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Designing for a Green Chemistry Future

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Designing for a Green Chemistry Future


5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Humans already know how to create useful new chemicals that don’t harm human health and the environment.

Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening


Synthetic chemicals improve and even save lives in countless ways. Yet, many can and do sicken and kill people and harm the environment. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. By practicing basic principles of green chemistry – design with systems in mind, include sustainability in performance criteria, use renewable feedstocks, and avoid producing toxic substances – chemists and engineers can develop new, beneficial molecules while avoiding the harm that characterizes many compounds in use today.


Systems thinking should be central to designing new chemicals.

The conventional approach to designing new chemicals is linear, with a laser focus on the desired function, such as waterproofing or killing insects. Little if any attention goes to other aspects of impact over the chemical’s life, such as toxic exposures to workers producing the chemical, the amount and nature of waste produced, and the health risks associated with use. This inattention to unintended implications has produced some big problems over the years. Witness past and current challenges with the pesticide DDT’s unintended adverse impacts on birds, and PFAS’s current contamination of drinking water around the world.

To avoid such harmful unintended consequences, chemists and chemical...

About the Authors

Julie Zimmerman, Paul Anastas, and Hanno Erythropel are researchers at Yale University. Walter Leitner is a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim, Germany. 

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