, the creation and implementation of curricular materials infused with the principles of green chemistry have steadily increased. While the proliferation of these materials throughout undergraduate courses in higher education is gaining momentum, critical knowledge gaps remain. These gaps include the lack of inclusion of systems thinking skills in undergraduate chemistry courses, which are vital for designing greener chemical processes; a lack of coursework in more advanced green chemistry tools and techniques at the upper undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels, which is critical for upgrading skill sets of chemists in the workplace; and lack of connections between the chemistry curriculum and chemistry’s potential to benefit society and address sustainability challenges. Conversely, we often fail to underline the real, if unintended, impacts on humans and the environment of designing chemistries without explicitly considering their potential effects from the outset.

To shine a spotlight on these gaps in chemistry education, ACS held the Second Annual ACS Sustainability Summit: Reimagining Chemistry Education in December 2023 with the support of the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future and Beyond Benign. This summit brought together 85 educators and thought leaders working to advance green chemistry and sustainability in undergraduate, graduate, and professional education as well as in industry and government sectors from across the globe.

Panelists and participants sought to facilitate critical connections between academia and industry to catalyze the propagation of green chemistry and sustainability concepts consistently throughout curricula while expanding educational and career opportunities for both students and professionals. Their discussions highlighted urgent requirements for training that provides every chemist and engineer with opportunities to cultivate valuable skill sets that empower them to make significant contributions to achieving the UN sustainable development goals. The availability of such training addresses the increasing demand for chemists and engineers who can develop tomorrow’s sustainable products. To be effective, this training must be accessible, cover critical topic areas identified jointly by industry and academia, and be standardized across learning institutions.

Some of the critical skills identified during the summit include life-cycle and carbon footprint analyses, design for circularity, hazard assessment and design of safer chemicals, the ability to scale reactions from lab to plant, and the ability to communicate science to funders, policymakers, and collaborators in different disciplines.

While many companies are advocating for the advancement of opportunities in green chemistry training, some are directly engaging in educating future chemists. For example, MilliporeSigma has been supporting education in green chemistry through “Curiosity Labs” tailored for K–12 students. The company also provides teacher training opportunities that empower chemistry instructors to teach courses that include green chemistry. Another example is the ACS Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable, which has developed a comprehensive online resource for providing training in the practical tools of green chemistry and engineering: The Green Chemistry and Engineering Learning Platform (GChELP). Born out of a collaboration between the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and the European Union, the platform now comprises 35 multimedia modules, each consisting of reading materials, videos, and quizzes designed to provide self-paced, asynchronous training in advanced green chemistry tools that are currently not offered at most universities. The modules provide practical skills that educators can readily apply in the research lab.

In addition to working with industry to develop resources for chemists, ACS is also encouraging the incorporation of green and sustainable chemistry into the curriculum to enhance the skill set of graduating chemists. The recently published guidelines in ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs, which will go into effect in 2025, provide further incentives for academics to incorporate more green chemistry. Additional resources include the Green Chemistry “Systems Thinking in Chemistry” module developed by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute and the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community, a partnership between Beyond Benign and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute. Instructors can also take advantage of workshops on green chemistry offered at ACS national meetings, the ACS Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, and online through the ACS Institute.

Transitioning to green and sustainable chemistry will require us to rethink how we prepare students and how we provide training opportunities for chemistry professionals. While we’ve made an excellent start, there is much work to be done, and we call on all educators and relevant stakeholders to join us in these efforts.

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

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