From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published January 5, 2010 04:41 PM

The Origin of Green Chemistry

Where does "Green Chemistry" come from? What is it? J.A. Linthorst, who is affiliated with Descartes Center (Utrecht University) and Maastrict University, has studied the matter and the history of the term in an article entitled: "An Overview: Origins and Development of Green Chemistry". He has found where the term begins and how it has evolved.


This overview argues that contextual influences and the user friendliness of the term are the drivers for the explosive growth of green chemistry. It is observed that political support for its development has been significant, in which the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 was a formal political starting point, but informally the origins of green chemistry go back to before 1990. US EPA played an important role in all this, but did not solely contribute to the growth of Green Chemistry.

In the 1980s and 1990s, several environmentally conscious terms entered the chemical arena such as clean chemistry, environmental chemistry, green chemistry, benign chemistry and sustainable chemistry. The first time "Green Chemistry" may have been used by a chemist article was in 1990.

"Green Chemistry" is defined in the Linthorst article as having three major time periods of development.

The first time period  was before 1993. This time frame saw the early origins of pollution control and hazard awareness of pollution. Major events include the founding of USEPA in 1970, Rachael Carson's Silent Spring, and the first Pollution Prevention rules in 1990. In this time frame EPA evolved from being strictly command and control with end of the pipeline technology to active efforts to prevent pollution before it happened with risk analysis early on in the process.

The next time period is between 1993 and 1998. In this time frame a chemical philosophy evolved. The chemical philosophy proposed is not a theory or law. It is a combination of several chemical concepts, a conceptual framework that can be used in the design of chemical processes achieving environmental and economic goals by way of preventing pollution. This comprises, for instance, ambient reaction conditions, renewable feed stocks and minimization of reaction steps.

The third time period is from 1999 to now which has seen an explosion of Green Chemistry based scientific articles.

The author concludes that networking played a key role in the dissemination of Green Chemistry. Successful networking originated from contextual political, economic and environmental influences. The observed political support for US EPA contributed significantly to the growth of green chemistry. This is especially true for the phase transition around 1998.

For the original paper, please go to:

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