Highlights from the 2023 US Innovators Roundtable

Posted By: Jenny MacKellar In the News,

Companies find themselves facing mounting pressures from consumers and stakeholders to take proactive steps to accelerate the green and sustainable chemistry movement and meet the increased demand for sustainable products. Through green chemistry education, R&D, policy, investment and value chain collaboration, we can catalyze chemistry innovations that result in less hazardous materials, products, and processes supporting a sustainable, healthy society. While businesses can leverage their position in the supply chain to accelerate the shift to green and sustainable chemistry, cross-value chain collaboration is more important than ever in supporting this transition. 

To help support green chemistry innovation among industry leaders, working chemists, and product designers, Change Chemistry organized the 2023 U.S. Innovators Roundtable hosted by MilliporeSigma. The 2023 U.S. Innovators Roundtable provided a unique opportunity for members and non-members of the Change Chemistry community to engage across supply chains and sectors with leading innovators, investors, advocates, and government officials in the green and sustainable chemistry space.

Here are a few key takeaways from the event: 

Bridging the Gap Between Innovation and Commercial Adoption: In their keynote address, Professor Paul Anastas from the Yale School of the Environment and John Warner, President and CEO of Technology Greenhouse, LLC, discussed the importance of aligning scientific innovation with entrepreneurship to scale green chemistry to the marketplace. While the scientific community continues to make groundbreaking strides in developing processes for chemical production that are less hazardous to human health, innovation is only half of the puzzle. Translating those innovations for the commercial marketplace will define the future of green chemistry. A major barrier to scaling green chemistry solutions is the added cost of new production, reformulation, and regulatory approvals of businesses. This points to the need for a major paradigm shift that moves us away from a system that privatizes gains while socializing losses. Fixing this misalignment means providing greater access to capital to help accelerate widespread marketplace adoption.


Creating Demand for a Green & Sustainable Chemistry Workforce: The momentum for systems change in green chemistry education is gaining traction, especially in the areas focused on integrating green chemistry principles into education. However, more action must be taken to inspire students and industry partners to get more involved with investing in advancing opportunities in higher education for chemists. Organizations engaged in sustaining the movement for green and sustainable chemistry must create ways to strategically uplift the story of the field’s growing impact. 


Creating Industry-Academia Partnerships to Support Innovation and Workforce Development: Establishing partnerships between universities and industry partners is crucial for promoting workforce development but requires a defined scope, goals, and mutual benefits. A key aspect of successful engagement is the availability of time and space to cultivate long-term relationships. Trusted partners within academia, exemplified by organizations like Beyond Benign and the ACS, serve as valuable entry points for industries seeking to collaborate with academic institutions. By embracing a multi-faceted approach, industry-academia collaborations not only drive innovation but also contribute significantly to the development of a skilled and adaptable workforce, ensuring a sustainable and thriving future for both sectors.

Developing a Holistic Framework for Safe and Sustainable Chemical Design and Selection: Transparency, traceability, and data are key to enabling people to choose more sustainable products and processes. The first step is finding the right questions to ask – instead of asking, “Is the product safe?” we should be asking, “Is the wildlife safe? Is the person safe?” Through partnerships with suppliers, brands can develop better data collection on the manufacturing process and design. Companies should define the standards for sustainable products and drive innovation toward sustainability through a stage-gate process across company departments. The design stage of a product is an opportune time to consider circularity (i.e., end-of-life) and chemical use.  


Sustainable Chemistry Innovations to Solve the Plastics Problem:  The plastics supply chain is complex, but solutions rely on transparency and communication.  Innovation occurs at various stages of the supply chain, and most of these actions align with the vision of sustainable chemistry. Plastics are such a large problem that many solutions must be scaled simultaneously. Solutions can be tailored to geography, use, and sector.  

Financial Imperatives and Industry Pathways: The discourse on financing green chemistry highlights crucial areas for industry advancement, emphasizing the significance of initiatives like the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) and nature-based disclosures. Examples such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) underscore the need to find customer niches willing to pay premiums for more sustainable choices, which require complete buy-in from the energy sector and government incentives to bridge cost disparities. Despite numerous projects in SAF and hydrogen, the scarcity of companies focusing on green chemistry stresses the necessity for more initiatives in this realm. Integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) frameworks into business strategies is pivotal, alongside tools like Carbon Footprint Assessments (CFP) to discern superior alternatives. Procurement, resilient supply chains, consistent metrics, and mission-driven finance all play roles in establishing proof of concept while navigating the challenges of raising equity, engaging institutional investors, and ensuring long-term certainty for investments.


Opportunities to Scale Safe and Sustainable Solvents: Producing and scaling safe and sustainable solvents requires companies to invest in long-term goals to replace hazardous incumbents. Successfully producing sustainable solvents depends on companies actively engaging with customer feedback, refining and enhancing their product offerings based on real-world needs. It’s also necessary for companies to assess the economic, regulatory, and social costs associated with existing hazardous solvents. Although the upfront costs of adopting safer alternatives may seem daunting, companies should consider the potential long-term cost savings. Using tools such as Hansen Solubility Parameter can enable the selection of safer and more effective alternatives. 


Advancing Environmental Justice through Sustainable Chemistry: While embracing green chemistry principles is essential, it is crucial to recognize that they do not guarantee environmental justice without a focused intention to do so. To ensure companies are advancing environmental justice through green chemistry, they must actively engage with local communities and ensure supply chain compliance with ethical and sustainable practices. The engagement process should not be a one-time effort but an ongoing commitment, fostering trust between companies and communities. Importantly, the twin goals of decarbonization and detoxification in the chemical industry should be pursued hand in hand, aligning environmental and social objectives for a sustainable future. 

Policies and Incentives to Drive the Transition to Sustainable Chemistry: The global imperative to address the interconnected challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and chemical pollution is propelling sustainable chemistry into international treaties and discussions. Recognizing the far-reaching impacts of chemicals, international dialogues emphasize the importance of avoiding the relocation of chemical production to regions with less stringent regulations. Sustainable chemistry spans various policy domains, encompassing initiatives to phase out hazardous substances, promote innovation, combat climate change, and introduce safer chemicals to the market. The consistency of regulations across different geographical areas proves beneficial for companies of all sizes, with small enterprises particularly leveraging incentives and funding to certify their products as sustainable. Stakeholder engagement beyond the traditional chemical industry, including retailers and universities, is essential for a successful transition. Both the United States and the European Union are actively spearheading government-led efforts to outline the chemical industry's transition, underscoring the global commitment to fostering sustainable practices in the chemical sector.

Tracking Progress in Advancing Sustainable Chemistry – Are We Getting There?: As the green chemistry movement makes strides, there is unprecedented support and demand for green chemistry innovations and education. However, with the momentum emerges a growing need to define goals and milestones that align with storytelling that uplifts the impact of green chemistry. Amplifying the potential of green chemistry to help address some of the most pressing challenges facing us today. With more room to grow and expand, green chemistry has the potential to reach more students and career professionals with diverse learning resources and engage the investment community. Sustainable chemistry can contribute and leverage policies, research, and the ecosystem to address these global challenges.  

For more information about the keynotes and sessions, see the event agenda here.