Cleaner doesn't have to cost more! See why making money doesn't have to hurt the environment
While proponents of green chemistry say it's easy to be green, the color of money continues to scare off potential adopters. This report tells what you need to know to create profits while protecting the environment
'Green chemistry bashes that old myth that if it's cleaner, it's going to cost more.' By Joy LePree
| A CHEMIST'S DOZEN: 12 KEYS TO GREEN Paul Anastas wrote the book on green chemistry. Literally. In 1998, he co-authored "Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice" with J.C. Warner. The book introduced the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, which provide a framework for scientists and chemical engineers to use when designing new materials, products, processes and systems. Systematic integration of these principles is key to achieving sustainability for the benefit of the environment, economy and society. The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, below, have come to define today's green chemistry. 1. Prevention. Design chemical syntheses to prevent waste, leaving no waste to treat or clean. 2. Design safer chemicals and products. Design chemical products to be fully effective, yet have little or no toxicity. 3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses. Design syntheses to use and generate substances with little or no toxicity. 4. Use renewable feedstocks. Rather than depleting, use renewable raw materials and feedstocks. 5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents. Minimize waste by using catalytic reactions. Catalysts are used in small amounts and can carry out a single reaction many times. Stoichiometric reagents work only once. 6. Avoid chemical derivatives. Avoid using blocking or protecting groups or any temporary modifications if possible. Derivatives use additional reagents and generate waste. 7. Maximize atom economy. Design syntheses so that the final product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials. There should be few, if any, wasted atoms. 8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions. Avoid using solvents, separation agents or other auxiliary chemicals. If necessary, use innocuous chemicals. 9. Increase energy efficiency. Run chemical reactions at ambient temperature and pressure when possible. 10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use. Chemical products should break down to innocuous substances after use so that they don't accumulate in the environment. 11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution. Include in-process, real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize or eliminate the formation of byproducts. 12. Minimize the potential for accidents. Design to minimize the potential for explosions, fires and releases to the environment. |
Green is a multi-tasking color. It represents both the environment and money two issues usually considered to be at odds with each other. In the chemical industry especially, traditional methods used to make a process or product more environmentally friendly have brought added costs. Recently, however, there has been a push for green chemistry, which according to organizations such as the EPA and the American Chemistry Council's Green Chemistry Institute reduces harmful effects while boosting the bottom line. Although chemical engineers have been slow to adopt related technologies, proponents of green chemistry say that once those in the industry understand the financial benefits, they will see why it's easy, if not better, to be green.
What Is Being Green?
According to the EPA, green chemistry is the use of chemistry for pollution prevention. More specifically, it is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. "In the early stages of green chemistry, we recognized that we needed to go to the molecular level and redesign chemistry in order to reach those goals," says Paul Anastas, director of ACS's Green Chemistry Institute (GCI). In a nutshell, this means that green chemistry is not about controlling pollution. Instead, it is about designing products and processes from the earliest stages to avoid using or making hazardous materials, chemicals and solvents. The real work behind green chemistry lies in the hands of the chemical engineers who create the processes that create our chemistry-related products. To be considered a true practitioner of green chemistry, the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry must be fully integrated into a company. See related article, "A Chemist's Dozen." "A lot of companies think they are practicing green chemistry, but they are really only taking a few steps toward sustainability. They aren't necessarily looking holistically at green chemistry from the perspective of the 12 Principles," notes Julie Manley, senior industrial coordinator with the GCI's Pharmaceutical Roundtable, a collaboration of global pharmaceutical corporations committed to integrating green chemistry into their industry. "It is difficult, but it is necessary to go back as far as R&D to integrate green chemistry so that when a new process is developed, it is green the first time. There's an industry phrase, 'benign first time,' that sums up the true meaning of green chemistry."
