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A New Measure Of Sustainability

ACS Meeting News: iSustain Alliance presents Web-based application for tracking greener product development

by Stephen K. Ritter
March 29, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 13

Specialty chemicals company Cytec Industries, nonprofit Beyond Benign foundation, and software developer Sopheon have teamed up to form iSustain Alliance to promote green chemistry awareness across the global chemical enterprise.

The alliance has launched a website,, which hosts the iSustain Green Chemistry Index, a software application to assess the "greenness" of a chemical product or process and offer insight into how to develop greener products. A public version of the program is available for free, and companies will pay a nominal subscription fee.

At the American Chemical Society national meeting in San Francisco this week, Martin L. Cohen, a Cytec senior research fellow, unveiled the iSustain initiative during a symposium sponsored by the Division of Environmental Chemistry.

"Cytec has been seeking ways to become more sustainable on many fronts, including energy, packaging, safety, and product design," Cohen said. "We use the iSustain product and process design tool to assist in these sustainability efforts. One of Cytec's goals is to help our suppliers and customers communicate in a common language about sustainability."

Similar green assessment tools already exist. For example, household cleaning products manufacturer SC Johnson's GreenList helps users assess the environmental friendliness of household cleaning and storage products. But iSustain, which started as an internal assessment tool at Cytec in early 2009, is the first effort to develop a sustainability metric based on the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry and to cover all types of chemical products and processes.

iSustain users generate a scenario by entering information on the materials that go into making a chemical or product, such as water, solvent, catalysts, and reaction chemicals, Cohen explained. Information on the materials that come out at the end of a process, such as wastewater, spent solvent, products, and waste chemicals, also are entered. The software considers factors such as human and environmental health and safety, as well as energy efficiency, atom economy, and biodegradability.

The result is a calculated Green Chemistry Index rating, from 0 to 100, presented as a map that quickly points out areas that are green and areas that need improvement. Alternative scenarios can be developed for each product or process, allowing users to make changes and see the effect on the rating, Cohen added. The index is intended to serve as a sustainability baseline that users can try to raise through process improvements.

iSustain is not a life-cycle assessment tool, Cohen pointed out. Rather, it is designed to provide a snapshot evaluation, from early-stage development to after commercial launch, requiring much less time and effort than a full life-cycle assessment. The program won't be static, Cohen said, because it will evolve to utilize new information as it becomes available.

"Sustainability efforts in institutions across the world have become mainstream and ubiquitous," commented John C. Warner, coauthor of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry and president of Beyond Benign. "Although much attention and many resources are being spent on such activities, there does not exist a universal understanding of how sustainability can be truly measured and tracked to determine the actual success of any sustainability endeavor. The iSustain Green Chemistry Index provides the user with a credible and quantifiable assessment of the relative sustainability of a material process."

iSustain will be invaluable not only to industrial chemists designing safer processes and products, but also as a resource for students and educators, Warner added. From a marketing perspective, it can help communicate the true value of a company's products.

"Green chemistry on its own is not a discipline, but rather it is a systematic way to practice chemistry informed by a proven set of principles," commented Robert Peoples, director of ACS's Green Chemistry Institute. "We are incredibly excited that for the first time there is a readily available tool for scientists to do 'What if?' analyses and see the instant results of their choices during the design phase of a new chemical or process. iSustain will allow us to take a quantum leap in terms of understanding and reducing the tools of green chemistry to practice."


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