By Mark Miltenburg, Member-at-Large for the GCI
One of the greatest challenges that scientists face is communicating our work effectively to people outside of our field. This partly stems from researchers getting lumped together as part of a faceless group of “chemists” or “scientists,” rather than being perceived as individual members. Nobody enjoys a group dictating to him or her what to think or do, so this dehumanized entity causes difficulty in getting people to listen to what you have to say. I have even noticed this problem as a member of the GCI trying to reach other chemists; our message gets understood very differently from what we intend because people hear the word “green” and immediately assume that as a member of the GCI I am judging them and their work, which is certainly not the case.
In an effort to combat this, I thought I would use my turn writing the GCI blog to try and humanize our group a bit by sharing my own reasons for joining the GCI and what I hope other chemists can take away from our work, and inviting others to share their own stories about their interests in green chemistry.
I did a co-operative program for my undergraduate degree, and as part of my work placements, I got to interact with scientists and engineers at major companies such as Honda Canada Inc., Diageo plc, and Rockwell Automation. I saw firsthand the industrial chemical systems that are used, and the scales at which they operate. Viewed on this scale, green chemistry just makes sense, as these places spend huge sums of money disposing of enormous amounts of waste and ensuring that they are operating under safe working conditions. As a result of this scale, these companies are constantly looking for greener solutions, as they make sense from both economical and publicity standpoints. I think Dr. Cameron Cowden, Executive Director of Process Research at Merck & Co., Inc., said it very well at our GCI Workshop when he remarked that green chemistry “is just smart chemistry.”
As a graduate student, I know that for most of us it is impossible to completely overhaul our research in order to make it completely green, and I don’t think that’s the aim of the GCI; we are all graduate students who want to graduate someday. We only hope to educate chemists so that they are aware of solvents,waste, etc. when they go about their research, and trust that when these things are actively taken into consideration, chemists will naturally make an effort to make their research greener. I also know that there are relatively simple ways to make research greener, which won’t impact results, and aren’t currently used because many people are not aware of them. For a great resource on some of these simple techniques, check out this poster prepared by the GCI (and hang it in your lab to share it with others!).
What made you interested in green chemistry? Add your stories in the comments.