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Editor's Page

August 30, 2007
Volume 85, Number 32
p. 3


It's Not Easy Being Green

Joseph G. Acker

This guest editorial is by Joseph G. Acker, president and chief executive officer of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association.

I would like to address product substitution, inherently safer technology, sustainability, and green chemistry. The definitions of these terms are not entirely clear, and they are often used interchangeably.


I lump them all together because I believe they point to a bigger question: What are the environmental and health impacts of the chemicals produced by the chemical industry and used in everyday consumer products? This question applies to the chemicals on an individual basis and, probably more important, on a relative basis.

The question isn't an easy one to answer. It has impact on the entire supply chain, from the basic raw material producer to the retailer.

Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Dell have created lists of chemicals they want "banned" from their products. Who developed these lists? What information did they use? Was that information scientifically valid? What are the substitutes? What are the consequences, if any, of substitution? Many product substitution advocates are ignoring the "12 Principles of Green Chemistry" (which can be found on ACS's Green Chemistry Institute website,

The term "green" is getting used so often and in so many different ways to achieve political or other goals that I am not sure people know what it really means. On June 25, the New York Times ran an article titled "At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw?" It discussed many of the difficulties in defining green and also some of the absurd claims that some companies make about their products.

What is "green"? This important discussion is just beginning, and I predict it will be an issue for some time. I believe that at some point in the future, a consumer will pick up a product and be provided with an easy-to-understand way to determine the relative greenness of that product. The purchaser will see how the product's ingredients impact the environment and human health, much like we see the nutritional information on food packages we purchase.

Before this happens, a great deal of information must be gathered and analyzed objectively and scientifically, and the whole process must be transparent. Testing methods and modeling, risk analysis, and evaluation of alternatives must be agreed upon by a variety of stakeholders, must stand up to scientific scrutiny, and must be understood by a sometimes skeptical public, who may be startled to find that in many instances chemical substitution might be neither physically nor chemically possible.

Reaching this point will be no small task, to be sure, but the stakeholders in the supply chain must work together to address these issues. The chemical industry needs to be in the forefront of these discussions. The issue of greenness isn't going away.

I was determined that this editorial would not be an advertisement for the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, and I will allow one small transgression: Each year, SOCMA holds a member/guest golf tournament to benefit the ACS Scholars Program. The program offers scholarships to minority students seeking degrees in the chemical sciences.

This is the fourth year we have done so. This year's event will be at Olde York Country Club in Chesterfield, N.J., on Sept. 11. If you would like to participate or your company would like to be a sponsor, please check the SOCMA website at As you know, it is a worthwhile cause.

Joseph G. Acker

Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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