A student wearing goggles and a mask squats to closely measure a substance in a laboratory.

Green chemistry curriculum offers the deeper understanding of sustainability practices needed for today's world, faculty member says

Grand Valley, which committed early on to incorporating the principles of green chemistry into its academic offerings, has gone on to offer an array of learning in the specialized area that includes the opportunity for students to earn a certificate in green chemistry.

Understanding these principles and the contribution of chemistry to sustainability has never been more important given the times we're in now, said Dalila Kovacs, professor of chemistry.

What's more, that understanding helps make students more marketable given all companies, no matter their size, need to take into account sustainability, Kovacs said.

"Your knowledge about chemistry, the potential toxicity and where to look for information will make you more marketable," she said.

A faculty member gestures while talking to another person. Both are wearing goggles.
Two students, both wearing goggles and masks, study the contents of a test tube.
Someone's hand is seen holding a test tube while a substance is squirted into another container.
Being able to apply the principles of green chemistry in the laboratory is crucial training, according to Dalila Kovacs, professor of chemistry.

Earning a green chemistry certificate from Grand Valley enhances that knowledge and marketability even more by experiencing a fully rounded exploration of the field, Kovacs said. Because of that, it is useful not only to chemistry students but also those interested in fields such as engineering, environmental sciences, environmental studies and more.

Grand Valley dedicated itself to adopting green chemistry academic objectives as one of the state's first signers of the Green Chemistry Commitment for higher education for Beyond Benign, an organization that advocates for green chemistry education. GVSU signed the commitment in 2013.

Kovacs said adhering to green chemistry principles also means being "proactive in creating chemicals that are not going to be harmful for the environment and for humans in general. Waste is going to go somewhere. Something has to happen to it, and if it doesn't degrade or decompose it will be there forever."

Green chemistry focuses on designing chemicals that serve important functions but also have a certain life cycle, Kovacs said. Other considerations include biodegradation, energy conservation and less toxicity.

"The greener the process it is, the safer it is," she said, adding that from an economic standpoint, reducing waste and toxicity saves money for businesses.

For two students who are pursuing a GVSU green chemistry degree, a key motivator for learning more deeply about green chemistry principles is seeing the potential positive impacts on the environment and sustainability.

A student wearing goggles and a mask holds a container while working with a substance in the chemistry lab.
Olivia Gordon is pursuing a green chemistry certificate.

"I think it's important to protect our environment because it's the only one we have and if we don't protect it now, we won't have it for future generations," said Olivia Gordon, a chemistry major who is pursuing a minor in environmental and sustainability studies.

Gordon, who has a goal of advanced degrees in chemistry, is grateful for the opportunity to learn about these principles so they can be incorporated into future studies while also providing the type of knowledge in an emerging field that can provide a professional edge.

The process of working green principles into chemistry is an important ongoing effort even when results aren't immediately apparent, Gordon said.

"Part of making chemistry more green is you don't have to be perfect," Gordon said. "There isn't going to be a perfect solution, but there's a research-oriented process to make it a little bit better. You don't always succeed at first, but eventually you are going to make a breakthrough that makes things a little better not only for you but everyone around you."

Beckett Vigh, who is a biochemistry major, said his green chemistry studies align with this motivation to work around environmentalism with a strong background in science.

He recalled his fascination at seeing the familiar reactions in a chemistry lab experiment done in a more eco-friendly way – and his excitement at the possibilities this different approach holds.

"Green chemistry is shaping the way people think about chemistry moving forward and reworking how things have been going in chemistry for years but do it in a more sustainable way," said Vigh, adding, "This is the route where the chemical field is starting to go. It's cool to be in the early stages of that."


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