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Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jennifer McGregor.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
More and more people have been converting to vegetarianism and veganism in recent years. A reported 6% of the U.S. population is now vegan, up from just 1% in 2014. What’s causing this trend? There are many reasons why one might convert to vegetarianism. Regardless of whether you believe eating meat is unethical, there are many health benefits to a plant-based diet. First and foremost, eating meat has been linked to a variety of conditions—cancer, heart disease, obesity, and hormonal issues, to name a few—while a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce these risks.
In addition to being better for your health, vegan and vegetarian diets are also better for the planet. Industrial animal agriculture, which is responsible for most of the world’s meat products, is a key driving factor behind greenhouse gas emissions, according to One Green Planet. Therefore, by eating less meat, you can cut your family’s carbon footprint, save water, redirect grain that can be eaten by people in need (rather than consumed by agricultural livestock), and help protect the world’s rainforests and endangered species.
If you’re looking to maintain your family’s health while reducing your carbon footprint, a vegan or vegetarian diet might be the way to go. Here’s how to get started with raising a vegetarian family.
Tips for Parents
Raising vegan or vegetarian children doesn’t mean you have to immediately give up all meat products. Sometimes, slowly transitioning to vegetarianism by eliminating one product at a time can be easier and more successful in the long run. For instance, you might start by limiting consumption of specific meats, possibly replacing them with eco-friendly, cholesterol-free meat alternatives.
You can also swap animal-based products like milk, cheese, ice cream, or butter for vegan alternatives, which can be made from coconut, almond, cashew, and more. Try to stick with local, organic whole foods whenever possible. Choose high-quality plant-based foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources such as nuts, seeds, and beans.
Before you make the switch, you also need to consider nutrition. This might include discussing your child’s health with a pediatrician and/or nutritionist. Does your child have any health conditions or specific dietary needs? With any diet, you’ll need to ensure your child is getting adequate nutrition and proper amounts of protein; vegan and vegetarian diets are no different.
Tips for Pet Owners
If your family is going vegetarian, should you include your four-legged family members? That depends. Cats, for instance, evolved to eat meat and might have a harder time on a vegan diet. Dogs, on the other hand, can benefit from a vegetarian diet. Rover.com reports that switching to a vegetarian dog food can decrease your dog’s risk of skin allergies, liver disease, and kidney stones.
Although switching your pet to a vegetarian diet can be good for your pet and for the planet, it’s not always the best idea. It’s important to check with your veterinarian before making such a major change to your pet’s diet. Even if your pet is getting adequate nutrition, you might need to increase your number of vet visits to monitor your pet’s health on the new diet. If you have a young puppy or if you’re considering breeding your pet, it’s best to stick with a more traditional dog food.
At the end of the day, your decision of what to feed your family is deeply personal. Every situation is unique. Before making any major lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, your child’s pediatrician, and your pet’s veterinarian to help determine what options might work best for your entire family.
Editor’s Note: This week’s blog is brought to you by one of NESSE’s Executive Director’s: Alexandra Hicken. Read on to find out what Alexandra’s tips are for making the writing process of a PhD thesis less daunting!
Last week, I began the writing of my PhD Thesis. A huge task lay ahead of me with over three years of work ready to write-up into one document. Naturally, the first couple of hours were spent scrolling through Twitter and pondering on the perfect starting point (it was the first day back after the Christmas break, so a very slow day) and thus I sent out the following tweet:
To my surprise, I was greeted with numerous replies with my fellow tweeters giving a range of advice on writing – and here I am now (procrastinating further) with a blog post designed to help others who are embarking on thesis writing. So, here it is condensed into three easy-to-digest sections.
Planning & Writing
If you are reading this with a few months to go until your thesis submission deadline then congratulations! Starting to write early is a good idea and having a plan is key. Writing a plan is an excellent first step in order to get you thinking about what to write in a logical order and with a clear story.
Plan how you will write the sections – does your thesis need to be chapter focused? Based on manuscripts that you have already written? One specific piece of advice is to write a plan in quite some detail with descriptive sentences and to show this to your supervisor in order to see if you are on the right track. One very keen advisor suggested that you should estimate how much time each day you need to spend writing to meet your deadline – and even suggested to write a timeline in order to make sure that all sections are written on time. Personally, I feel like having a written schedule is a little too prescriptive, however I did make a plan ahead of Christmas, and thus feel like, initially at least, I put myself on the right track.
The way that you write and where you write also seems to be something that was mentioned by a few tweeters. Treating writing like a day in the lab – writing in what you would consider your normal working hours and defending that time for writing is important. Do not let your colleagues’ tasks distract you from doing yours! Others suggested locking yourself away in a library or in a quiet room to avoid distractions. Another very specific piece of advice was to block off two-hour slots in your calendar to write about a specific topic, section or read specific papers – again this feels quite prescriptive to me but could benefit your own style of working. It could be beneficial to find a few theses that have already come from your group – or ask to see the theses of the postdocs in your group. Find out what you like about them in terms of style and formatting and what you do not like to later tailor your writing accordingly.
Now you have a plan, a place to work and you have told everyone in your research group that you are beginning to write your thesis. You hope those who have already been through the process will give you the space that you deserve, and you hope the new PhD and undergrad students will also recognise that now is not the best time to ask you for help! It is time to begin the actual writing. Most of the advice I received was to just write. Try to get something on the page, even if it does not feel or look right, just get it done. Write a lot, maybe even way more than you think is acceptable and remember everything can, and will be edited. Do not just stare at an empty page.
