If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Chemical societies rally round UN’s sustainable development goals

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
October 31, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 42


“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

This proverb was quoted by Regina Palkovits, head of the Sustainable Chemistry Division of the German Chemical Society (GDCh), during “The Role of Chemical Societies and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals,” a virtual event held by the American Chemical Society and GDCh on Oct. 28.

During the event, leaders of ACS and GDCh renewed for another 5 years their partnership to support the chemistry community. They also delivered a series of talks and a panel discussion about the role of chemistry, and the two societies in particular, in achieving the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Palkovits shared the proverb when Wolfram Koch, GDCh executive director and moderator of the discussion, asked which of the 17 SDGs is the one on which chemical societies can have the most impact.

Stefanie Dehnen, GDCh vice president, said it is difficult to choose because they are all important. But she picked quality education (SDG 4) because she said it is the basis for achieving all the others. Children are our future, she added, and teaching them about sustainability and creating a more responsible next generation is our duty.

Mary Kirchhoff, executive vice president for scientific advancement at ACS, selected two SDGs that are “critically important and inextricably linked”: affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) and climate action (SDG 13). As an example of how critical climate action has become, she mentioned the fires that have ravaged California in recent months and those that devastated Australia earlier this year.

ACS president Luis Echegoyen acknowledged chemistry’s role as the central science and how it will be crucial to the achievement of all 17 goals but particularly affordable and clean energy (SDG 7).

GDCh president Peter Schreiner went a different route and put SDG 15, life on land, top of his list. It calls for the world to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” Urging chemists not to forget their political responsibilities, he noted that we should prioritize finding solutions to these challenges, but we also need to follow up and see what happens with these solutions once they are in the hands of politicians. He added that Germany has benefited from having a chemical physicist at the helm, especially when it comes to renewable energy policies.

Palkovits added industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9) to the list and explained that we won’t be able to achieve the SDGs with today’s technologies or with our current approach to environmental protection. She concluded with the proverb as a call for scientists to “go far” and collaborate for success.

Kirchhoff also delivered a talk about ACS’s efforts toward achieving the SDGs. ACS has identified 7 of the 17 as strategic and relevant to the chemistry community. ACS has also defined three main areas where it plans to take action:

1. Research, innovation, and translation. ACS plans to engage “the chemical research community and . . . support the community as it works to find sustainable development solutions.”

2. Sustainable manufacturing and chemical management. ACS will engage “its industrial membership and serve as a source of unbiased technical information for federal policy making.”

3. Transformation of chemistry education. ACS will work to redefine how chemistry is taught to emphasize life-cycle and systems thinking.

It’s reassuring to see that these two chemical societies are rallying around the SDGs and mobilizing the community to take positive action. It won’t be an easy journey.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.