The science of chemistry has had a profound impact on the quality of life in today's world. Look around you, and you see products that were created by man through the application of chemistry. The computer monitor, or cell phone/tablet screen you are looking at, or the piece of paper you printed this to, are all man-made through the industrial application of chemistry.
What is a Cost-Benefit Analysis?
We live in a market driven economy, and when a corporation decides if it is going to market a new product it invariably undergoes some sort of Cost-Benefit Analysis. That is, how much will it cost to produce and market the product, and what will be the benefit of that endeavor. For the corporation to survive it must bring in enough revenue to cover the cost of production and marketing and make a profit. Typically, this analysis covers the discovery, manufacture and sale of the chemicals that make the product, and does not account for what happens to the chemicals after it has been purchased by the consumer.
What is a chemical's life cycle?
Some use the term "from cradle to grave" to describe the life cycle of a chemical, which tracks the chemical from it's synthesis to its disposal. One of the problems with Cost-Benefit Analysis when dealing with chemicals is an accurate accounting of the chemicals life-cycle. In the eyes of a corporate revenue stream, once the chemical is sold it is no longer their responsibility and the cost-benefit analysis does not take in costs associated with the disposal of the chemical
What is the Law of Unintended Consequences?
This is not a scientific law, in fact the term was coined in the social sciences, but of relevance to the use of chemicals is that once a chemical has been disposed of, there can be unintended consequences. For example, DDT showing up in Penguins in Antarctica, or pharmaceuticals disposed down the sewer serve as endocrine disrupters that result in male fish acquiring female organs.
Do Cost-Benefit Analysis take into account the unintended consequences of a chemical's true life cycle?
So What is Green Chemistry?
Green chemistry is a philosophical approach to reduce the unintended consequences associated with the use of chemicals. Paul Anastas and John Warner developed 12 principles of green chemistry that can help lead to a sustainable science. This principles do not deal with cleaning up pollution, but avoiding it. You may download a bookmark on the 12 Principles of green chemistry from the EPA by clicking here.
In the following video Paul Anastas discusses the 12 Principles of green chemistry to a class at Yale
In this video, the "Future of Sustainable Chemistry", John Warner discusses his role as a chemist and how the chemistry curriculum omits teaching students how to do science in an environmentally benign and safe way.