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December 16, 2002
Volume 80, Number 50
CENEAR 80 50 p. 51
ISSN 0009-2347




For the past three years, i have had the privilege of serving as chair of the Joint Board-Council Committee on Environmental Improvement. CEI was established in 1965 and charged by the ACS Board and Council with providing advice and direction on policies and programs related to improving the environment. Over the years, the work of the committee has expanded, but that charge remains a core goal.

Today, CEI acts to "encourage activities and programs applying scientific principles to environmental issues," which is a key element of the ACS Strategic Plan for 2001–03. Among these issues are science-based environmental regulation, pollution prevention (particularly the green chemistry programs discussed below), and adequate funding for environmentally related chemistry research.

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION AND MONITORING. CEI has had a long-standing interest in ensuring that sound scientific principles are utilized in environmental regulations, as well as in the measurement principles and techniques used to assess compliance with such regulations. In the early 1980s, CEI--then chaired by Nina I. McClelland, now chair of the ACS Board of Directors--published "Principles of Environmental Analysis," a set of guidelines intended to improve the quality of environmental analytical measurements. Today, environmental monitoring has become vastly more complicated, as a result of both the increasing complexity of the data required (for example, composition of micrometer-size particulates, endocrine disrupters, and possible synergistic effects among trace pollutants) and the increasing sophistication of analytical instrumentation, which is now capable of measurement at the single-molecule level. To address these changes, CEI cosponsored a symposium at the fall 2002 ACS national meeting on "Environmental Sampling and Analysis--Two Decades Later," as a first step toward revising and updating the guidelines.

POLLUTION PREVENTION. During the 1990s, a simple yet revolutionary idea emerg-ed in the chemical enterprise--the concept known as green chemistry. In essence, green chemistry is the premise that it is much better to prevent waste and toxic pollution from being produced in the first place, rather than try to treat, dispose of, or clean up waste afterward--pollution prevention through molecular design. The integration of green chemistry into CEI's program and activities is in large measure due to the vision and energy of the late Joe Breen, my immediate predecessor as chair of CEI and founder of the Green Chemistry Institute (GCI). Under Breen's guidance, CEI helped to establish programs such as the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards and the annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. Green chemistry is becoming an increasingly prominent aspect of ACS activities as a whole. GCI was incorporated within ACS in 2001; many ACS divisions, including the Divisions of Environmental Chemistry and of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry, have extensive programming in this area at national and regional meetings; and educational materials on this topic have been produced in collaboration with the Society Committee on Education. A current challenge is to go further and expand the green chemistry focus to a broader view of sustainability.

PRIORITIES FOR FUNDING. CEI has traditionally advocated adequate federal funding of research on the environment, particularly for the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research & Development. These efforts have met with mixed success as Administrations and legislative priorities have come and gone, but such advocacy is an essential part of the political process. As other agencies develop their own environmental agendas, CEI is active in representing the interests of the chemical enterprise. CEI is currently planning a series of Environmental Research Needs Workshops to complement the ongoing National Academies' study, "Challenges in the Chemical Sciences."

The support and assistance of the ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs has been essential to CEI's activities in this area, and I thank the OLGA staff for all their hard work and patience while I have been CEI chair. I also thank individual ACS members for their advocacy efforts on these issues through the ACS Legislative Action Network (

INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. My last point concerns the role of individual ACS members in addressing these issues. The Council Policy Committee recently had all ACS units review their programs to assess and increase their alignment to "health, safety, and environmental principles." It is not enough to leave responsibility for sustainability to our professional societies and employers. I believe that all ACS members need to develop a "culture of sustainability" in our own research, teaching, and daily activities. Many of these choices have been win-win, benefiting both the environment and the economy. In the future, the choices may be harder--selecting products and processes that maximize long-term environmental benefits but may not enhance short-term profitability, or reducing our own environmental "footprint" as we carry out our personal and professional activities.

Perhaps CEI's ultimate goal is to someday put itself out of business. If the sustainability ethic were so embedded in the thinking and practices of our membership, a single committee could not possibly encompass all activities relating to the environment, because everything we did as chemists would be informed by a concern for the environment. Since we are not there yet, CEI still has a lot of work to do.


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Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

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