"Designing Tomorrow" Paints Future Standard

Applause for Dr. Anastas

Students and faculty applaud "Designing Tomorrow"

“Designing Tomorrow” provided a view of sustainability built on innovation as the guiding principle. 

Dr. Paul Anastas began with the statement that all we have is energy and matter and that if all of the world’s population enjoyed the same standard of living as the USA, Europe and Japan, we would need the resources of more than four earths to maintain ourselves.  Clearly, we are on a trajectory toward exhaustion of our planetary resources.

New and innovative solutions are required.  However, these solutions need to be considered in a systems context with an understanding of (1) the full product life cycle, (2) process and production needs, as well as (3) consideration of the usage implications of every new approach. 

A number of well intentioned but unfortunate instances were cited as reasons why a systems approach is mandated.  Among them were bio-fuels created from corn and other renewable agricultural products to produce an energy source other than petroleum that burns cleanly.  Unfortunately, the results also include reduced grain stocks which drive up the cost of meat, flour and bread.

Dr. Anastas with Dr. Gonzales, EPA, and Dean Montemagno

Dr. Anastas with Dr. Michael Gonzales, EPA, and Dean Montemagno prior to his presentation

“Design is significant,” stated Dr. Anastas.  “Look across the entirety of the life cycle from a statement of the need through final disposal of the end product and at the outset consider the implications of the product’s use.”    While most of today’s products utilize toxic materials in their make-up or in the production process, nature is showing us a multitude of ways to achieve solutions through processes and materials that occur naturally and are nontoxic.

“Consider the brilliance of the gecko.”  This little lizard walks on walls and ceilings with no regard for gravity due to its remarkable feet which utilize thousands of minute fibers to adhere to surfaces.  When this same principle was applied to objects in a lab, objects were suspended from the ceiling using less than a square inch of surface area for the “adhering strip.”  These approaches are not just in the future. 

They are being used today across every industry sector from pharmaceuticals to construction materials to electronic products and more.  The best news, however, is that only about one percent of the products and processes today have been subjected to evaluations of this type.  “What has been done in this area is good business and economically driven.  The companies that chose these new approaches are taking an advanced look ahead and profiting from a systems approach that starts with a fresh look at the original need addressed by the product.”

students cheer presentation

His confidence in engineering and technology to lead change resonated with the audience

How do these operations “get rolling? They start by embracing a concept calling for (1) getting all the performance of a product without (2) the product itself!  A case in point is the telephone.  Telephones started with wire connections and drove a communications revolution but today the wired aspect has all but disappeared as cell technology removed the need…  Communications has no wires.

“Make no mistake, sustainability means substantive changes in the status-quo for products and production processes…  Only through dramatic and disruptive change can we achieve the innovation needed for ongoing sustainability,” concluded Dr. Anastas.

What technologies will replace current products and processes?  Will grasses developed to grow only a few inches high eliminate lawn mowers?  Will self cleaning clothes eliminate a need for detergents?  Will “gecko pads” replace Velcro or adhesives?  These are the commercial questions for engineers and technologists of the 21st century.

Dr. Anastas’s presentation capped a signal day for the tri-state area highlighted by the signing of a broad MOU, or memorandum of understanding,spanning a range of environmental activities between the university and the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.  UC President Gregory H. Williams also joined the EPA’s chief administrator, Lisa Jackson and U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills in announcing the university’s participation in the newly announced Water Technology Innovation Cluster, or WTIC.

Both Jackson and Mills emphasized that the vision is for the  cluster to enable the Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky region to become recognized as a national and world leader in the area of water technology innovation and commercialization

WTIC will draw expertise from more than 80 companies and organizations from southeastern Ohio, southwestern Indiana and northern Kentucky to address and lead in the development of innovative approaches to water treatment and environmental improvement.  The cluster is to be centered around the EPA regional facility on Martin Luther King Boulevard in close proximity to UC and its leading researchers.  Representative achievements are highlighted in links below.

Dr. Anastas

Dr. Paul Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for the U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development, a Science Advisor to the EPA at their headquarters in Washington DC, and a creator of green chemistry.

Known widely as the "Father of Green Chemistry" for his groundbreaking research on the design, manufacture, and use of minimally-toxic, environmentally-friendly chemicals, Dr. Anastas has an extensive record of leadership in government, academia, and the private sector.

At the time he was nominated by President Obama to lead ORD, Dr. Anastas was the Director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, and the inaugural Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Prior to joining the Yale faculty, Dr. Anastas was the founding Director of the Green Chemistry Institute, headquartered at the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. From 1999 to 2004 he worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, concluding his service there as the assistant director for the environment. Dr. Anastas began his career as a staff chemist at EPA, where he rose to the positions of chief of the Industrial Chemistry Branch, and director of the U.S. Green Chemistry Program. It was during his work at EPA that Dr. Anastas coined the term "green chemistry."

Trained as a synthetic organic chemist, Dr. Anastas' research interests have focused on the design of safer chemicals, bio-based polymers, and new methodologies of chemical synthesis that are more efficient and less hazardous to the environment. A leading writer on the subjects of sustainability, green chemistry, and green engineering, he has published ten books, including "Benign by Design," Designing Safer Polymers," "Green Engineering" and his seminal work with co-author John Warner, "Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice."

Photography by Dottie Stover, UC Photographic Services