Keep in mind that the first things you write will not make the final cut and do not feel bad about this. All good writing starts with a bad first draft and then you go from there – even saying things out loud may help you arrange your thoughts on the page better. Have it read by others and plan when you are going to send your supervisor the drafts – maybe do not send all of your chapters or sections in one go, do this gradually so that they have time to edit and to send it back to you whilst you are still writing other sections. Remember that writing is one job and editing is separate – having a break in between will help with the editing process.
Some tweeters recommended not starting at the beginning with the introduction, as you may not know the specific story that you want your thesis to tell at the beginning. Others recommended writing the introduction as you go along as it will take the longest. I feel like in the planning stage, planning the introduction took the longest amount of time and required the most effort, but I will not start writing it straight away.
If you’ve started writing and you’ve got a few pages under your belt – at this point I would be feeling pretty happy with myself. Maybe now it’s time to think about formatting. For the purpose of this blog post, I have assumed that the majority of readers, like myself, will have decided to write their thesis using the trusty, yet sometimes frustrating programme – Microsoft Word. I am aware that this may not be the case. Using LaTeX is definitely another option and some advice for using it would require a whole other blog post that I do not have the expertise to write – but I appreciate those who suggested it as a writing tool!
Formatting, Citing & Saving
Start writing in a template – if you have already written a bit then do not worry, transferring your thoughts to a template is easy – but see if your university or college has a thesis template that you can use. You may even be able to make an appointment with a librarian to talk through this template with you. If this is not possible – make one for yourself. It is pretty easy once you get going and was one of the first things I did along with making a plan.
Save your work. This was probably the first piece of advice that was ever given to me by my dad when I started doing homework on a PC. You have got to save your work and save it often because it won’t be recoverable. I appreciate that time has moved on and recovering work is now possible, but I think that the point still stands. Do not just save your work locally – also back it up often. In multiple locations. Do whatever you can so that you don’t have to re-write things that you have taken a long time to note down, or worse lose your entire thesis document altogether. Use autocorrect for common subscripts/ superscripts. You can make word do the hard work for you!
Referencing is also a topic that was brought up by a lot of tweeters – make sure you cite whilst writing and don’t leave it all to the end. Save your work every 45 minutes and when you do, refresh your referencing tool then for it to update. Don’t let it get bogged down and expect it to be able to update a whole days worth of referencing.
Looking After Yourself
Remember that thesis writing is just one part of your professional life – don’t get hung up on it needing to be perfect because it is a summary of the past 3/4/5 years. Regardless of what you do, you will probably look back on it and wish you would have done something different – which is fine. Do not get annoyed with yourself for not making a certain amount of progress per unit of time. It’s a long task so focus on rewarding the successes and the progress that you are making.
Eat well, sleep well and take regular breaks. Your mental health still needs to remain a priority during this time and looking after yourself is the only way to realise this. Do not overwork yourself and regardless of how much you write a day – if you feel like you cannot write any more then do not! Don’t be afraid to take weekends and evenings off. Have in mind that towards the end things may get more chaotic, but by this time you will have a few weeks worth of writing under your belt and be prepared to finish the damn thing.
Finally, thank you to everyone who offered their advice and good luck if you are in the same position as me. I’m sure I will be tweeting about my experience and I would love to hear from you too (@ahichem07).
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jennifer McGregor for writing this article. NESSE values your input and commends your effort in wanting to create a healthier planet!
The world’s population has skyrocketed in the past 100 years, growing sevenfold since the 1800s. The population is estimated to grow by another 2 billion people within the next couple of decades adding pressure to the planet’s current population of 7 billion. While overpopulation is often cited as the single biggest threat to the planet, BBC estimates that the current growth trend is not entirely the issue. The real problem is how much each individual consumes.
The good news is that everyone can do their part to help heal the planet. Here are some ways one can bring more sustainable habits into their diet as well as into their home:
Making Eco-Friendly Dietary Choices
From vegetarian and vegan to Paleo or dairy-free, there are more diets to choose from these days than ever before. Which ones are best if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint? As TIME points out, “Sustainable eating does not have to be hard, and it also does not have to be all-or-nothing.”
An alternative thinking to cutting out meat and dairy products altogether, the “ecotarian” diet has been gaining popularity in recent years. More than a lifestyle change than a traditional diet, ecotarianism involves making mindful food choices specifically designed to sustain the planet as well as your body.
How can you help? Start by trying to eat mostly plant-based, organic whole foods. Home sustainability expert, Laura Trotta, recommends reducing your meat intake as much as possible, even if you don’t go fully vegan or vegetarian.
Meanwhile, Harvard advises choosing local foods from sustainable farmers markets. You can also do your part to reduce food waste by eating smaller meals and switching to reusable grocery bags (which also help the planet by reducing the amount of plastic in our oceans).
Creating a “Green” House
Many homeowners currently are challenged with the task of reducing their home’s energy usage. Luckily, there are many ways you can make your home more green – and they don’t have to break the bank.
For instance, you could downsize your wardrobe and switch to eco-friendly clothing. Try to find environmentally conscious brands, such as those that create clothing from plastic water bottles and other recycled materials.
Can’t afford to switch to solar power yet? You could start by switching out your traditional light bulbs with LEDs or CFL bulbs. These fairly inexpensive bulbs use less energy and last longer than traditional bulbs, and they will also save you money on your electric bill. There is really no reason not to make the switch!
Although global warming is upon us, there’s still much you can do to help the environment. When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, we can all do our part. Every little bit helps when it comes to going green.
The 2017 International Symposium on Green Chemistry (ISGC-2017) took place in May in La Rochelle, France. Following the trend of previous years, about 700 attendees gathered to discuss the most recent advancements on sustainable science across a variety of topics, including catalytic systems, biomass conversion, environmental impact, and biotechnology.
