Interim Dean Alex Navrotsky and Department Chair Susan Kauzlarich sign the Green Chemistry Commitment.
Interim Dean Alex Navrotsky and Department Chair Susan Kauzlarich sign the Green Chemistry Commitment.

UC Davis Chemistry Goes Green

The University of California, Davis, Department of Chemistry celebrated joining the Green Chemistry Commitment on Thursday, Oct. 8. By signing the Green Chemistry Commitment this summer, the UC Davis chemistry department joined more than 25 schools and universities in adding the principles of green chemistry to its formal curriculum.  

The UC Davis chemistry department pledged to train all chemistry majors in the 12 green chemistry principles, such as designing safer chemicals and reducing waste. The department will also create a new course centered on green chemistry, said Shota Atsumi, a UC Davis chemistry professor who is developing new ways to manufacture biofuels.

Susan Kauzlarich, the chemistry department chair, added, "This department is already doing quite a bit of green chemistry in its teaching and research. 

"We want to make it the normal way to think about things," Kauzlarich said. "Green chemistry saves money for the university and trains students in the principles of modern chemistry."

Green chemistry principles already guide the department's teaching labs, Kauzlarich said. The practices include using less solvent, recycling acetone, choosing less toxic chemicals and using biological starting materials, such as potato starch. This reduces hazards as well as disposal costs.

The Department of Chemistry teaches laboratory skills to thousands of undergraduates each year in classes such as general chemistry and organic chemistry. The organic chemistry labs alone teach more than 3,000 students every year. (Chemistry classes are often required for students in majors other than chemistry.)

"Giving all science majors knowledge of how consumer and industrial materials can be designed more safely and using less energy will advance both manufacturing and purchasing," said Allen Doyle, the UC Davis campus sustainability manager. "It also sets an example for their professional careers."

About the Green Chemistry Commitment

The Green Chemistry Commitment promotes awareness of chemical toxicology, sustainability and how actions in the lab impact the environment. The effort is led by Beyond Benign, a non-profit foundation co-created by chemist John Warner.

The University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota are among the 27 higher education institutions that have signed the Green Chemistry Commitment. Beyond Benign has also recruited industry partners such as Dow Chemical to sign the commitment.

 The green chemistry industry is expected to grow to $100 billion by 2020, up from less than $3 billion in 2011, according to a 2011 Navigant Research report. Greener chemicals will save the chemical industry more than $65.5 billion by 2020, Navigant said in the report.

About UC Davis sustainability

Seven UCD chemistry labs have been certified as "gold" green labs, and five are in progress, Doyle said. Green lab practices include conserving water, reducing environmental impact and diverting waste from landfills. For example, the chemistry department recycles six tons of nitrile gloves every year.

Certification includes best practices for energy efficiency, use of renewable resources, recycling, waste reduction, environmentally friendly construction methods and campus foodservice guidelines. Research groups from across campus are participating, and every department is invited to join. 

Green lab certification supports the University of California commitment to zero waste by 2020 and carbon neutral by 2025. At UC Davis, sustainable practices have reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the past four years. The Davis campus has also saved more than 322 million gallons of water over the past year. The University of California also launched a new Cool Campus Challenge on Oct. 6 to encourage staff, faculty and students to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In recognition of these and other efforts, UC Davis was ranked No. 2 in Sierra magazine's 2015 "Cool Schools" report. This makes four out of the past five years that UCD has been among the top ten in the environmental magazine’s evaluation of sustainability efforts at U.S. colleges and universities. UCD was the No. 1 "Cool School" in 2012. 

Becky Oskin, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letter and Science

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