2021 Laureate

Paul Anastas

For pioneering work in ”green chemistry”, a systems approach to sustainability that tackles pollution problems at their source.
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“Green chemistry is not about sacrifice”

Paul Anastas is a pioneer in developing non-hazardous chemicals and production processes that minimize the generation of toxic waste. The research of Paul Anastas “is revolutionizing the chemical industry, a key contribution to meeting the sustainability challenge,” says the Prize Jury.

Everything we touch, see and feel is chemical, whether it’s furniture, clothes we wear, medicines we take, or electronics that we use. For the past two centuries, chemistry has been creating technological miracles, increasing the human quality of life. But its performance has also led to unintended consequences of pollution, waste, and toxicity.

Paul Anastas, widely known as the “father of green chemistry,” set about to change this early in his career as a staff chemist in the US Environmental Protection Agency. He co-founded the Green Chemistry Institute and later served as an advisor in the White House and chief scientist at EPA. Professor Anastas is currently Director of Yale University‘s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

“Green chemistry is not about sacrifice,” says Paul Anastas. “The new products of green chemistry not only perform as well, they almost always perform better than the incumbent technologies. It’s because, historically, our way of converting one chemical into another has been rather brutish and ugly. We heat, beat and treat these substances, often making them more toxic. That increases the risk of them reacting with our bodies and the biosphere”.

Instead, Paul Anastas’ research has focused on how nature does it. He and his students have developed methods for generic molecular design for reduced toxicity and waste reduction. In addition, Paul Anastas has developed The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry, a framework widely used by industry and universities. He has also championed the development of green chemistry networks operating in more than 30 countries, resulting in numerous actions, such as creating new bio-based plastics. Or the redesign of manufacturing to reduce waste, which could have substantial environmental benefits since 90 percent of all materials that go into manufacturing wind up as waste immediately.

Professor Paul Anastas holds the Theresa and H. John Heinz chair in Chemistry for the Environment at Yale University, Connecticut, USA.

But the ultimate challenge is CO2, the primary driver of climate change. Paul Anastas is optimistic:

“What’s going on now is brilliant green chemistry that converts CO2 to useful materials, such as buildings or bridges. Large quantities of CO2 going into materials is part of shifting the equation. It’s one of the great challenges that green chemistry is meeting, and this Prize does not recognize me alone but rather the global community of green chemistry practitioners who are doing fantastic research.”

“Our way of converting one chemical into another has been rather brutish and ugly”

Says the jury of the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation:

“Paul Anastas’ research is revolutionizing the chemical industry, from fundamental reaction methods to applications as diverse as processing foods and producing green hydrogen.”

Martin Lundstedt, President of the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation and Volvo Group CEO, comments on the 2021 award:

“How we tackle the enormous environmental challenges ahead must be guided by science. That is the reason for the Volvo Environment Prize’s existence. But the Prize doesn’t exist just to tell the scientists: good job. It’s also here to tell everyone else to listen and to act.”

Jury citation for the 2021 Volvo Environment Prize laureate

Adopting “benign by design” techniques, Paul Anastas is the global pioneer of ‘green chemistry’, a systems approach to sustainability that tackles pollution problems at their source. His research is revolutionising the chemical industry, from fundamental reaction methods to applications as diverse as processing foods and producing green hydrogen.

Climate change and biodiversity loss may be the poster children of the sustainability challenge, but accelerating chemical pollution is the sleeping giant. Professor Paul Anastas is the global pioneer of ‘green chemistry’, a systems approach to sustainability that aims to solve problems at their source by adopting “benign by design” techniques. In his own lab, Professor Anastas and his students have developed generic molecular designs for reduced toxicity; created new, environmentally benign catalysts for green chemistry applications; and built a $US 5 million Molecular Design Research Network with other universities. From flavours to fragrances and fuels, Professor Anastas has pioneered the use of Earth-abundant catalysts such as copper rather than rare-Earth metals for breaking down lignin, vastly reducing both air and water pollution from the processes and bringing costs down. The ultimate global waste chemical is carbon dioxide, driving the destabilisation of the climate system and ocean acidification. Professor Anastas has contributed to this enormous challenge, developing new methods of chemical synthesis using carbon dioxide as a feedstock for making natural products. He has also pioneered the use of cobalt as a catalyst for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, crucial for a decarbonised economy. Turning science into practice, Professor Anastas has contributed to US policy development at the highest levels, serving in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and co-chairing the National Science and Technology Council. The green chemistry seed that Paul Anastas has sown has grown internationally, with green chemistry research networks now operating in over 30 countries. Pollution from our globalised economy lies at the heart of the sustainability challenge. No one has done more to tackle this formidable challenge at its source than Professor Paul Anastas, the 2021 Volvo Environment Prize laureate.

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