Green Gets Red Light
Kermit the Frog used to say it's not easy being green. But for the chemical industry, it could be translated to it's not cheap being green. While benefits to the environment and a chemical firm's public façade are apparent, the cost is usually what prevents chemical manufacturers from adopting green chemistry. "No one is going to develop a new process unless there is significant ROI because there is always risk associated with a new process, particularly one that is radically different," says Dr. Everett Baucom, deputy director, NSF Science & Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes. "There is always the dilemma of deciding whether to put money into a current process or use it to develop a new one. Industry doesn't have unlimited funds to do research, so it's very difficult for a chemical company to invest in a new process." Prior to his work at the NSF, Baucom worked for DuPont where he helped develop a membrane technology used in a radically greener process to make chlorine and caustice. "The membrane process we developed has a 20 to 25 percent lower investment cost than building a plant based upon existing technology and a 15 to 20 percent lower operating cost because the new process was more efficient. Plus, it made a better product," he says. "It should have been adopted immediately, but 25 years later only half the world's capacity is in the membrane technology and the other half is still using the old technology despite the overwhelming advantages. It is the plants that were built after the membrane technology was developed that are using it. It was deemed too costly to change the process in existing plants, so they just keep plugging along the old way." He says this is just one example of the inertia that exists in the chemical process industry. And, he says, this attitude needs to change before green chemistry with all its environmental benefits is widely embraced in this country. However, proponents of green chemistry say that once it is embraced and put into action, it's actually more cost-efficient to be green. "When pharmaceutical companies begin to adopt green chemistry, they recognize the economic benefit," says Manley. "Green chemistry is driving towards the utilization of less hazardous materials, fewer reagents, fewer chemicals, etc., and therefore less byproducts. If you look at the components of green chemistry, it clearly saves money and time and that's an economic value."
|3 INNOVATIONS IN CLEANER, CHEAPER, SMARTER CHEMISTRY The EPA is one of green chemistry's biggest cheerleaders. With the viewpoint that the green chemistry revolution needs to begin with environmentally conscious design of chemical products and processes, the agency created a Green Chemistry Program following the passage of the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. EPA's program collaborates with academia, industry and other government and non-government organizations to promote the use of chemistry for pollution prevention through voluntary, non-regulatory partnerships. It is the goal of the agency to promote the research, development and implementation of chemical technologies that accomplish pollution prevention in a scientifically sound and cost-effective manner. EPA recognizes such advances through the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Program, which promotes innovative developments and the use of green chemistry for pollution prevention. The challenge provides a forum for individuals, groups and organizations to receive national recognition for innovations in cleaner, cheaper, smarter chemistry. The award winners and those who receive honorable mentions provide some of the greatest real-life working examples of innovation in green chemistry. As a matter of fact, three of this year's very notable mentions involve products that even the most chemistry-challenged Americans use daily household cleaners, sneakers and Post-It notes. |
Whipping Windex Into Shape
SC Johnson's Greenlist, a process used to reformulate consumer products, was the most recent winner of the Designing Greener Chemicals Award. The company developed the Greenlist system to rate the environmental health effects of the ingredients in its products and to help reformulate several products. Greenlist uses four to seven specific criteria to rate ingredients within 17 functional categories. The criteria include vapor pressure, octanol/water coefficiency, biodegradability, aquatic toxicity, human toxicity and others as appropriate. The process assigns an environmental classification score (EC) to each ingredient by averaging its scores for the criteria in its category. EC scores range from Best (3) to Restricted Use Material (0), and SC Johnson lowers the EC score for chemicals with significant concerns such as PBTs, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity. Today, Greenlist provides ratings for more than 90 percent of the raw materials SC Johnson uses including solvents, surfactants, inorganic acids and bases. The company has used the system to reformulate multiple products, including Saran Wrap and Windex, to make them safer and more environmentally responsible. Polyvinylidene chloride was replaced with polyethylene in Saran Wrap, and VOCs were removed from Windex. The new Windex, which contains amphoteric and anionic surfactants, a solvent system with fewer than 4 percent VOCs, cleans 30 percent better and eliminates 1.8 million pounds of VOCs per year.
| The new Windex eliminates 1.8 million pounds of VOCs per year. |
Running With a New Rubber
Better known for sneakers than chemistry, Nike Inc. received an EPA Presidential Green Challenge honorable mention for the development of a greener rubber used in the outsoles of their sneakers. Nike pursues Considered Design, meaning the company strives to make innovative, performance-quality products that demand fewer natural resources and strives to incorporate sustainability as a design component from the beginning of the design process. With that in mind, Nike Footwear eliminated numerous toxins from its rubber outsoles. Using a protocol that assesses chemicals against 19 human health and environmental criteria, Nike redesigned two of its rubber formulations. Based on the design protocol, the company identified rubber ingredients that needed to be replaced and found alternatives that met performance requirements. Using more benign accelerators, vegetable oils and modified processing, Nike created new environmentally preferred rubber for outsoles, which contain 96 percent fewer toxic substances by weight than the original formulations, provide equal performance, look the same and cost no more than traditional rubber. In 2005, Nike produced about 170 million pairs of shoes worldwide that contained some of its new rubber formulations, representing about 25,000 metric tons of environmentally preferred rubber.
