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Origins of Green Chemistry

[excerpt from “Changing the Course of Chemistry” by Anastas & Beach]

The idea of green chemistry was initially developed as a response to the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, which declared that U.S. national policy should eliminate pollution by improved design (including cost-effective changes in products, processes, use of raw materials, and recycling) instead of treatment and disposal.  Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is known as a regulatory agency, it moved away from the “command and control” or “end of pipe” approach in implementing what would eventually be called its “green chemistry” program. 

By 1991, the EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics had launched a research grant program encouraging redesign of existing chemical products and processes to reduce impacts on human health and the environment.  The EPA, in partnership with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), then proceeded to fund basic research in green chemistry in the early 1990s. 

The introduction of the annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards in 1996 drew attention to both academic and industrial green chemistry success stories.  The Awards program and the technologies it highlights are now a cornerstone of the green chemistry educational curriculum. 

The mid-to-late 1990s saw an increase in the number of international meetings devoted to green chemistry, such as the Gordon Research Conferences on Green Chemistry, and green chemistry networks developed in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy. 

The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry were published in 1998, providing the new field with a clear set of guidelines for further development (1).  In 1999, the Royal Society of Chemistry launched its journal Green Chemistry

In the last 10 years, national networks have proliferated, special issues devoted to green chemistry have appeared in major journals, and green chemistry concepts have continued to gain traction.  A clear sign of this was provided by the citation for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to Chauvin, Grubbs, and Schrock, which commended their work as “a great step forward for green chemistry”