From Daunting to Doable: How Green Rose Helps Businesses Embrace Green Chemistry

Posted By: Anna Zhenova In the News,

Embarking on a journey toward sustainability is often an enormous task for both businesses and nonprofits. They must navigate the complexities of adopting new systems and processes while ensuring these changes are cost-effective. The overwhelming nature of this transition leads some organizations to abandon their efforts before they truly begin.

Anna Zhenova founded her consultancy, Green Rose Chemistry, with these challenges in mind. Realizing that there was significant demand for green chemistry expertise and guidance, she set out to bridge the gap. Anna's journey began with a passion for sustainability that started in her childhood and evolved into a career dedicated to making practical, sustainable changes through chemistry.

Green Rose launched in 2019, and under Anna's leadership, it has quickly become a sought-after consultancy for companies looking to navigate the complex landscape of green chemistry. With a focus on chemical substitution, life cycle analysis, and sustainable product development, Green Rose is a key player in the movement toward a more sustainable chemical industry. Anna's expertise not only helps companies implement greener solutions but also ensures they can communicate these changes confidently and avoid greenwashing. As a result, Green Rose is helping to drive a significant shift in various industries, making sustainability a practical reality.

Green Rose is a Change Chemistry member. We were excited to chat with Anna about her drive, experience, and projects.

Change Chemistry: Tell us a little bit about you and your background in green and sustainable chemistry.

Anna: I have been into green chemistry since I was a teenager and into sustainability since I was a kid. I learned about the issues that we're facing, and I taught my parents about recycling and insisted we get bins. That was my first sustainability advocacy, which was when I was probably about 10 years old. 


It turned out that I was good at chemistry. So in high school, I started thinking about a career in chemistry. And I immediately thought, how can that be used toward sustainability? Chemistry is not a green field by any means, and it certainly wasn't back then. I started doing a lot of reading. Cradle to Cradle was probably the most formative book in shaping my thinking about how we use materials and chemicals. 


Eventually, I found green chemistry and decided that was what I wanted to do. But in America at the time, that was pretty difficult to do at a university level. It was very difficult to find somebody who genuinely understood the need for sustainable and green chemistry. 


I earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Caltech, but didn’t find anybody there who understood the need for green chemistry. And then I went to Carnegie Mellon for my master’s, again looking for a lab where green chemistry in all its forms was embraced, and again, I didn't really find it. Then I worked at the GC3 (now Change Chemistry) for a couple of years. 

From there, I went on to do a Ph.D. in the UK. I knew that American academics were lagging in the green chemical space, and I ended up settling on York because in the UK, there are actually three big academic centers where all they do is sustainable chemistry. York is one of those. I was presenting my research on green solvents at various conferences, and I kept getting questions from conference attendees asking if they could use my research in their work at their companies. And every time, my answer was, “I could give you the answer, but it would take a few days of research to figure it out because it's a very specific question.” 


I realized that there was a demand in industry for this specific expertise in green solvents. So, after I finished my Ph.D., I started a green solvents consultancy doing the same sort of research that I'd done during my Ph.D., but in industry, where it would make an immediate difference.


As I was doing the solvent replacement work, my clients kept asking me about additional work I might be able to help with. Now, we're a green chemistry consultancy called Green Rose. We officially launched in 2019. Our core focus is providing industry with green chemistry skills, expertise, and knowledge to accelerate the sustainable chemical transition. 


I'm doing what I always wanted to do, which is to make a practical difference in sustainability as fast as possible through chemistry. Many different sectors and industries are undergoing big transitions right now, and they don't have the expertise they need. They certainly don't have it in-house. I had the option of going to work for a single company, but it struck me as more important to be able to offer expertise across industries and across sectors and to be able to transfer learning as well. It's a lot of fun, and I get to learn something new every day. 


Change Chemistry: What types of projects are you seeing a high demand for right now?


Anna: Life cycle analysis has been a big part of our work recently due to growing demand. Companies need to prove that their product is really as green as they claim. Early-stage technoeconomic assessment is also important for companies scaling up.

In terms of innovative R&D projects, it varies by industry. Some industries, such as cosmetics, are further along in their adoption of green chemistry. Their ingredients are obviously absorbed into your body, so they work very hard to make sure that all of their products are safe. But they haven't necessarily thought about making them natural in the past. Now the cosmetics industry is seeking natural, biobased ingredients. That’s also true of the food, flavoring, fragrance, personal care, and home care industries. They’re moving away from synthetic petrochemical ingredients.


