This project (2020-1-SE01-KA203-077872) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Chemistry and Sustainability

Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University
Thematic Area
Natural Sciences
Factual description
Prof. Collins began teaching the first classes in Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University in 1992. I decided to review the currently delivered course “Chemistry and Sustainability” for the Institute for Green Sciences of the same university because it overcomes the concept of autoreferential Green Chemistry and include Chemistry as a discipline that need to be at the service of a superior design od Sustainability. The course is for upper level undergraduates and graduates, without any particular prerequisites. As reported in the Syllabus introduction “the course aims to educate students in the foundations of systematic leadership for building a sustainable world. Many sustainability challenges are associated with commercial chemicals and with operational modes of the chemical enterprise. For scientists, effectiveness in solving the technical challenges and redirecting cultural behavior is the defining substance of sustainability leadership. The course aims to challenge students to analyze and understand the root causes of unsustainability, especially in the technological dimension, to imagine a more sustainable world and to begin to define personal leadership missions.” Prof Collins is convinced that Sustainability ethics must become core to the structure of the civilization. He favors sustainability ethics as articulated by Hans Jonas. The chemical enterprise has to change massively. Finance and banking have to change massively. Politics has to change massively.
In this course “students are introduced to sustainability ethics as the foundation stone of transformative sustainability leadership, to the Collins “Sustainability Compass” and “Code of Sustainability Ethics” and to the Robért/Broman “Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD)”as powerful guiding tools. The Collins “Bookcase of Green Science Challenges” organizes the technical content. It systematizes the major chemical sustainability challenges of our time: clean synthesis, renewable feed-stocks, safe energy, elemental pollutants, persistent molecular toxicants and endocrine disruptors. Focal areas are the technical, toxicological and cultural histories of elemental and molecular pollutants and endocrine disruptor (ED) science—EDs represent the single greatest sustainability challenge of everyday chemicals. The graded substance will take the form of take-home work.”
Relevance in complex systems
Even if the course does not explicitly refer to complex systems and systemic thinking, in fact it represents a very interesting revision of the classic teachings of Green Chemistry. Chemistry is placed within a multidisciplinary intervention focused on the creation of sustainability experts, outlining the structural characteristics of a systemic approach to understanding a complex system
Strong points
Prof Collins vision is focused in equipping students in any discipline (and, essentially, across disciplines) with the thinking and skill sets appropriate for sustainable development, enabling them to be effective in inducing massive change.
Transferability potential
Students are invited to primarily read key books and articles and to summarize and personally evaluate the material in essay assignments.