| Nike sneakers with new rubber formulations represented about 25,000 metric tons of environmentally preferred rubber last year. |
Sticking It to Solvents
3M Office Supplies Division Laboratory also received an honorable mention for the development of water-based materials for Post-it Super Sticky Notes. Developed in the late 1980s, the prototype for these newly enhanced Post-it Notes for use on vertical and hard-to-stick surfaces used solvent-based adhesive formulations. At the same time, 3M wanted to reduce VOC emissions by 90 percent by the year 2000. Rather than install pollution control equipment, 3M delayed introducing the product until a new, water-based adhesive formulation was developed in 2003. The water-based microsphere materials in the Super Sticky Post-its yield the desired performance, generate fewer air emissions, have a reduced environmental risk profile and are less expensive to manufacture than the originally proposed solvent-based formulation. While the formula is a trade secret, it is based on acrylate polymers, which do not contain any fluorochemicals, alkylphenol ethoxylates, polyvinyl chloride or phthalates. With pollution controls, the new formulations reduce annual VOC emissions by 33,400 pounds, or 2.2 billion pounds before pollution control, and Toxic Release Inventory emissions by 20,500 pounds (controlled), or 1 million pounds before controls, compared to projected emissions of the proposed solvent-based process. The water-based system also eliminates the need for a thermal oxidizer to control VOC emissions, reducing 3M's emission of CO2 from fuel combustion. It also increases worker safety and reduces the possibility of fire, chemical release or explosion. The water-based system also generates significant cost savings.
| Water-based Super Sticky Post-its are less expensive to manufacture. |
Anastas adds that green chemistry is by far more cost-effective than pollution controls. "Past approaches looked at products, process and operations and tried to use technology to make them less bad. All of those approaches cost money and didn't add value," he says. "Green chemistry looks at redesigning products and processes so that while reducing the impact on human health and the environment, you're also able to increase the performance and value-added properties of products and add efficiencies because there are fewer or no bad byproducts." However, a few remain uncertain as to whether investment costs are worth the payback. "The obvious benefits of green chemistry are good PR and the avoidance of fines for pollution offenses, but there's little industry data to indicate to what extent companies are benefiting financially," says Mitch Halpern, director of Kline & Co.'s Chemicals and Materials consulting practice. "We are proposing a study that will seek to determine how green chemistry practices impact the bottom line so that companies can make informed decisions. We would like to do an analysis of operations that are involved in the area and conduct research into where the profits are made and what the outlook is for corporate profits and environmentally friendliness to keep marching arm and arm down the aisle of peace, joy and happiness."
Giving Green a Push
Because the jury is still out on green chemistry's financial benefits, most chemical companies aren't willing to take a chance. However, green supporters are turning to academia and resource sharing in an effort to ease the individual financial burden. "It is in linking academia with industry where you will find the greatest and most expedited benefits because academia is doing a lot to advance green chemistry educationally and through their research," says Manley. "The roundtable (GCI's Pharmaceutical Roundtable) is providing funding for post-doctoral research to direct research that has applications in the pharmaceutical industry. Additionally, chemical engineers come out of school with knowledge of green chemistry and are ready, willing and able to provide alternatives during the design process." And, organizations such as Baucom's are pushing further down into the educational system with presentations and programs for K-12 to introduce the concept of green chemistry in an effort to drum up interest in environmentally friendly chemistry for future generations. Research and resource development is another area where interested parties are joining forces. "The roundtable strives to provide shared resources so that each company isn't individually investing in things like research or toolkits," explains Manley. "It is more economical to do it as a group." One of the items being jointly developed by the roundtable is a toolkit. Chemists can be instructed to develop a green process, but if they aren't given a mechanism to measure processes or assistance with choosing one solvent over another, they won't know how to improve. Toolkits help in this area because they usually include a solvent selection guide, an acid/base selection guide and/or life cycle assessment tools. "Individual companies have their own toolkits to varying degrees," says Manley. "So we are developing a universal toolkit that contains consolidated knowledge of roundtable members. We are combining resources on pre-competitive challenges." Folks such as Anastas, Manley and Baucom hope that once chemists become fully aware of all the benefits of green chemistry that they will adopt it. "Only a small fraction of our chemical engineers understand the principles, approaches, techniques and benefits of green chemistry, but once they do, they will adopt it," says Anastas. "It's very beneficial because it advances environmental health issues at the same time that products and processes are being made, which is more profitable," he continues. "Green chemistry bashes that old myth that if it's cleaner, it's going to cost more, and that if it's going to make money, it's going to hurt the environment. True green chemistry creates profits and protects the environment." Joy LePree is a contributing writer for CHEM.INFO. She has worked as a journalist for 13 years, covering a variety of issues and trends involving chemicals, processing, engineering and maintenance. To share your comments about the content of this article, send an e-mail to Lisa Arrigo, editorial director/editor-in-chief, at email@example.com.