Prof. Roger Sheldon kick-started the four-day event with a plenary lecture that perfectly summarized the purpose of ISGC 2017. His talk, “Engineering a Sustainable Future with Green Chemistry and Catalysis”, exposed the need of shifting from a culture of fossil fuels to one that embraces renewable biomass. He elaborated on the use of green metrics, such as the E-factor and atom economy, for the evaluation and improvement of industrial processes.
The NESSE team was present at ISGC-2017 to spread the word about our mission and recent efforts to connect scientists with a passion for sustainability. During the conference, we had the chance to talk to early-career professionals in our exhibition stand about the resources and opportunities that NESSE has to offer.
Among NESSE’s activities at ISGC, we carried out a satellite session on career development. “Thriving careers and sustainability” was a panel discussion that brought together three guest speakers to converse about their vision about new professionals seeking to apply their knowledge in sustainable science into an academic or industrial career path. Dr. Edith Lecomte-Norrant discussed the opportunities for emerging scientists in the pharmaceutical industry through outreach programs that allow for a close collaboration between PhD students and the innovation department she leads. She emphasized the need to constantly innovate oneself in a market where companies constantly change and require new skill sets. Prof. Peter Wasserscheid shared his insight on the peer-review and grant writing processes for academic professionals, and how academia overlaps with entrepreneurial activities. On the topic of the value of a postdoctoral research, Prof. Luque shared his views on how this experience brought him closer to green chemistry, and how working abroad helps both by expanding the scope of your research and by improving your transferable skills along the way.
As part of the program, the International Consortium on Eco-conception and renewable resources (INCREASE) brought together a special session on the commitment of industry to sustainable chemistry. Representatives of several European industries discussed current efforts involving green innovation and answered questions from the audience. A particular point was made about industry not only having and active role within their own processes, but also the responsibility of carrying this objective throughout the supply chain.
As usual, we had the opportunity to socialize throughout the week during the exhibition, at our NESSE social, and at the gala dinner held as part of the event. The historic town center of La Rochelle overlooking the ocean offered the perfect venue for us to meet new people and expand our knowledge on the latest advancements on green chemistry. We look forward to coming back to la Rochelle for ISGC-2019!
Congratulations to our new Board members who were elected by NESSE members. They will formally start their roles on the 1st September joining four continuing Board members – Alex, Natalie, Luciana, Tabitha.
Editor’s Note: Prof. Dr. Felix Ekardt is a interdisciplinary sustainable scientist in scientific fields legal studies, philosophy and sociology. He manages the Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, and gives statutory advices on EU, national and state level. Prof. Ekardt presents around 60-70 scientific and popular lectures nationally and internationally and is currently working on projects based around a wide range of topics including social energy, sustainable corporate law, human rights and environmental law, municipal climate protection and development of national climate protection legislation. We are delighted that he took the time to speak to us!
1) How do you understand the term ‘sustainability’?
Sustainability means a way of life that can be maintained on an intertemporal and global scale. This is a completely new challenge in human history since we have a traditional tendency of focussing on what is going on here and now. The typical example of a sustainability issue is the energy and climate transition.
2) For a sustainable transformation, we need law changes and a different legislative framework for the markets. We are not allowed to make use of all the oil, gas and coal that exists, if we want to prevent a climate change. The German energy transition (Energiewende), which is actually a power transition (Stromwende), is necessary for a sustainable development. Can the German approach be a role model for other countries?
In December 2015, states across the world have agreed on a new climate agreement. The Paris climate agreement lacks ambition in most of its details and as such is disappointing. At the same time, it contains a very ambitious target which is unfortunately frequently overlooked. It determines that global warming needs to be limited to well below(!) 2 degrees Celsius, and even undertake efforts to limit it 1.5 degrees Celsius. For an industrialized country such as Germany with high per capita emissions, but on the bottom-line for every country, this requires zero greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in power, heating, fuels and material use by around the year 2038. This is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius according to the data of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Taking the limit to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global phase out of greenhouse gas emissions would need to be reached by the end of the 2020s. This applies if assuming that technologies to achieve negative emissions are not technically feasible or extremely dangerous. The climate debate in Europe and the world largely neglect that.
Taking the described temperature limit as point of reference, key governance deficiencies in the factual energy transition become apparent. The energy transition, as currently implemented (almost anywhere), is basically a power transition. Heating, transport and material use of fossil fuels e.g. fertilizer (and areas of climate emissions beyond fossil fuels which mostly occur in the agricultural sector) are neglected. Policy measures taken so far in Europe and elsewhere are not in the least enough to induce a speedy and complete phase out of fossil fuels – even in the power sector and especially not in other mentioned sectors. Not only other sources of emissions, but also other environmental problems tend to lose attention. Considering per capita emissions, industrialized states are very far away from zero emissions. In the EU, the statistically achieved emissions reductions – from very high levels – since 1990 are surpassed by emissions simply shifted abroad. This becomes apparent if summing up imports and exports. Because the emission-intensive production sites of modern global economy are increasingly relocated to emerging economies.
It is however ambiguous, whether environmental protection will be successful if purely based on technical solutions. Taking into account the speed of innovation so far, it seems not very probable that a transformation to increased renewable energies and energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in 10 or 20 years. Sufficiency is also needed.
3) You describe a double vicious circle, on the one hand between citizens and politicians, on the other hand between customers and companies, that has to be interrupted. Our economic system is based on self-interest, egoism and competition, the greed for more material wealth is not limited. In my opinion, this is a serious problem for sustainable development. Shouldn’t we try to increase awareness and mindfulness, to succeed with a social transformation based on cooperation, altruism and sufficiency? As a human being with freedom of will, we have the gift of controlling our emotions and behaviour. I think we also have the responsibility to make use of that. Do you agree?
