About the author
Jennifer Dodson and Giulia Paggiola
We are living in a century of unprecedented change. To build a sustainable future we need social and technological revolutions, with chemistry and engineering at their heart. Is the millennial generation prepared for the challenge? A new interdisciplinary network is mobilising the next generation of sustainable scientists and engineers to have the skills, knowledge and connections to find innovative solutions.
The challenge for the next 10 years
The scale of the challenge our society and environment face cannot be underestimated. In order to have a good chance of staying within a global temperature rise of 2 °C by the end of the century, we cannot consume more than 33 % of all global economically recoverable coal, oil and gas reserves (not including unconventional sources such as tar sands), and emit a total of 1000-1200 Gt CO2. At current rates of global fossil fuel usage, that carbon budget will run out in 30 years. In the light of these stark figures, resurging calls are being made to divest from fossil fuels. Investors and banks are beginning to warn of the potential for stranded assets and investment risks if countries put in place the policies needed for decarbonisation of the economy. The scale and speed of technological and social change required is unprecedented and, just as chemistry and engineering now lie at the heart of our fossil fuel economy, they will need to lie at the heart of a future renewable, circular economy.
This future offers incredible opportunities for those organisations first out of the blocks, the ones who are able to reshape their products and supply chains. From 2007-2012, at least $3.6 trillion has been invested in a greener, global economy, with 6.7 % within green research and development. Several of the World Economic Forum’s top 10 emerging technologies for 2014 are related to sustainable development. Our success in building on these early adopters to rapidly shape this new sustainable future will depend, in large part, on the flexibility, knowledge, resourcefulness and innovation of the current generation of chemistry and engineering graduates. This is the so-called millennial generation. This is our generation. Are we prepared for the challenge laid at our feet?
The current status of green chemistry and engineering education
Since the term ‘green chemistry’ was coined in 1991, with the later development of the ‘12 Principles of Green Engineering’ in 2003 there have been of greener ‘benign by design’ approaches. A recent article by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute highlights the great work by some individuals and regions to transform chemistry education, such as the University of Oregon’s Green Chemistry in Education Workshop, but enormous gaps remain. Despite the future need of industry for graduates with an awareness of how chemical and engineering design will affect human health and sustainability, and the desire amongst graduates to work for companies that care about their impacts, the likelihood of chemistry and engineering students receiving training in green chemistry, green engineering, toxicology, lifecycle evaluation, or sustainability is still slim. The current scientific academic system is not designed for the rapid changes in information content and skills needed. It is a battle against disciplinary silos, competition, reductionist rather than holistic approaches and teaching embedded in the current fossil fuel economy. Change is made harder by the lack of a clear call from industry highlighting the sustainable science skills and knowledge they require in graduates.
Early-career scientists seize the initiative
This status quo has led young early-career scientists to seize the power of our own futures through the new Network of Early-career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE). NESSE aims to bridge the gap between disciplines and to generate future science leaders with the skills and knowledge to develop the sustainable technology we need. We are early-career scientists and engineers who are committed to a prosperous, sustainable future for all. NESSE is building a community who exchange knowledge and resources about sustainable chemistry and engineering, collaborate around global challenges, share inspiring innovations and connect the dots with broader sustainability approaches.
NESSE launch event at the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference 2014
Since launching in June 2014, there has been a huge support and enthusiasm for what NESSE can offer. There are large numbers of current and recent science and engineering graduates who want to have careers with a positive impact, but they are not always sure how to do this or how they can develop the required skills and knowledge. To tackle this, NESSE is supporting interdisciplinary sustainable science groups at universities, building a mentorship programme, working with organisations to provide webinars on green science careers, partnering with conferences such as EcoChem Exhibition & Congress (Basel, November 2014) and holding events for early-career researchers at the International Symposium for Green Chemistry (La Rochelle, May 2015), the International Conference on Renewable Resources and Biorefineries (York, June 2015) and the ACS Green Chemistry & Engineering Symposium (USA, 2015).
As a bottom-up community, NESSE can help to embed greener, cross-disciplinary research practices, foster new sustainability leaders and call for the incorporation of sustainable science and engineering into graduate and undergraduate curricula. But we know that we cannot transform education and industry alone. A recent call by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute to develop a Green Chemistry Roadmap offers an opportunity for educators, industry and students to work together to shape the path for embedding green chemistry and, hopefully broader sustainability and interdisciplinary aspects, within curricula. We must find better ways to connect between organisations globally and across disciplines, to share best practices and clearly argue that sustainability is for the benefit of everyone, that it is a positive vision for a more prosperous future.
The Network of Early-career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE) is an interdisciplinary community of young students, academic researchers and professionals working on the technological solutions to today’s most pressing environmental and energy challenges to achieve a prosperous and sustainable future for all. Join NESSE for free. We welcome early-career scientists and more senior scientists who can advise and act as mentors. Join us online at www.sustainablescientists.org, on twitter (@greenscientists) and on facebook.
Anastas, P.T., and Zimmerman, J.B., “Design through the Twelve Principles of Green Engineering”, Env. Sci. and Tech., 37, 5, 94A-101A, 2003.
Anastas, P. T.; Warner, J. C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, Oxford University Press: New York, 1998, p.30. By permission of Oxford University Press.
Malte Meinshausen, Nicolai Meinshausen, William Hare, Sarah C. B. Raper, Katja Frieler, Reto Knutti, David J. Frame & Myles R. Allen, Nature, 458, 1158-1162, 2009.
Unburnable Carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets, Carbon Tracker Initiative, 2013
Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets, by P. Friedlingstein, R. M. Andrew, J. Rogelj, G. P. Peters, J. G. Canadell, R. Knutti, G. Luderer, M. R. Raupach, M. Schaeffer, D. P. van Vuuren, C. Le Quéré (2014). Nature Geoscience
Jennie is the Founder and Chair of NESSE. She is currently a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at University of York where she is investigating the development of novel bio-derived polymers from waste and carbon dioxide. She combines this with extensive experience and interest in green chemistry education, green technology policy and science for development. email@example.com
Giulia is Membership Co-ordinator for NESSE and she is pursuing a PhD degree at the University of York at the interface between chemical science and policy within the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence and the GreenEconomics group (Stockholm Environment Institute). In her work she investigates adoption of renewable solvents in drug manufacture within the wider framework of a global green economy. www.giuliapaggiola.com