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Green Chemistry Roundtables

by Berkeley W. Cue Jr.
November 28, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 48

Berkeley W. Cue Jr., Chair, ACS Green Chemistry Institute Governing Board
Credit: GCI
Berkeley W. Cue, Jr., Chair, ACS Green Chemistry Institute Governing Board
Credit: GCI

In her recent Comment (C&EN, Oct. 10, page 51), ACS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Madeleine Jacobs noted that ACS members are proud that the society is the leader in green chemistry and engineering through the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI). There are many reasons to be proud of this achievement, and one of them is the ACS GCI Roundtables. These three roundtables are agents for change, helping to bring more sustainable practices to industrial sectors that make the chemistry-based goods and services we all need and use.

The longest-standing roundtable is the Pharma- ­ceu­­tical Roundtable (​table). After discussions among several potential members, the roundtable was formed in 2005 when three pharmaceutical companies—Eli Lilly & Co., Merck & Co., and Pfizer—and GCI agreed to meet on a regular basis to address common green chemistry topics. From the beginning, membership was open to all pharmaceutical companies. Membership fees, tailored to a company’s annual sales, were established, and since then membership has grown steadily. Today there are 14 member companies and three associate member companies.

This roundtable supports several notable activities to create a more sustainable future for the pharmaceutical industry. Member companies’ earliest initiative was to agree on and adopt a common metric for measuring the “greenness” of their drug manufacturing operations—process mass intensity (PMI). In 2006, 2008, and again in 2010, they benchmarked their performance, not only for commercial products but also for drug candidates in the R&D pipeline. In early 2011, the roundtable announced that its PMI calculator would be made available to all chemists on its website.

In benchmarking their performance, member companies learned that solvents are the largest contributor to process waste, and they began a dialogue with solvent producers to develop greener solvents from renewable sources. More recently, the roundtable published an "Using the Right Green Yardstick: Why Process Mass Intensity Is Used in the Pharmaceutical Industry To Drive More Sustainable Processes" article (Org. Process Res. Dev., DOI: 10.1021/op200097d) that discusses its rationale for selecting PMI as a performance metric. The roundtable extended its scholarship in safer solvent selection by pooling the information from the solvent selection guides of several member companies to produce the “ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable Solvent Selection Guide,” which can be accessed through its website.

The roundtable has been active in finding greener alternatives to the most commonly used reactions to make drugs. It published its top 12 needs in 2007, and since then it has awarded almost $1 million to academic research labs worldwide in a competitive grant application process. It has partnered with academic researchers through the National Science Foundation’s GOALI program—which helps fund such partnerships—and has influenced the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to include green chemistry and engineering considerations in its grant awards. This year the roundtable extended its scholarship to green chemical engineering challenges.

To advance green chemistry education, the roundtable sponsors university workshops, academic researchers’ travel to make presentations at internal company conferences, and student attendance at national green chemistry conferences. More information about the Pharmaceutical Roundtable’s activities can be found on its website.

In 2009, companies in the cleaning and cleansing businesses came together in partnership with GCI to form the 13-member Formulator’s Roundtable ( An important distinction for these companies is that they do not do chemical synthesis but buy chemicals and mix them to produce value-added products. Membership is open to any company that is significantly engaged in the formulation of soap, detergents, and cleaning preparations and/or perfumes, cosmetics, and other grooming preparations.

This roundtable’s mission is to encourage the formulated-products industry to use green chemistry in creating innovative products that are environmentally sustainable throughout their product life cycles and that are safer to make and use. Recently, the roundtable disclosed a list of ingredients for which it is seeking greener options along with desirable performance criteria. For more information about these targets, please visit its website.

The Chemical Manufacturer’s Roundtable ( is the newest of the three roundtables. The mission of the nine-member roundtable, which was launched in June 2010, is to provide leadership and education in the interpretation and implementation of green chemistry and green engineering principles as applied in the chemical manufacturing industry, as well as to provide a consistent source of credible, scientifically sound information. Membership is open to all establishments that produce basic chemicals or manufacture products by predominantly chemical processes.

These roundtables share common features: a dissatisfaction with simply accepting the status quo, coupled with a vision for a better and greener future and the commitment to work together to achieve it. The greener tools they create are shared freely among the roundtable member companies, among the three roundtables, and with the global chemical community through website posts, conference presentations, and publications.

Roundtables that would catalyze the application of green chemistry principles to other industrial chemistry sectors are being discussed by the GCI Governing Board. The ACS GCI Roundtables have become a successful platform for furthering the society’s mission to advance the broader chemistry enterprise for the benefit of Earth and its people as well as its vision of improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry. And they are off to a very good start.

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



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