Skip to Content

Green Chemistry and DfE

Green chemistry and design for environment approaches are guiding concepts for the GC3 and its project groups.

Green Chemistry

Green chemistry is an approach to chemistry that, through the use of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, reduces or eliminates the need for and generation of hazardous materials during the manufacture, design, and application of chemistry. The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry are outlined in Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, by Doctors Paul Anastas and John Warner:

  1. Prevent waste: Design chemical syntheses to prevent waste, leaving no waste to treat or clean up.
  2. Design safer chemicals and products: Design chemical products to be fully effective, yet have little or no toxicity.
  3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses: Design syntheses to use and generate substances with little or no toxicity to humans and the environment.
  4. Use renewable feedstocks: Use raw materials and feedstocks that are renewable rather than depleting. Renewable feedstocks are often made from agricultural products or are the wastes of other processes; depleting feedstocks are made from fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, or coal) or are mined.
  5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents: Minimize waste by using catalytic reactions. Catalysts are used in small amounts and can carry out a single reaction many times. They are preferable to stoichiometric reagents, which are used in excess and work only once.
  6. Avoid chemical derivatives: Avoid using blocking or protecting groups or any temporary modifications if possible. Derivatives use additional reagents and generate waste.
  7. Maximize atom economy: Design syntheses so that the final product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials. There should be few, if any, wasted atoms.
  8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions: Avoid using solvents, separation agents, or other auxiliary chemicals. If these chemicals are necessary, use innocuous chemicals.
  9. Increase energy efficiency: Run chemical reactions at ambient temperature and pressure whenever possible.
  10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use: Design chemical products to break down to innocuous substances after use so that they do not accumulate in the environment.
  11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution: Include in-process real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize or eliminate the formation of byproducts.
  12. Minimize the potential for accidents: Design chemicals and their forms (solid, liquid, or gas) to minimize the potential for chemical accidents including explosions, fires, and releases to the environment.

Green Chemistry practice should:

  • Consider all the stages of the life cycle of a chemical.
  • Focus on “hazard reduction” as the primary impact category of interest in each life cycle stage with a focus on the design stage. Other life cycle impacts of innovation should also be considered; and
  • Reduce hazards to human and ecosystem health.

Design for Environment

Co-pioneered by industry, the DfE concept encourages businesses to incorporate environmental and health considerations in the design and redesign of products and processes. It is the systematic assessment of human health and safety and environmental issues during the product development phase. Designing for the environment improves environmental and human health and increases product performance and market competitiveness. The focus is on finding sustainable solutions to identified materials of concern. In essence, DfE represents the application of green chemistry in practice.

EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Program works in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders to reduce risk to people and the environment through safer chemistry and pollution prevention.  For more than 15 years, through partnership projects, DfE has evaluated human health and environmental concerns associated with traditional and alternative chemicals and processes in a range of industries.

DfE convenes partners, including industry representatives and environmental groups, to develop goals, methods, criteria, and guide the work of the partnership, as appropriate. The program’s focus is on industries that combine the potential for chemical risk reduction with a strong motivation to make lasting, positive changes.  As incentives for participation and driving change, DfE offers unique chemical assessment tools, methodologies, expertise and recognition through its Safer Product Labeling and Alternatives Assessment Programs.

The DfE Safer Product Labeling Program is EPA’s label for safer chemical-based products.  The program uses EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics chemical expertise and resources to carefully evaluate products and to label only those that have met the program's highly protective standards.  DfE labels a variety of chemical-based products, both consumer and industrial, like all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, car and boat care products, and conversion coatings that do not use chromium-6. The program has labeled over 2,700 products, reducing the use of problematic chemicals by approximately 700 million pounds per year.  

DfE's Alternatives Assessment Program helps industries choose safer chemicals through multi-stakeholder partnerships. The goal of an alternatives assessment is to inform substitution to safer alternatives by developing an in-depth comparison of priority chemicals and functional alternatives.  Alternatives assessments characterize chemical hazards based on a full range of human health and environmental information.  DfE criteria for designating a concern for hazard can be found in the Alternatives Assessment Criteria for Hazard Evaluation.  Chemical choices made based on these assessments can minimize the potential for unintended consequences that might occur in moving from a chemical of concern to a poorly understood alternative, which could be more hazardous. An alternatives assessment can complement regulatory action by showing that safer and higher functioning alternatives are available, or it can point out the limitations to chemical substitution for a particular use—and the need for Green Chemistry innovation.

List of other EPA partnerships.