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Drivers for Change

Reproduced Content

This material taken from J. H. Clark, Green and Sustainable Chemistry: An Introduction, in Green and Sustainable Medicinal Chemistry: Methods, Tools and Strategies for the 21st Century Pharmaceutical Industry, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016, ch. 1, pp. 1-11..

It is copyright to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and is reproduced here with their express permission. If you wish to reproduce it elsewhere you must obtain similar permission from the RSC.

The chemical and allied industries now face as tough a challenge as they have ever faced. The 20th century saw enormous growth in chemicals manufacturing but this growth has come at a cost. Inefficient processes leading to unacceptable levels of pollution, hazardous operations resulting in a number of disasters, and a lack of knowledge of the human and environmental toxicity of most chemicals in widespread use, all leading to an exponential growth in chemicals legislation. The industry now needs to achieve environmental and social acceptability as well as economically viable manufacturing in the toughest ever legislative framework. 


Legislation such as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) are trying to minimise hazardous chemicals use within Europe, with more and more substances being put forward for authorisation, meaning that they can only be used under strictly controlled conditions. Other unofficial initiatives such as ChemSec’s SIN list and rising numbers of environmental laws are also impacting on the way chemical industries do business.  In this video James Clark at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, University of York discusses these points in more detail.

To study this area in more depth, see Environmental legislation.

Supply Risk

In addition to substances becoming restricted or unavailable due to changes in legislation, they may also be at risk due to issues with supplyWhile renewable carbon has been a hot topic since the 2000s, more recently that attention has been broadened to include other critical elements including phosphorus and many metals.

To study this area in more depth, see Critical elements

Economic Costs

In order to improve sustainability, chemistry needs to be more efficient – most chemical reactions create more waste than product. Waste is expensive – the issues surrounding lost production, waste disposal, environmental aspects and public relations all incur a cost to a business, and most of these costs are rising over time. In this video James Clark at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, University of York discusses these points in more detail.

R. A. Sheldon, The E Factor: fifteen years on, Green Chem., 2007, 9, 1273-1283.

Public Attitudes

Shifts in public attitude mean that there is increasing pressure, especially from consumers, on manufacturers to produce bio-derived chemicals as replacements for fossil resources and substances now considered to be hazardous to us or to the environment. In 2011, Vijayendran [1] estimated that by 2025, over 15 % of the $3 trillion global chemical market will be derived from bio-derived sources.  As we begin to move away from petrochemicals, the use of biomass as a chemical feedstock will become increasingly important. 

  1. B. Vijayendran-Batelle, Biobased Chemicals: Technology, Economics and Markets (Last accessed: August 16, 2022)