Goals and Objectives

Sustainable Chemistry – An introduction

ISCnet – International Sustainable Chemistry Network

Sustainable Chemistry


The products of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are an indispensible basis of our high standard of living and health. Estimations say that about 100,000 chemicals are available on the market. Most of them are used in combination with other chemicals. Often they constitute complex products. Sometimes the consumer is not even aware that the products of chemical industries provide the functionality he expects when he buys or uses a certain product. Often the contribution of chemistry is not noticeable by the consumer as chemicals are used to improve or enable certain production processes, to improve the efficiency or the lifetime of a product, to generate a specific colour or taste (e.g. food additives, preservatives).

In other words, the benefit of modern chemistry and pharmacy can hardly be overestimated.In many areas chemistry and pharmacy are one of the backbones for a sustainable development.

They are of relevance for natural resources and environment (e.g. alternative feed stock), demographics (e.g. nutrition) renewable energy (e.g. new materials, strategic metals, lightweight materials, energy storage), health and safe water as well as clean air to mention a few. According to the OECD (OECD 2008) the value of production of chemicals will be about 4,000 bn. US $ in 2015 and rise to 5,500 bill. US $ in 2030. Most of this increase is expected for non-OECD countries. However, there are also challenges and a backside of the coin.

Population growth and climate change will place great pressure on resources in the future. Increasing income and health will result in an increase of products and waste.

Overcoming the differences in sustainability objectives in Western and less developed countries

Nowadays proper and effective treatment and the prevention of emissions into air, water and soil stemming directly from production and manufacturing are in place in most western countries.

That is often not the case in less developed countries where also the products are synthesized and manufactured that are used in developed countries (Larsson et al. 2007). Interestingly, the introduction of chemicals into the environment is often unavoidably connected to with the proper use of certain products of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Examples are pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, contrast media, laundry detergents, surfactants, anti corrosives used in dishwashers, personal care products, and pesticides to name just a few. It has been learned in recent years that even if advanced effluent treatment would be applied by far not all of these chemicals would be removed fully from wastewater.

Incomplete removal of the chemicals leads to introduction into the aquatic cycle where they can undergo further distribution and transformation.

Follow up problems of such an end of the pipe measure are increased energy demand and formation of unwanted reaction products that can even be more toxic and persistent in the environment as the parent compounds. Additionally, such advanced technologies often cannot be applied in developing countries.

ISCnet – International Sustainable Chemistry Network