Based on pluralistic methodological approaches, one can show that non-sustainable and non-sufficient behaviour has various sources in different actors and that it should therefore be avoided to focus relevant aspects of behavioural science only. Pure knowledge of facts has proven to be only a small part in triggering behaviour. More important is an understanding of how actors are interdependent. The behaviour of citizens for example is influenced by politicians and vice versa, the same goes for the dependency between enterprises and consumers. It is part of a certain economic system to constantly acquire customers that buy more and new products without caring about the means of production and that are inclined to find products which are produced socially and ecologically exemplary too expensive. But it also requires enterprises which offer – or in fact do not offer – customers products to trigger needs and thus constantly increasing their profits, ergo keeping up the spiral of growth and high resource intensity. It would be misleading however to simply talk in Marxian tradition of exploitation and estrangement, particularly since many liberties have been installed in modern societies at the same time. As suggestive as many offers might be, production and consumption are not forced by just one side and many individual suppliers and demanders make their contributions. The role of factors – determined by all above mentioned methods – such as self-interest, the dilemma of public goods, path dependencies and conceptions of normality as aspects of motivation in this interaction, especially looking from an economic point of view has been described by many. Two aspects crucial to comprehensively explaining the reluctance to act on sufficiency are however frequently neglected.
One of which are common conceptions of normality as shown by many. Despite all intellectual recognition, we continue living in a high-emission world. If setting aside this article, the next meat buffet, the next car drive to work or the next holiday flight is not far. These things are just ordinary nowadays, as long as one can afford them financially. Dismissing flights as a whole might lead to social pressure and an image as “weirdo”. Lifestyle is also relevant to social standing if. in a current situation. the social surrounding requires a certain apartment, cars and travels in order to belong. This is increasingly true for countries outside the Western hemisphere, which follow the role models in industrialized countries. Especially decision-makers in politics and enterprises are often used to entertaining a lifestyle that includes frequent flights, opulent buffets, global friendships, regular meat consumption, and now they are required to think of abolishing it (with foreseeable results). Conceptions of normality vary significantly at the moment, however the fact that they develop them (unconsciously) in order to simplify ordinary activities seems to be a biological invariable.
Human emotions are likewise relevant for all of us, including entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants etc. Geographically and temporally distant, invisible, in highly complex causalities which make it hard to imagine damages due to climate change yet caused by an ordinary activity are usually not emotionally accessible to people (citizens, politicians, entrepreneurs).
All aspects are to be encountered both in the individual and in structures – there of course in humane – forms. “Self-interest”, “conceptions of normality” or “emotions” are not only visible in individuals but are also shaping higher structures; so in the end, retention of power or accumulation of capital are collectivized variations of self-interest and path dependencies.
Non-sustainable behaviour is therefore easy to explain. At the same time, these findings hint at the fact that a fundamental turn towards sustainability and specifically sufficiency might be very hard to achieve, as there is reason to assume that emotions are part of a core biological configuration which cannot be eliminated. It will however be essential that different actors will move at once – and that aspects which can be changed are in fact changed, e.g. self-interest calculations or path dependencies, which can be influenced through new political frameworks such as levies or caps on fossil fuels. Pricing will also support a change in conceptions of normality. However, it will hardly be possible to achieve change exclusively through political measures, because of the interdependencies of actors; it is of particular importance to have someone demanding new policies. The central piece however is not just discourse, but practicing new and more sustainable normalities.
4) What has to be done to perform energy transition successfully?
Approaches to environmental protection so far usually aim at regulating individual products, plants or actions. To do so, mostly commands or prohibitions are formulated, e.g. standards for emission limits for cars, houses or products. The problem here is firstly that the measures taken are not even close to being fit to comply with key political targets like the 1.5-to-1.8-degree temperature limit of the Paris Agreement, stop biodiversity loss, stop of degradation of ecosystems and soil, stabilizing of nitrogen cycles etc. This implies the mentioned speedy and complete phase out of fossil fuel use and decreasing land use. Secondly, the focus on single products, plants or actions contains the inevitable disadvantage that it will lead to unplanned shifting effects. Environmental problems are shifted into other countries and possibly to other sectors. Well-insulated houses in the EU might reduce the heating bill, enabling in turn even more climate-harmful holiday flights. If the use of crude-oil containing mineral fertilizers is reduced in the EU, it might either induce even more intensive agriculture elsewhere (to produce products which are then imported into the EU). Or an increased use of green genetically modified organisms (GMO) which are not compatible with small-scale farming as a solution to various environmental problems. Thirdly, with regards to ecological strains or resource problems, the individual car or one round of fertilizer is not the core of the problem. It is rather the cumulation of many of those processes. Nothing is solved if an individual car becomes more efficient, but then more higher-performing cars are on the road, also due to an increasing wealth (rebound effect).
Therefore, in looking for more effective policy instruments, a key starting point should be the core factor of several environmental problems, with are fossil fuels. They are, especially through fertilizer, key driver of modern agriculture, and address as such not only climate change but also biodiversity as well as disturbed nitrogen cycles. The target according to the Paris Agreement is therefore the total phase out of fossil fuels of the markets in all sectors (also in transportation, heating, agriculture) gradually in 10 or 20 years. If done with a global or at least a European cap (absolute quantity control), this would lead to far-reaching consequences. This system would not in the least resemble the existing EU ETS, because it would achieve a strict cap (including the elimination of old certificates) as well as a complete inclusion of fossil fuels. Justification of this approach is primarily its ecological effectiveness and not its possible cost-efficiency (while there is a good chance it might also be achieved).
