By Sam Benjamin
This week’s focus on a Green Chemistry Innovator is on Dr John C. Warner, who was at one time Polaroid’s head researcher and is now considered to be one of the founding fathers of Green Chemistry.
It’s easy to sense the rhetoric in Warner’s voice when he poses this question about the uptake of Green Chemistry: “Why is it so difficult? Why isn’t this just happening?”
His short answer is that it is not difficult, that scientifically it is completely plausible, that technologically it is very achievable, and that economically it is actually desirable in this talk.
It’s not about the way we make molecules, it’s the way we make chemists. - John C. Warner
John Warner is adamant that eliminating toxic chemicals from the industry by following the principles of Green Chemistry is possible. He believes that what is holding it back is the lack of scientific understanding at the bench-top and engineering design level – simply “the way we make chemists”.
Warner has been steering the Green Chemistry ship since its earliest days, coupling his talent in chemistry with his extensive industry experience to produce some of the most pivotal contributions in the field, and continues to do so today.
Here we’ll examine a snapshot of those contributions and how, as an innovator and scientist, John Warner has been integral to the development of Green Chemistry.
Promoting Green Chemistry: An Early Influence
Warner’s early influences on Green Chemistry – when it was still an ill-defined topic in the early 90s – are the drivers behind today’s rising interest.
These influences began when Warner helped develop a new method for producing Polaroid’s film that was environmentally benign, non-toxic and required low energies.
Sent to Washington DC to convince the Environment Protection Agency of this amazing new technology, he met Paul Anastas, who was at the time Branch Chief of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at the EPA.
Warner’s early influences on Green Chemistry are the drivers behind today’s rising interest
This meeting was the catalyst for a working relationship that led to Warner’s involvement in the EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge (PGCC) – a series of annual awards that has since 1995 been given to scientists and organisations behind novel and innovative approaches to sustainable chemistry, technology, processing and products.
So far-reaching has the PGCC become that some of the world’s largest chemical companies have entered and received awards for their efforts, and its success is a testament to Warner’s impact on the advancement of sustainability within the industry.
Improving Green Chemistry: A Man of His (12) Principles
Perhaps Warner’s greatest contribution was his joint 1998 publication with the EPA’s Paul Anastas: ”Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice“.
This book really became the bible for sustainability as it contained the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry; the golden rules for achieving sustainability in the chemical industry and are still widely used today.
Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice became the bible for sustainability
In many people’s minds this addition to the Green Chemistry repertoire can be considered as Warner’s finest as it presented other chemists with the information they needed to begin implementing green and sustainable practices on a wider scale.
Teaching Green Chemistry: Back to the Drawing Board
Intending to strike at the heart of what he perceives as a root cause of the industry’s toxic problem, Warner developed the first Ph.D in Green Chemistry and opened the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts.
His intention was to supply students from many different backgrounds with knowledge on toxicology and sustainability, and how to implement this knowledge in an industrial or professional setting.
Warner maintains there is no such thing as a ‘green chemist’
Warner maintains there is no such thing as a ‘green chemist’, but rather that all professions can incorporate it into everyday practices.
It is his belief that education in all industries – whether from a chemical background or not – is key to our societies habitually and voluntarily applying Green Chemistry.
John will be speaking in November on the opportunities for growth with Green Chemistry, and the design of non-hazardous molecules and substances.