Although green chemistry and engineering emerged in the 1990s, integration of green chemistry concepts into the chemistry curriculum has not proceeded at a fast enough pace to support this growing field.
Despite the best efforts and innovative approaches of leading educators from around the country, the chemistry education community still lacks a broad understanding of green chemistry and does not have clear learning objectives to support teaching green chemistry. In addition, development and dissemination efforts have been largely uncoordinated and adoption has been slower than desired. Because the chemistry curriculum has remained largely unchanged for the past 100 years, the time to infuse these leading-edge concepts into the chemistry curriculum has arrived.
So how can green and sustainable chemistry education be taken to the next level?
Research and development of more sustainable and greener chemistries and chemical technologies have been gaining momentum over the past 25 years as demonstrated by the exponential growth of publications in this area. Students are now asking for more information on these topics and have a desire to use more sustainable and greener chemistry to address real world problems.
Additionally, industrial employers are looking to hire students with expertise in sustainable practices and an understanding of systems thinking and life cycle. The 2011 Pike Research report estimated that the market for chemicals produced through green chemistry approaches will reach nearly $100 billion by 2020, and many industry sectors are vying for their share.
Despite this rosy picture, educators in the U.S. face real constraints in getting more green chemistry into their classes. They struggle with the demands of a packed curriculum, small and ever-threatened budgets, and a consistent lack of resources, especially for curriculum development. Moreover, a comprehensive evaluation of existing green chemistry teaching materials has never been done.
With these constraints firmly in mind, we ask: How can educators replace existing course material with material that integrates sustainable and green chemistry lessons and principles into chemistry education? How can chemists and non-chemists who take chemistry courses as part of their education be trained to think about the discipline holistically and sustainably without creating more work for already strained educators? What resources are already out there and what needs must be met?
Given the current state of affairs, it is time to chart a clear path to giving students the green chemistry and sustainability knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century. We need to create consensus and amplify the efforts of this motivated community of stakeholders.
Roadmaps have been powerful tools to drive innovation in the semiconductor industry and in geography education. A roadmap will help establish the long-term and short-term strategic needs of a community and chart the path forward to achieve those goals. Creating a roadmap will help to align stakeholders toward common goals, identify existing resources, clearly describe gaps, and help educators articulate mechanisms and obtain adequate funding to fill those gaps.
The ACS Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) is a well-established and respected leader in the green chemistry and engineering communities as well as an unbiased and credible source for the latest green chemistry and engineering information. A recognized convener of sustainable and green chemistry stakeholders, ACS GCI is well positioned to lead this effort. Education is a strategic priority, and the institute is committed to seeing the development of this roadmap through to completion.
ACS GCI will convene, collaborate, and partner with leading community stakeholders to build this education roadmap. Two workshops will provide the underpinnings for roadmap preparation: a visioning workshop will take place in the fall of 2015, followed by a roadmapping workshop in the spring of 2016. The visioning workshop will assemble stakeholders and thought leaders to establish a clear purpose, concrete goals, and a timeline for completing the roadmap. The results will serve as the foundation for the spring 2016 roadmapping workshop.
To broaden stakeholder participation in the roadmap’s development, ACS GCI sent a survey (http://goo.gl/SBLdfg) to 17,000 chemistry educators and will provide the results to the roadmap developers. On behalf of ACS GCI, we encourage those who received the survey to complete it so the results are an accurate reflection of the current state of green chemistry education. Visioning workshop results will be distributed to multiple stakeholder groups to solicit feedback. The intention is to create a transparent and inclusive process in which all members of the community are encouraged to participate.
We look forward to the development of this roadmap and to a not too distant future when students are better equipped to meet the enormous challenges of the 21st century.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.