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Green chemistry: a 21st century revolution in science

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Alex Henderson

Aston Business School graduate who has been the Managing Director of Henderson Biomedical since January 2015. Passionate about helping laboratories keep their vital equipment operational and compliant. Architecture enthusiast, fitness fanatic and dog lover!

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Sustainability is more than just a simple buzz word. Sustainability is an integral part of our lives- from agriculture to the world of business. Recently, we have found that sustainability is extending into the world of science, particularly in chemistry. Observers are calling this the green chemistry revolution.

The rise of green awareness

Many businesses, both small and large, now have very detailed environmental policies. Indeed, our company has an environmental policy which covers many aspects of our business. Companies around the world, from a variety of market sectors have become more aware and connected to the environment. Governments have set dates on when petrol powered cars will be phased out and nearly 200 countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement. In short, the world is thankfully starting to wake up to the fact that we need to take care of the environment. Real changes are being made in our day-to-day lives to ensure this.

For example, we have seen the war on plastic being played out very publicly in the media. Plastic bags are now chargeable in large shops in England. This has seen a 90% reduction in the use of plastic bags. The scheme has proved so successful, that the government is considering rolling out the scheme to small shops. Bottle deposit return schemes are now being considered and MPs are calling for a 25p surcharge on takeaway coffee cups.

We have seen awareness grow thanks to campaigns such as Sky’s Ocean Rescue. People are now much more receptive to environmental issues and the world of science is no different. Green chemistry has moved from the university lecture theatres to the real world of business and commerce.

What exactly is green chemistry?

Green chemistry is the implementation of a set of principles that aim to significantly reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemical products. The key idea is to focus on preventing the pollution of chemical products.

The development of green chemistry has developed year after year since its inception back in the late 1980s. Today, green chemistry is a multi-billion pound industry and it’s set to grow further with experts forecasting that it could be worth as much as £80bn by the year 2020.

With this growth, comes increased awareness. Eventually, all companies producing chemical products will have to consider ‘green’ alternatives to hazardous substances used in the lab.

Examples of green chemistry

There are many different examples of green chemistry. One example is with solvents used in chemical synthesis as well as cleaning and de-greasing. Biodegradable, green solvents have now been developed. These have chemicals derived from renewable resources and they are designed to be non-polluting.

Shaw Industries have developed a polyolefin resin which can be used as a backing for carpet tiles. The raw material used to manufacture the backing is low toxic and it can also be recycled.

Thanks to the development of green chemistry, we now find there are eco-friendly alternatives to ethidium bromide, xylene, mercury and formaldehyde. These laboratory chemicals are widely considered some of the worst offenders when it comes to their impact on the environment.

Think global, act local

The destruction of our environment is a global issue. Furthermore, the development of chemical products is international and far reaching. It is therefore important that changes being made are implemented worldwide.

Indeed, as the industry grows, there will be more and more pressure on international governments to adopt a unified set of principles towards green chemistry. After all, many of the companies that produce such chemical products are indeed multinational organisations with operations around the globe. We have already seen some steps towards a unified approach to tackling environmental issues with the Paris Agreement. However, more needs to be done to ensure that green chemistry taken seriously in every country around the world.


As the population of the world continues to grow, so too does the strain on the planet’s resources and our ecosystem. The latest advancements in green chemistry will be vital in the quest for global sustainability. Simply put, people now expect companies to use chemicals that are kinder to the environment. We have seen some tangible examples of green chemistry but there is still a long way to go before we can say we are truly sustainable.




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