OSTP improves the federal definition of ‘sustainable chemistry’

By Erin Voegele | April 18, 2022

The Office of Science and Technology Policy, a part of the Executive Office of the President, is taking action to improve the federal definition of “sustainable chemistry” via a public comment period that is open through June 3.

The OSTP published a notice of request for information (RFI) in the Federal Register on April 4 requesting input from interested parties on sustainable chemistry to guide future federal efforts.

“The term ‘sustainable chemistry’ does not have a consensus definition and most uses of the term indicate that it is synonymous with ‘green chemistry,’” the OSTP said in the notice. “Therefore, information is requested on the preferred definition for sustainable chemistry. OSTP requests comments on how the definition of sustainable chemistry could impact the following: The role of technology, federal policies that may aid or hinder sustainable chemistry initiatives, future research to advance sustainable chemistry, financial and economic considerations, and federal agency efforts.”

The notice explains that publications and legislation have typically treated the terms “sustainable chemistry” and “green chemistry” synonymously. However, green chemistry has traditionally focused on hazardous substances, while sustainable chemistry has been used in the context of both hazardous and non-hazardous substances, according to the OSTP.

The notice discusses the various definitions of “sustainable chemistry” currently in use and cites a 2018 report published by the Government Accountability Office that equated “green chemistry” with “sustainable chemistry” and found that participating stakeholders lacked agreement on how to define, measure or assess the sustainability of chemical processes and products. However, the GOA report did find that there were several common themes underlying what sustainable chemistry strives to achieve, including to minimize the use of non-renewable resources.

OSTP was tasked with creating a consensus definition for the term “sustainable chemistry” by a provision included in the fiscal year 2021 defense authorization act in order to coordinate federal program and activities in support of sustainable chemistry.

“The definition, for which we are seeking comment, will inform OSTP's development of a framework of attributes characterizing sustainable chemistry as well as quantitative assessment metrics,” the OSTP said in the notice. “Additionally, it will allow OSTP to assess the state of sustainable chemistry in the United States; coordinate and support federal research, development, demonstration, technology transfer, commercialization, education, and support for public-private partnerships; identify federal barriers and opportunities; identify scientific challenges; avoid duplication; and position federal funding for maximal impact including through synergistic partnerships.”

Public comments are specifically invited regarding the definition of sustainable chemistry, technologies that would benefit from federal attention to move society toward more sustainable chemistry, and fundamental research areas. The OSPT is also inviting comments focused on the potential outcome and output metrics based on the definition of sustainable chemistry, financial and economic considerations for advancing sustainable chemistry, policy considerations for advancing sustainable chemistry, and investment considerations when prioritizing federal initiatives for study.

A full copy of the notice is available on the Federal Register website.