Renewable energies, energy efficiency and sufficiency would replace fossil fuels for power, heating and transportation. The amounts of fossil fuels on the market would simply decrease until they will finally not be available on the market anymore in 10 to 20 years. The increasing scarcity will lead to dramatically increasing prices. The materially and geographically broach approach is crucial for the effectiveness of the instrument – especially to avoid rebound and shifting effects. Conventional agriculture would gradually see a transition to ecological agriculture. Also, the production of animal products would become less attractive overall; production of animal products would increasingly shift towards low-emission pastoral farming. Consequently, also less production quantities and decreasing disposal rates.
It is crucial to tax imported goods with the additional costs of energy and land-use pricing as eco tax; exported goods should be exempt at least partially from the additional costs. Those so called border adjustments will prevent that production, for instance steel industry or production of animal feed, is moved outside the system.
5) We need new role models for a paradigm shift. Matthieu Ricard said in an interview with Barbara Bleisch that the messenger has to be the message, when he/she wants to be convincing. So do you live sustainably?
Role models really matter a lot. I do not have a driving license, I am a vegetarian since 1993, I do not go on holidays by plane, even on a professional basis usually I do not go by plane. I used to live in a very small flat until the age of 40, I do not have a cell phone etc. pp. But we all, including me, have to improve our sustainability performance.
Editor’s Note: Here’s NESSE’s Co-Executive Director, Natalie O’Neil to share with us her NESSE story. With upcoming elections she wants to be clear that passion and a desire to make a change in the system is all you need to be a NESSE member and effective board member.
I became a science major to “change the world”—as Bill Nye once said. I am now an Inorganic Chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany. However, it wasn’t until 2015, far into my graduate studies, that I realized (naive of me, I know) that something was missing from my science education and research experience. I had come to the realization that the methods of my research were inherently not environmentally friendly (as is consistently the case) and that I had no knowledge on how to change that (which most students don’t as toxicology and environmental chemistry are not currently required for a chemistry degree by most universities). I realized that I had no idea of the environmental impacts my research could be making and to me not knowing seemed unacceptable. I have always been an environmentally-conscious person; however, it did not strike me that I wasn’t including this aspect into my research or future career plans. Struggling with the amounts of harmful chemicals my research consumed – and the inevitable waste it produced – I set out to find a connection between chemistry and sustainability.
I began researching sustainable science and discovered green chemistry through Beyond Benign, who recommended I check out the Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE). Wanting to engage more I applied for NESSE’s mentorship program. I learned that anyone can become a green chemist. That green chemistry isn’t a new field, it is chemistry done with the forethought of sustainability (considering social, economic and environmental impacts). My mentor, Cliff Coss, recommended I read Green Chemistry Theory and Practice by Paul T. Anastas and John Warner. I have never read a book in one sitting or had a book speak to me so much, and wondered why all chemists were not working within this book’s mindframe.
“It is no more excusable for a fireman not to know that a fire burns, or a chef not to know a knife cuts, than for a chemists not to know the character of the tools of their trade.” – John Warner & Paul Anastas
After reading about the 12 principles of green chemistry developed by Anastas and Warner I made an effort to make changes in my research practices—as well as the practices of my other peers. The Office of Environmental Sustainability at the University at Albany, had an Innovation Grant program that allowed me to attend a Green Chemistry Symposium at the University of Toronto (UofT), organized by the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), a NESSE sustainable science group. At UofT I learned a lot about green chemistry and how it is used in industry. I walked away inspired by the work of the graduate students of the GCI and was determined to follow suit in some way!
Photo from the GCI 2016 Symposium Innovations in Chemistry Towards Sustainable Urban Living.
The NESSE elections opened that June (2015) and I ran for the Director of Marketing and Communications role. At the time I didn’t have experience in social media, tweeting to me was sound a bird made and WordPress (huh?) I had never used. But I was committed to sharing the great information and resources that NESSE had to offer me with as many early career scientists and engineers. I met the board of directors in Rhode Island for a three day strategic planning retreat and the optimism of the directors fueled my drive even more. With the help of the director that was stepping down, I learned my role and where there is a will there is a way!
Photos from NESSE’s first strategic planning retreat in 2015.Left- Plans for the year written on the widow with a view, many of these plans materialized or are now in action! Right-The current (Jennie, Norman and I) and now past (Laura and Anna) directors who attended the planning retreat!
Two years later and a ton of experience under my belt, I stand as the co-executive director of an organization that has given me so many experiences and exposed me to opportunities I would have never had without getting involved in NESSE. Just a few examples are the ACS Green Chemistry Summer School in 2016, traveling to Paris to be a part of the Future Earth working group of the Early Career Researchers Network of Networks (ECR NoN) and London for the Science for Sustainable Development: Early Career Leaders Day in Fall 2017. At all of these events I met amazing early career scientists and learned that our generation is really setting a new path for the future.
Photos from all events mentioned above! Top left- ACS summer school class. Top right- Future Earth working group of the ECR NoN. Middle left-photos of the fun had at the ACS summer school! Middle right-Getting to meet the directors in London! Bottom row- photos from the Early Career Leaders Day at the Burlington house in London.
The knowledge I have gained from working with the board is invaluable, ranging from science communication (blog posts, social media crowdfunding campaign) to organizational structure (international organization procedures, 501 c3 status) and much more. NESSE is truly an organization run for its members by its members and is always open to finding, running and promoting any sort of initiative its members want to help undertake. This grassroots friendly approach is what I love about NESSE.
