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Chemistry and Sustainability

Course Overview

What Are We Here For?

 The Earth

Click the image to see what this course is about.

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending."

-Maria Robinson

Over the past 150 years the field of chemistry has fostered almost no formal training in toxicity or ecotoxicity. We continue to train chemists to create new products and processes, but not educate them to be aware of the need to protect themselves, other people or the ecosphere from the results of their hard work.

Green chemistry offers an alternative. The field was defined by Paul Anastas in the 1990s as "the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous compounds."

Stated broadly, this course helps students understand the notion of sustainability and how it applies to chemistry. It also explores the history of chemistry, outlines critical need for green chemistry, and the principles that guide its practice as an emerging and important field of science.

This course aims to introduce students to the chemically related interdisciplinary, trans-sector and cross-cultural dimensions of our sustainability challenges.

This course is significantly, but not primarily, technical in nature - it is focused on helping students to think originally and powerfully in the area of sustainability.


This course is the online version of the course Introduction to Green Chemistry, an undergraduate/graduate course (09-510, 09-710) taught at Carnegie Mellon University every spring. To complete the course in its entirety, proceed through each lesson (and embedded modules), viewing the video lecture, reading the assignments and completing the section quiz.

To explore selected lessons, click on the links below. To read a more detailed summary of the course and what it offers, view the syllabus by clicking on that icon to the left. The links along the left side of this page will always be available while you are taking the course and will provide you with a course-level view of lectures, quizzes and other content. When appropriate, a new menu will appear on the right edge of the page to facilitate intra-module navigation.


Lesson One: A New Ending

The influence of industry on our world has not been gentle. We bear the 150 year burden of enterprises that have devastated swaths of earth in the pursuit of wealth, power, and sometimes, a better world. But the price has been high and humanity's "eco-credit" is running low. Sustainability and ecosensitivity have become vital to long term health. We cannot undo the past, but as Maria Robinson reminded us above, we can create a new ending, if we make the decision today that we will. This lesson addresses what it takes to create a sustainability culture.