Volume 85 Issue 19 | p. 73 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: May 7, 2007

Speaking Up On Sustainability

By Catherine T. Hunt, ACS President
Department: ACS News | Collection: Sustainability

"MOM!" EXCLAIMS MY exasperated 15- year-old son Jamie, "You'd have everyone believe that everything in the world is based on chemistry!" I calmly look at him, smile, and say: "So, you've been listening."

If I had my way, and an advertising budget to equal my enthusiasm, I'd advertise the benefits of the chemical enterprise until people everywhere could see and feel how chemistry is transforming our daily lives—from sneakers to cell phones, from life-saving medicines to alternative energy.

As Earth becomes more crowded and developed, challenges that once seemed far-off are rapidly approaching and causing significant debate around the world. Debate on global climate change has shifted from arguments over whether the phenomenon is even real to "what can or should we be doing now?" The same transition toward action is occurring in what I consider to be the main thrusts of sustainability: decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels, ensuring a sustainable food supply, and addressing water as a worldwide issue rather than just an issue for developing countries. All these issues are firmly linked to our future health and well-being.

The final product we are trying to create is a healthier and safer environment—a sustainable planet—and it's going to take all of us working together to achieve that.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
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The final product we are trying to create is a healthier and safer environment—a sustainable planet—and it's going to take all of us working together to achieve that.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

We in the scientific community hold the keys to unlocking viable and effective solutions to these increasingly important challenges. This year's Priestley Medalist George Whitesides of Harvard University eloquently highlighted the importance of tackling revolutionary problems through the application of chemistry in his acceptance remarks at the ACS awards ceremony in Chicago. Whitesides believes very strongly, as I do, that there was never a better time to be a chemist, and I want to echo his call to action, especially in the areas of energy, the environment, and global stewardship. To address these challenges, we need to reduce our human footprint on Earth by ensuring that all of our activities become sustainable. In my day job at Rohm and Haas, a major specialty materials company, we have taken bold steps to reduce raw material use and reduce or eliminate waste streams, while continuing to provide high-quality products and services to meet customers' needs.

I feel so strongly about sustainability and the vital role the chemistry enterprise will play in providing for a sustainable future that I selected "Sustainability of Energy, Food & Water" as the presidential theme for the March 2007 ACS national meeting in Chicago. My intent in constructing this programming was to bring together noted leaders across industry, academia, and government to make presentations that would spark conversations and begin the process of nucleating ideas, fostering community, and accelerating innovation. The opening presidential plenary session focused on "Sustainability: A World View." This was followed by sessions titled "Pressing Challenges & Technology Opportunities for a Sustainable Future" and "Educating for Sustainability."

I recognize how many fascinating and concurrent programs are available at the ACS national meetings, and I know attendees have to pick and choose between sessions. While it is great that we had nearly 15,000 attendees at the Chicago meeting, that number is only a fraction of the potential total audience. In light of this, we arranged for the presidential sessions on sustainability to be recorded and posted on a brand-new website, www.ACSpresident.org. The website is up and running. Symposia from the Chicago meeting will be online this week.

My original goal in creating the website was to provide access to presidential programming at national meetings to a broader audience. In the coming months, additional helpful member content and resources will be added covering the activities of the ACS Office of the President. Useful links to other ACS programs and services, such as those of the Office of Legislative & Government Affairs, will be included so members can get involved in the programs like Legislative Action Network and become advocates for science!

My company focuses on the end needs of our customers. In the case of Earth, we are all customers, and the final product we are trying to create is a healthier and safer environment—a sustainable planet—and it's going to take all of us working together to achieve that.

I encourage you to visit the new ACS president's website, and please be sure to share your thoughts with me on how we can make it even better and more valuable to you.

It will take all of us, working together, to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations. So let's get started.

 

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

 
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