I share my NESSE story in the hopes that you, the reader, will see that no experience is needed when it comes to adding sustainability to whatever field you are in. What it takes is the passion to make a difference, in your career, in your field and finding the resources you need, which are out there (you are not alone, trust me) it just might take some digging! NESSE’s aim is to be the facilitator of this process, it was for me and it can be for you! If we as early career individuals ban together across all fields (social, physical and life science) than we can tackle the global environmental and energy challenges facing us. We need a multifaceted approach for the myriad of challenges which means we need all backgrounds to come to the table to find viable solutions for a sustainable future for all.
I urge you to engage with the network, consider a volunteer opportunity or even run for one of our open director positions for the upcoming 2017 election you never know where it might take you or what doors it will open that you never knew were possible! If you have questions about getting involved with NESSE or about one of the director positions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Prof. Rafael Luque leads the Nanoscale Chemistry and Biomass/Waste Valorisation Group at the University of Cordoba, Spain. He is also member of the editorial board of prestigious journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Porous section of the journal Materials, Editor of Journal of Molecular Catalysis A: Chemical, and Series Editor of Topics in Current Chemistry (Springer). Prof. Luque will be a keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Chemistry 2017 next month in La Rochelle, with a talk titled Benign-by-design methodologies for a more sustainable future: from nanomaterials to heterogeneous (photo)catalysis and biomass/waste valorization. In addition, he will join NESSE on May 18th for a special session at ISGC 2017: “Thriving Careers and Sustainability: A Panel Discussion”. For more information, please visit www.isgc-symposium.com/program-overview/.
When did you know you wanted to dedicate yourself to chemistry?
I was always impressed by the fact that chemistry is ubiquitously present in our daily life. It is in everything we do and see, and from my perspective as an organic chemist, I would say it is even part of ourselves. I was very curious when I was a kid about common everyday observations that I related to chemistry. When I started my PhD studies I also became very interested in green chemistry, in the sense of trying to work on advances towards a more sustainable society and ways of living.
What is your current research focused on?
Throughout the years, we have been able to branch out the scope of our research. Nowadays we are focused on three different platform technologies.
- Nanoscale chemistry – We design our own nanomaterials, supported metal nanoparticles, and quantum dots for different applications.
- Application of nanomaterials – This work is done mostly in the area of heterogeneous catalysis and photocatalysis, and more recently we are developing photoluminescent materials. We are also working at the interface of chemistry and biology by developing bioinspired functional materials for biologically-related applications.
- Flow chemistry – We work on continuous flow processes that are scalable for chemical industry. In addition, we also work on biomass and waste valorisation. Here we utilize bio refinery concepts in order to further evaluate the possibility to convert residual feedstocks into chemicals, materials, and fuels.
What would you say your first approach to green chemistry was?
Originally I was not quite aware of it. When the concept started in the 90s I was a high school student. My first major connection with it was during my Postdoc with Prof. James Clark at the University of York. Working at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence gave me the opportunity to understand what this concept can provide to society, industry, and research in general. I was fascinated by the possibilities that we have improve the future for upcoming generations by reducing our environmental footprint.
As a professional in academia, how do feel education has changed around the concept of green chemistry? What do you believe are the possibilities in this field?
I think education is very important for the formation of future generations. For green chemistry in particular, education is a tool to help new generations understand the possibilities we have to improve our way of behaving, working, and living. I would say that green chemistry is not limited to the scope of chemical education, the core values of it reach out to a more general audience. I think this is a critical aspect that needs to be taken into account to provide social awareness of what the beneficial effects of green chemistry are on the environment with concrete examples, such as how we can replace current products derived from petroleum by more sustainable products.
With regards to formal education, the curricula have changed, although this might be at a rather slower pace. All over different countries you see courses that either incorporate the 12 principles of green chemistry, or tackle more specific topics, such as sustainability in processes for fine chemical production, catalyst synthesis, polymer production, etc. The possibilities are endless, and we could spend a long time speaking about them. Using waste as a resource for many potential products that we can extract and harvest, design of new materials, catalysts, continuous flow processes… All of these are areas of opportunity both for green chemistry and chemical education.
You have managed to develop start-up companies in addition to your work at the University of Cordoba. How did your introduction into entrepreneurship occur?
At some stage the research and the topics you focus on can somehow steer you in different direction. In our case the key factor that motivated the creation of our start-ups was the fact that, in addition to working on fundamental research, we also conduct applied research. We managed to succeed in reaching the market in terms of prototypes and products that we proposed, in order to provide alternatives for the chemical industry of the future. This eventually led to the development spin-off companies from our work, so far three of them. One of them started out as a collaboration with the University of York in the UK, and two other companies in Spain. We are currently working on creating a new one in China. The possibilities in this case are always related to the broadness and the applicability of our research. In this case, we had significant expertise on the field, and this led to incurring in an entrepreneurial path.
We often hear about professional accomplishments, but often we overlook the struggles that they represented. What would you say are some of the challenges you have faced throughout your career?
I have had several challenges in my career. I come from a traditionally deprived region in the south of Spain. Starting my research group from scratch back in 2009 was complicated in terms of funding, access to resources, students, etc. It required a lot of dedication, especially in the middle of a big recession, which may have been a different situation had I been in a different place.
