After the dawn of public environmental awareness at the first Earth Day in 1970, chemical-dependent industries struggled to remediate toxic waste disposal sites, conform to ever-increasing national and international regulations, and adapt to the demands of a public wanting both ecologically-safe and affordable products. For more than 20 years after that first Earth Day, these industries remained mostly reactive in its responses to these challenges and resistive to further change, as they feared decreasing profit margins and sales as a result.
The 1990s, however, birthed a movement by government, industry leaders, trade and professional associations, and academicians to become proactive in adopting new technologies and systems to eliminate waste—improving the bottom line for companies—as well as to create safer chemical products and product use. Thus, the age of sustainable industry processes and engineering and green chemistry came into being. Sustainability and green chemistry are two different concepts however; the former being a longer-term, resource-oriented concept and the latter focused on chemical processes that lead to intermediates and products that are safe (or safer) from a human and ecological health perspective. Even so, green chemistry is often referred to as sustainable chemistry.
This year marks the 25th year since the US EPA created the Green Chemistry Program.
The European Union (EU) has also been active in promoting green chemistry along with chemical regulatory measures such as REACH. SusChem is one organization making the effort to bring stakeholders together to help shape policy and encourage innovation in green chemistry. They partner with EU institutions and support EU-funded research to this end, and look forward to the increased funding Horizon 2020 will provide to enhance EU-based economic growth through technological advancement. Academic programs, such as those offered by The University of York, are helping to bring awareness and newly-trained professionals into the field.
Since this ambitious start, green chemistry has begun to find its way into manufacturing practices in all chemical-based industries, including the textile industry. In Part 2 of this series, we will explore the sources of green chemistry information available to the public.
Opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily those of AATCC.