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UNEP Manual Suggests Ways to Advance Green and Sustainable Chemistry

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has drafted a manual focused on green and sustainable chemistry, in advance of the fifth meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5). The concepts of green and sustainable chemistry have gained significant attention globally, given their potential to help achieve the SDGs and their targets. A final version of the manual - which was requested by UNEA-4 in 2019 - is expected to be available soon.

The publication titled, 'Green and Sustainable Chemistry: Framework Manual', is aimed at countries and stakeholders. It discusses why green and sustainable chemistry is needed, what it aims to achieve, and how to advance it through enabling tools and measures. It also provides an overview of the evolution of the concepts. ‘Green chemistry’ was elaborated through 12 principles first published in 1998, while ‘sustainable chemistry’ is more holistic. 

The report highlights ten green and sustainable chemistry objectives, namely: minimizing chemical hazards; avoiding regrettable substitutions and alternatives; sustainable feedstock and resource sources; advancing sustainable production processes; advancing sustainable products; minimizing chemical releases and pollution; enabling non-toxic circularity; maximizing social benefits; protecting workers, consumers, and vulnerable populations; and developing solutions for sustainability challenges. 

The manual recommends specific actions for various stakeholders. Governments could provide dedicated support to green and sustainable research programmes in industry and the research community. Universities could introduce green and sustainable chemistry into teaching curricula, research operations, and start-up support. Chemical companies could introduce life-cycle assessment approaches throughout the value chain and set targets for replacing chemicals of concern through innovation. Civil society organizations could bring knowledge to consumers to help create demand for green and sustainable chemicals and products.

To support these and other actions, the manual provides or discusses:

  • Enabling sector policies and programmes that advance innovation in green and sustainable chemistry;
  • Metrics, assessment tools, and reporting schemes relevant for tracking progress and advancing green and sustainable chemistry;
  • The need for road maps that help advance green and sustainable chemistry action in different settings, including by replicating good practices;
  • Enabling tools and measures to advance green and sustainable chemistry, such as promoting life cycle approaches; and
  • Scaling up awareness raising and education initiatives to bring the green and sustainable chemistry agenda to relevant stakeholders.

The Framework Manual builds on a 2019 UNEP report titled, 'Analysis of Stakeholder Submissions on Sustainable Chemistry Pursuant to UNEA Resolution 2/7.' That document summarized more than 50 examples of best practices in sustainable chemistry. It concluded that despite progress made, identifying best practices is a challenge, given the absence of common assessment criteria, and encouraged working towards a common understanding of the sustainable chemistry concept.

The manual also builds on the second edition of the Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO-II), also released in 2019. GCO-II provides insights regarding opportunities toward advancing green and sustainable chemistry throughout value and supply chains, including measures to strengthen an enabling framework.