From a personal perspective, I come from a modest family. During my studies, I had to put a great effort to try be the best in my class in order to qualify for fellowships to pay for my studies and then for my PhD. My advice to young scientists is to always bring motivation and passion in whatever you do. Particularly, resilience is a quality that I feel missing in some students these days. It is not easy to receive a lot of funding at the beginning of your career, regardless of how great you/your ideas are. In the past I would submit twenty proposals to get one, but I never lost hope, never lost my passion and my will to keep pushing that will bring you to eventual success. It is a learning curve that requires time, but a self-driven character and resilience are very helpful along the way. Fighting and being able to come back stronger after a rejected paper/proposal/application is the way forward!!
Multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary research are increasingly seen as vital in a world of complex, interconnected global challenges. Funders are beginning to support early-career researchers to conduct this work through doctoral training centres and projects with a focus on research at the intersections between disciplines.
Yet, these types of research have been called “career suicide” for young academics and a British Academy report suggested that early-career researchers should first “cultivate their academic home” as a base to conduct interdisciplinary research.
We want to understand early-career researchers own experiences and perspectives of MIT-disciplinary (multi-, inter-, or trans-disciplinary*) research as part of a larger study into the culture of science. Please help us by completing this 15 minute survey.
The survey asks you about:
- Your past and current experiences of MIT-disciplinary research;
- The motivations, challenges and rewards that you associate with MIT-disciplinary research;
- The level of support or hindrance that you receive in any MIT-disciplinary research that you undertake
- Your suggestions as to how support for future MIT-disciplinary research should be approached, particularly in relation to early-career researchers.
Please share widely! Post on twitter or facebook: Early-career researchers – whats your experience of #interdisciplinary research? http://bit.ly/2qZrY1C #ECRchat #PhDchat @greenscientists
*For the purposes of this survey, we define multidisciplinary as people from different disciplines working together; interdisciplinary as integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines at the outset of a project; and transdisciplinary as involving researchers from different disciplines and other stakeholders variously in the design, execution and implementation of research.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Edith Lecomte-Norrant is the current Head of Innovation/Technology/Sciences at UCB Biopharma in Belgium, where she works introducing new methods for industrialization of pharmaceutical processes. She holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from ENSIC-CNRS, HDR in Chemical Engineering, worked six years as a National Researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Her work includes the submission of 9 patents, 14 articles, more than 200 technical confidential reports, and presenting more than 35 oral communications at different international conferences. She has worked in several private companies and has international experience in R&D and fine chemistry/pharmaceutical manufacturing plants. Dr. Lecomte-Norrant will be a keynote speaker at the 2017 International Symposium on Green Chemistry (ISGC) in La Rochelle, France. In addition, she will join NESSE on May 18th for a special session at ISGC 2017: “Thriving Careers and Sustainability: A Discussion Panel”. For more information, please visit www.isgc-symposium.com/program-overview/.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
Firstly, when I was young, I loved mathematics. It was for me a challenge to solve those problems, to the extent it became a game for me. Secondly, I was and I am still very curious about everything. I like to learn, to discover new scientific areas, to understand how everything works… but I always have the feeling that I do not know anything. This is the reason why, after my engineer studies, I decided to do a PhD to get a higher level of knowledge and to develop my capacities to learn, to develop my creativity. I like challenges!
During my PhD, under the responsibility of Prof. Le Goff (ENSIC – Nancy), who was a person with a lot of ideas and with a passion for science, I really discovered what research was, and I liked it because it is always challenges to solve and to find concrete solutions. During this period, I discovered my creativity to solve technical problems by mixing ideas from different areas. It is the reason why I decided to do research and I applied to work at CNRS (the French Centre National of Scientific Research).
At CNRS I discovered something else: ideas are important, but we need a budget to develop them. Therefore, I decided to move to a new research unit, which had been created to improve the relationship between private and public research. This Mixed Research Unit consisted of 50% public researchers and 50% private researchers coming from Rhone Poulenc (Ex SANOFI). For me it was a fantastic period because I worked with experts in other areas without any budget issues. The target was to develop new methodology, new tools to develop gas/liquid/solid reactions at an industrial scale. I realized that, by working in a multidisciplinary team with different public and private experts, we could do fantastic research in a quick timeframe.
I also discovered that the research in a private company was focused on applications. For me, working on the bridge between fundamental research and the application was a new challenge. Thus I decided to go and work in private company to apply new fundamental concepts and to be more pragmatic. Also, in a private company we have more opportunity to work in different areas, and to learn more in different subjects. In comparison, on public research you generally become an expert in one topic and stay in that area.
Can you tell us about your current role as Innovation/Technology/Sciences Director at UCB Biopharma?
My current role as Innovation/Technology/Sciences Director aims to introduce new methodology and technology to develop and industrialize new chemical and biological drugs. My idea is to develop a tool box to help researcher’s day to day.
I work with six Research & Development Departments, respectively API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient), DP (Drug Product), Analytical Department for both Small and Large Molecules, and with Universities (or start-ups) to help us develop our ideas concerning new technologies and to integrate them in our research department, then in a pilot plant and a manufacturing plant.
When we have a new idea, we take a Master’s student for 6 months to evaluate it and to get the answer for this following question: “Is it the right idea or the wrong one?” Depending on the answer, we either stop it or move on with a PhD student to develop it with the University that has the right expertise. The PhD student can work both at University and at UCB. It depends on the subject and where the best place to do research is (due to equipment, analytical tools, etc.).
Innovation means to create a new technology for UCB that does not exist anywhere else but also to introduce a new technology at UCB which is used by other companies but that UCB has not gotten yet. This latter innovation is at minimum risk. Most of the actions are confidential.
You have impressive record working on industrial management positions. What are some of the challenges you have faced in this aspect of your career?
