Sustainable Chemistry

One of our new 2nd year modules this year was Sustainable Chemistry and it was an opportunity to tackle elements of Education for Sustainable Development and bring in different assessments to develop broader skill. I thoroughly recommend combing the two as sustainability may be viewed as a non-traditional Chemistry topic but provides an excellent vehicle for all kinds of research into various topics and different assessments that are thought of as transferrable or employability skills.

My personal opinion, and I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to sustainability concepts in education, is that what we ‘do’ with respect to sustainability is insufficient and unimaginative. The 12 principles of green chemistry are a useful tool to a point and we used them in an assignment to ‘green’ a 1st year lab experiment, but they don’t go far enough. Nor does the odd lecture course in how various industries apply them to reduce their impact, although we included that as well. Environmental chemistry isn’t quite the same and provides useful knowledge and tools to help the students consider global impacts. But we can do more…!

Other nice assignments included getting the students to create an infographic, write a magazine style article, and do some presentations. If anyone wants more details of what we did, I’d be happy to share the assignment briefs.

At a conference last week (slides below, May 2014, with an earlier version from January 2014 on the scroll bar), I opined that sustainability was a lens through which every day chemistry could be viewed, and that I’d yet to find a textbook that adequately supports that. I’m working on some more creative ways to incorporate aspects of sustainability into other bits of my teaching including spectroscopy.