Study Asks if Green Chemistry Drives Profits . . . or Just Good PR?
“Green chemistry has taken on a life of its own and is advancing far beyond the minimum legal requirements,” says Gillian Morris, industry manager of the Chemicals & Materials practice for Kline & Company’s research division. “Some chemical companies are starting to find that environmentally friendly practices and profits aren’t always mutually exclusive, and that green chemistry has actually helped to increase profits in some instances.”
The concept of green chemistry – the use of chemical design for pollution prevention – has grown out of environmental legislation like the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, which established a national policy to reduce or prevent pollution at the source when feasible. This directive shifts the responsibility to the chemical designer to be responsible for considering what will happen once the chemical is in use.
The EPA has listed 12 principles of green chemistry, encouraging companies to prevent waste and to design chemicals with little or no toxicity that break down to innocuous substances after use. The agency also encourages the use of in-process real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize or eliminate the formation of byproducts.
Morris points to companies such as Rohm and Haas, Codexis, Lonza, and S.C. Johnson as early adopters of these principles and leaders in the green chemistry field.
“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 really to what extent companies are benefiting financially,” says Mitch Halpern, director in Kline’s Chemicals and Materials consulting practice. “By knowing exactly how green chemistry practices will affect the bottom line, companies can then make decisions about material, equipment, and technology costs and identify opportunities to make substantial improvements in their production processes.”
Kline’s study will focus on three aspects of green chemistry:
- Processes will examine the extent to which more environmentally friendly production processes, such as reducing or eliminating hazardous solvents, are being used. This also involves conserving resources through greater energy efficiency and a reduction in emissions.
- End Products will focus on the drive to produce more biodegradable and recyclable end products. This involves designing safer chemicals and products so they are effective while harboring little or no toxicity. It also applies to products designed to degrade after use so there is no environmental accumulation.
- Conservation of Carbon will look at the use of alternative synthetic methodologies that use less carbon, thereby reducing dependence on feedstocks derived from oil.