Green Chemistry at Greenbuild

Bill Walsh | September 29, 2006 | Policies

"Green chemistry is the foundation of our desire to replace design that does no harm with restorative and regenerative design."

-- Vivian Loftness, FAIA

The greening of chemistry and building practices emerged contemporaneously in the early 90's. The seminal book in the field, Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice [1], was published in 1998. The Green Chemistry Journal was founded in 1999. In 2003 Shaw Industries won the EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for its Cradle-to-Cradle design Ecoworx PVC-free carpet tile backing. By 2005, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize for a process it described as "a great step forward for green chemistry." [2]

Green chemistry [3] is a natural compliment to green building. The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry -- ranging from Prevention (#1) to Inherently Safer Chemicals (#12) -- have much to offer green building professionals in their search to identify and distinguish healthier building materials. Three of the twelve principles speak specifically to "design" in terms that are as applicable to building materials as they are to chemicals. Take Principle #4, which states in relevant part: ". . . products should be designed to effect their desired function while minimizing their toxicity."

Three of the world's most influential green chemists will be featured at Greenbuild this year on a panel [4] convened by the Healthy Building Network:

Dr. Paul Anastas, Director of the Green Chemistry Institute of the American Chemical Society, was formerly the Assistant Director for the Environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He is credited with establishing the field of green chemistry in the early 90's while working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the Chief of the Industrial Chemistry Branch and as the Director of the Green Chemistry Program. This month, Anastas received the 12th annual Heinz Award for the Environment. [5]

Dr. John Warner, professor of plastics engineering and director of the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts, co-authored with Anastas the authoritative text on green chemistry and created the world's first Green Chemistry Ph.D. program. A recipient of the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring from President Bush, Warner holds over 100 patents, many earned while developing break-through technologies for the Polaroid Corporation. His recent patents in the fields of semiconductor design, biodegradable plastics, personal care products and polymeric photoresists are examples of how green chemistry principles can be immediately incorporated into commercially relevant applications.

Rounding out the panel will be Professor Terry Collins, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry in the Mellon College of Science. The institute emphasizes replacing polluting technologies with benign, green alternatives. Collins, a 1999 winner of the President's Green Chemistry Challenge award, has developed environmentally safe oxidation catalysts that can be used to decontaminate biological weapons, such as anthrax, and eliminate toxic residues produced by several industries. Collins' breakthroughs in chemical processes hold the prospect of regenerating virtually all waste water to drinking water quality.

"Underlying many of our material selection challenges as green designers is the chemistry of extraction, production and ultimate disposal - and the potential human health and environmental impacts of those chemical processes," says Collins' Carnegie Mellon colleague Vivian Loftness, FAIA. "Innovative research in green chemistry has the potential to do more than create benign alternatives - instead to create healthy alternatives that can at the same time clean our water, our soils and our air. Green chemistry is the foundation of our desire to replace design that does no harm with restorative and regenerative design."

HBN invites you to join us at Greenbuild for Green Chemistry: The Next Plateau for Green Building Materials, a panel discussion on Wednesday, November 15 3:30-5:00 p.m., Room 503/504.


[1] Green Chemistry; Theory and Practice, by Paul Anastas and John Warner, Oxford University Press Oxford, 1998.

[2] The Right Chemistry; Green chemistry offers industry a way to reduce regulatory and clean-up costs with the proverbial ounce of prevention, by Chris Mooney, The American Prospect, Issue Date: April 8, 2006

[3] The official definition of Green Chemistry by the Green Chemistry Institute reads: Green Chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.

[4] Green Chemistry: The Next Plateau for Green Building Materials - Wednesday, November 15 3:30-5:00 PM, Room 503/504.

[5] Green Chemistry Pioneer Wins Heinz Award, Environmental News Service, September 25, 2006. [link no longer available]