Green Chemistry: Designing for a Sustainable Future

Podcast: Science With a Twist

Episode Summary

We are keenly aware of the pressing need to care for our environment and the incredible potential of innovation to drive positive change. Green chemistry plays a pivotal role in sustainability by promoting environmentally benign and socially responsible chemical processes and products. It's all about reducing pollution and conserving precious resources in ways that benefit both the planet and our communities.

In this episode of the Science With a Twist podcast, our host Vinod Mirchandani welcomes John Warner, the co-founder, president, and CTO of the Warner-Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, and co-founder of the non-profit, Beyond Benign. They talk about the role of green chemistry in sustainability, the importance of education, and why we need the right tools to build a world where the chemical building blocks of products used every day are healthier and safer for humans and the environment.


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Guest Profile


John Warner

Co-founder of Beyond Benign and The Warner-Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry

 

Noteworthy: John’s foundation Beyond Benign is committed to sharing sustainable science education. He's a green chemistry expert with more than 300 patents and has received numerous prestigious awards, including the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

 

Where to find him: Personal Website | LinkedIn




Quotation marks
“You can't achieve sustainability goals just by wanting them. There's a skillset that is required in the lab that will then bring about the technologies and the materials to achieve those goals, and so the relationship between green chemistry. You can have all the regulations in the world, you can have all the desires in the world, but if you don't have the ability to meet those desires, you just got a lot of sad people, and so we need to have green chemistry to move from talking about this stuff to actually doing it.”

John Warner
Co-founder
Beyond Benign and The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry

Key Insights



Green chemistry aims to anticipate toxicity and global climate change. Green chemistry is an area of chemistry that focuses on reducing pollution and building a more sustainable world. John explains, "What you may be surprised to learn is that if you look at the curriculum, if you look at the classes that a chemist takes from the very beginning to getting a Ph.D., very few, if any, universities have within that curriculum, any skills, any ability to predict, ‘Will this molecule be toxic? Will this molecule hurt the environment?’ Of the massive curriculum that is chemistry, what has been missing is that. So if you put a box around that and say, ‘What are the skills necessary to anticipate toxicity, global climate change, energy use, all the things that we define as sustainability issues, the molecular mechanisms necessary to address them?’ That is the body of what is called green chemistry."

 

Building a sustainable future needs to be collaborative. We're all in this together when it comes to building a sustainable future. John explains, "Over time, the two aspects of industry and industry have not become closer together but have actually become a little bit further apart. At the very time we need innovation, at the very time we need creativity to solve these sustainability problems, both aspects of the chemical enterprises are not coming together. So, in an ironic way, the closed-loop metaphor works against us. So this Mobius strip, interesting enough, if you look at it in a certain way, it looks like an infinity symbol, bringing and showing that we're all in this together, and this has to be a collaboration."

 

Green chemistry gives us the tools to put sustainability into motion. The desire for sustainability is not enough to make the necessary change. We also need to have the right tools. John says, "You can't achieve sustainability goals just by wanting them. There's a skillset that is required in the lab that will then bring about the technologies and the materials to achieve those goals, and so the relationship between green chemistry. You can have all the regulations in the world, you can have all the desires in the world, but if you don't have the ability to meet those desires, you just got a lot of sad people, and so we need to have green chemistry to move from talking about this stuff to actually doing it."




Quotation marks
“I feel that we're at a point where society wants sustainable technologies, manufacturers want to make sustainable technologies, the next generation of people want to learn how to make these technologies. The desire is there.”

John Warner
Co-founder
Beyond Benign and The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry

Episode Highlights



We need to motivate future generations to focus on sustainability

"If you go and say, 'The world is facing all kinds of sustainability problems. If you become a chemist, if you become an inventor, it’s possible that by the things you do, hundreds of thousands of people you will never meet will not be exposed to hazardous materials, and climate change could be reduced because you invented a better way.'"

 

"I feel very strongly that that is far more motivating than lighting something on fire in front of a group. But those tools, those lesson plans, don't spontaneously appear. So, the K-12 program, there are over 250 lesson plans posted on their website for free."


It's not just what the product does to you, but what happened behind the scenes to make that product

"You have three different shampoos, you have three different toothpastes, you have three different whatevers, and all three of them have nearly identical impact on the environment [irrespective of] how you use and after you use it, but when you look at how it was manufactured, you may find that one company manufactures it at high temperature using toxic reagents," John says.

 

"Now, those toxic reagents are gone when it gets to you and the product, but they were made in the process. Where did they go? Where did they get accumulated?"


The desire for sustainability is there, but we need the tools to make it happen

"I feel that we're at a point where society wants sustainable technologies, manufacturers want to make sustainable technologies, the next generation of people want to learn how to make these technologies. The desire is there. We need to pull together our resources and collaborate to actually create that skillset so that we can see this reality actually happen. And there are many things that are necessary to make this happen," remarks John.

 

"Green chemistry is, in my opinion, an important part, but it's not the only part."



To learn more about Thermo Fisher’s sustainability efforts, please click here.