Solving current and future global problems requires sustainable practices in chemistry. We discuss ways to embed sustainability into laboratory practices, processes and beyond.
As we face increasingly complex problems caused by climate change, many of our solutions rely on chemistry and on advances in sustainable chemistry – from better drugs and safer agrochemicals to new materials and to cleaner energy sources. Sustainable chemistry seeks to improve industrial chemistry by producing more cost-effective products with fewer pollutants and hazardous by-products. We envision three main avenues for improving chemical research: sustainability in laboratory practices, in chemistry itself, and in research that promotes equity and justice.
Assessing sustainability in chemistry requires measuring the intrinsic properties of a molecule, material, reaction, or process to ensure that resources are not being used at a faster rate than they are. cannot be reconstructed. The use of renewable raw materials of biological origin in the production of energy1 or hardware development2 is ideal for reducing the environmental impact of chemical research. Poor management of waste and by-products can have dramatic environmental consequences; it is essential that all researchers working with chemicals conscientiously and carefully manage materials and by-products throughout their life cycle. Ensuring that there is no buildup of hazardous materials, as well as consumption of energy and other resources, is a key part of sustainable chemistry.
To Nature Reviews Prime Methods, we believe that values such as sustainability can and should be incorporated into experimental design. This year, we published comments looking at how to make laboratory practices more sustainable3 and how to safely intensify chemical reactions to reduce environmental impact4. In a chemistry lab, this includes tracking waste, reducing water consumption, identifying areas for reducing energy consumption, and optimizing the solvents used in reactions.
“TO Nature Reviews Prime Methodswe believe that values such as sustainability can and should be incorporated into experimental design”
The adoption of sustainability in chemical research and industry requires the availability of resources and the feasibility of the reaction. In developing countries, the adoption of sustainable chemistry can be severely limited by the availability of resources as well as weak regulatory infrastructure and enforcement.5. Fortunately, projects are currently underway to improve global access to sustainable chemistry practices. Extensive training in chemistry with the aim of improving processes and technology will also be needed to expand access to sustainable chemical resources.
Nature Reviews Prime Methods and Reviews of Nature Chemistry have put together a collection of articles on sustainable chemistry that we hope will help researchers think about different ways to incorporate sustainability into the lab. This living collection will grow with our ever-growing number of publications in sustainable chemistry. The collection currently includes primers on sustainable polymer design, electrochemical stripping analysis, nitrogen reduction and ionic liquid synthesis, and will soon include articles on carbon capture and electrolysis of water. In future primers, we will also encourage all authors, regardless of discipline, to include a discussion of sustainability in experimental design. We hope these steps will encourage all readers to do their part to protect the planet for future generations while meeting current global needs.
Lopez, G. et al. Generation of hydrogen from the pyrolysis of biomass. Nat. Rev. Primer Methods 220 (2022).
Mohanty, AK et al. Durable polymers. Nat. Rev. Primer Methods 246 (2022).
Jain, N. Integrating sustainability into scientific research. Nat. Rev. Primer Methods 235 (2022).
Hitchin, JR The intensification of chemical reactions. Nat. Rev. Primer Methods 228 (2022).
Barra, R. & González, P. The Challenges of Sustainable Chemistry from the Perspective of Developing Countries: Education, Plastic Pollution and Beyond. Running. Notice. Green maintenance. Chem. 940–44 (2018).
About this article
Quote this article
Sustainable chemistry in practice.
Introduction to Nat Rev Methods 2, 61 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43586-022-00152-4