We're also gradually seeing more conservative industries adopting green chemistry. The automotive sector is starting to move in this direction, and even aerospace or defense companies. We’re seeing increasing conversation around an indoor healthy living environment and healthy buildings. That’s really relevant in the aerospace industry because they have very tightly closed environments where the air is constantly circulating. People are in those environments for hours or days at a time. The industry is starting to be concerned about what is in the paints and coatings that they’re using. What are they doing to the health of the astronauts?


So, we're seeing traditional, very competitive industries start to take notice of the green chemistry trend, which is amazing. 


Change Chemistry: Do you have a favorite type of project to work on?

Anna: My favorite projects have been those that managed to be win-win-win across the board—a win for safety and sustainability and profitability. 


In our capitalist society, we don’t account for environmental damage correctly, which means the cheapest option is often the most harmful one for external environments. But in some cases, we’ve been able to find a more safe and sustainable solution that was also the most profitable. Oftentimes, that requires in-depth forecasting and assessing multiple scenarios.


Companies often don't take the time to consider the implications of using hazardous chemistry. I think if they did, we would probably be in a better place. 


Change Chemistry: What portion of your clients comes to you because they’re specifically interested in becoming more sustainable, and what portion comes to you because of ulterior factors, like insurance requirements?


Anna: Most of my clients come to me for sustainability reasons. Sometimes, it's a startup that's very excited about sustainability and just wants to do the right thing. Other times, it's a big company that has seen the commercial opportunity of sustainability but is convinced it's the right way to go anyway. That's largely because of how I structure my business. My messaging is very explicitly around green chemistry consultation, which means the people who find me tend to be interested in it already. 


We plan to expand into phase two, which is to start talking to companies that don't quite understand the value of green chemistry yet. But right now, there's such a high demand from companies that do care already.


Change Chemistry: What specific challenges is Green Rose facing right now?

Anna: I tend to look more at the positive side of things and all of the cool things that are being developed. I love to see the interesting ways in which people adopt green chemistry. On that side of things, we’re working with Cambridge right now on an AI project to predict dissolution of plastics and polymers, so if anybody is interested in using the outcomes of that, please reach out!


But there are many complex challenges in the industry right now. One of the big ones is data availability. The number one thing a company needs to do to prove that its product is greener than a competitor's is a lifecycle analysis. That requires looking at where a product has come from and what sort of impact it's made on the environment and people every step of the way. 


But there's a lack of transparency in the supply chain. It’s a problem that is going to take a while to solve because first, we have to generate the data. Manufacturers are going to have to track how much energy they're using, how much waste they're generating, what kind of waste, and so on, which are very difficult things to measure. We're going to have to start with every manufacturer measuring the very basics and being able and willing to share that data with the supply chain downstream. 

It's a challenge that's currently unresolved. Nobody knows exactly how to fix it. Implementing those requirements would put a huge burden on smaller companies in particular. Whereas initially, all they had to do was manufacture a green product, they would suddenly have to buy expensive monitoring and recording equipment, pay for a certification, or have a third party come in and inspect. All of that can be very, very expensive. If we impose requirements in the wrong way, we risk stifling innovation and shutting people out of the market. 


Change Chemistry: Are you seeing any other obstacles that might stop companies from delving deeper into green and sustainable chemistry?


Anna: Some companies and organizations fear greenwashing to the extent that they won't even advertise what they're doing. They might swap out ingredients and then not say anything about it, even though they’re doing the right thing. They have reputational concerns.


To that concern, I would say that transparency has been found to be really beneficial in terms of market share. When companies acknowledge that they are aware of and working to fix their problems, and they’re transparent about how, that can really improve customer relationships and trust. 


Another one is making decisions around trade-offs. Some ingredients that are safer for people are less sustainable in an environmental sense, or you might have to choose which chemical hazard you’re more okay with, as there’s rarely a hazard-free option. That’s something where sitting down and systematically working through the scenarios can help.


Change Chemistry: Do you have any advice for members of the Change Chemistry community as they’re taking on innovative work like yours?

Anna: I think learning from other sectors is a very valuable thing to do. A lot of what I do is cross-sectoral knowledge transfer. I go to conferences that are not just in my industry. I go to a ton of green chemistry conferences, but I also attend paint and coatings conferences, home cleaning conferences, and general chemical industry conferences. I pick up technologies and trends from different sectors. More often than not, they'll feed into each other in an unexpected way. There's a lot of value in finding out what other industries are developing, and you might be able to create a lot of value within your company by doing that.