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Annual Heinz Distinguished Lecture Focuses on Green Chemistry and a Sustainable Future

Eco-friendly buildings and products don’t happen by accident, they require innovative planning. That’s the message of Paul Anastas’ lecture Tuesday night at the University of Pittsburgh.  The Teresa and H. John Heinz Professor in the practice of chemistry for the environment at Yale will focus his comments on creating a sustainable future through green chemistry.

Anastas said the products, processes, and systems that make up our society and economy have tremendous function and performance, but also come with concerns over the toxicity of the products we use every day from clothing to electronics.

“The reason we need to think differently about how we design our products is so that we can get all of the performance and all of the function without all the unintended consequences of toxicity and contamination and pollution,” said Anastas.

The unintended consequences according to Anastas also include depletion of natural resources, water shortages, and climate change.

Green chemistry is the design of chemical-based products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry has gone from theory to practice over the last 20 years. Anastas said basic science developed around the world has been designed into products that touch all sectors including agriculture, cosmetics and personal care, food, and energy.

Leading companies around the world are starting to use green chemistry to design products sustainably, but Anastas said the growth could be stronger.

“The lack of awareness of the power of the possible is one of the greatest impediments to innovation,” he said, “people need to understand that green chemistry is possible, that green chemistry is profitable, that green chemistry is the basis of innovation.”

Anastas was this year’s Heinz Distinguished Lecturer. He previously served as the assistant administrator and science advisor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and is the author of 11 books on green chemistry.