The greatest challenge I got was between Aug. 1993 and Aug. 1994. When I started at Rhone Poulenc in January of 1993, I was in charge of the continuous process improvement of four manufacturing plants: two in France, one in the UK and one in the US. Unfortunately, in August 1993, an explosion occurred at the US plant: some people died and some were drastically injured. I was named project manager to find the underlying reasons of the explosion and to design a new safe process in three months. I remember I was told: “you have unlimited resources, open budget, but make sure there are no incidents”. I created a team of 40 people in one week, which comprised experts in chemistry, chemical engineering, analytical, safety, corrosion, etc.
It was a big and stressful challenge because we did not know the reasons of the explosion. Furthermore, to increase the complexity, Rhone Poulenc bought this manufacturing plant one year before and we had no access to the data concerning the development of the process for this intermediate compound. We had to develop everything in a safe way in three months: main reaction, by-product reactions, analytical methods to follow the reactions, kinetic of reactions, stability of compounds, etc., in order to understand the reasons of the explosion.
I remember we did the first reactions in a “special bunker”, a special safety lab in order to define safe operating conditions. In three months, due to the impressive work of the team, we had understood the reasons of the explosion and we had designed a new safe reactor with a controlled system to detect the presence of the dangerous by-product. It was my first experience in PAT (Process Analytical Technology). When I went to the US in December 1993 to present the data and the design of the new unit, they asked me to take charge of starting the future unit and to negotiate with OSHA the authorization to restart the previous one.
It was a new big challenge that I accepted. It was an important human experience to work with operators who had lived the accident. In fact, even if you know that safety is first, you are not totally aware about all the impacts and consequences an explosion has on people. The biggest challenge I had was to convince operators that we had understood all the reasons of the explosion and we had put in place all the necessary controls to work in a safe way. It was a problem of trust and it took time to regain it from them.
We restarted it August 1994 without any problems. Since then I kept a nice relationship with the operators during my stay in the US. I think that it was the biggest challenge I had in my career. It was an important human experience for me. Keep in mind that science is important but safety is more important.
From your perspective, how has the incorporation of green chemistry in industrial R&D evolved in recent years?
In my own opinion, I observed that in most of cases Green Chemistry in the industrial world has been introduced mainly:
- By new laws in environment which induces important cost for treatment of wastes.
- By information about the consequences of the pollution on health.
For both these reasons, private companies had to adapt their processes with innovative solutions to reduce the cost of treatment of waste which becomes more and more important. Now Green chemistry is included in their policy: it is a label for potential customers. It is the reason why the R&D department takes into account this point to find innovative solutions for the development of green processes.
However, the problems and solutions are quite different for large chemical process and fine chemistry/pharmaceutical process. Large chemical productions are often manufactured by using a continuous process: by recycling solvents, catalysts, etc. Generally, they measure the carbon footprint of each step. Thus, it is a point that is evaluated and they are looking for an innovative process in a safer way by reducing their waste, which induces a reduction of operating expenses.
Concerning fine chemistry and pharmaceutical companies, they have the habit to use batch processes. Up until now, they were very conservative due to regulatory affairs. Today this industry moves slowly by adopting innovative technologies such as micro/milli-reactors (process intensification), coupled with physical activation (photo chemistry, microwaves, electrochemistry, etc.), which generally induces a huge reduction of wastes. Furthermore, working in a continuous way gives us more flexibility concerning the size of the “batch”, and we avoid the destruction of good products that are not used. A typical example is a clinical trial: we need to manufacture a small amount of compound and the continuous process gives us this flexibility, unlike the batch process where the amount of compound depends on the size of reactor. So now researchers are aware about green chemistry practices and they try to develop innovative green processes, but the first priority is the quality for patients.
Fostering innovation is a key role on your current professional field. You have worked to develop a student’s program at UCB and you are currently in charge of the Scientific External Partnership with Universities. What has this experience been like?
Being in charge of Innovation/Technology/Sciences, my job is to develop a tool box to help researchers creating new processes for new drugs with higher quality for patients at a lower cost. When you develop an innovative idea, you take a risk from a budget and resources point of view. In order to reduce these risks, I introduced a student’s program at UCB. What does it mean?
It is a master-student who does the evaluation of the idea during 6 months. So the evaluation of the idea is done at low cost. Furthermore, if the idea is interesting, we go on with the development with a PhD, or a Post-Doc with a Professor at University who is an expert in this area. We reduce the risk of failure as we have an expert to help us developing the idea. So the student’s program is composed with master-student, PhD and post-Doc with a lot of relationships with different Universities. In 2016, we had more than 30 master students, 25 PhD and 3 Post-Docs in TSO (Technical Supply Operations).
Sometimes, I take several PhDs for the same project with several professors from different Universities who have different areas of expertise to solve a problem or to develop a new tool. Each PhD has his own objective but he must work in a team. It is a good experience for everybody. I often observed a silo between chemical and biological experts. It is unfortunate because we can learn from each other and together we can find very innovative solutions.
The student program has another advantage: we have time to evaluate the student during his trainee. It is a good opportunity to hire our new researchers from this pool. In order to create a good relationship between Universities and UCB and to motivate students to apply for a master or a PhD at UCB, I teach in 5 different Universities, in each for about 2.5 days:
- 1 day concerning industrial cases that I had to solve as Chemical Engineer during my professional life
- 1 day concerning Innovation in industrial process (my own vision): what will happen in a close future: I mix innovation in chemical with biological process
- 0.5 day: PAT: Process Analytical Technology.
What advice would you give to early-career professionals seeking to work in industry?
For post-docs or researchers, the most important qualities you must have are to be flexible, mobile and adaptable. Why? Today, we live in a world that changes continuously.
First example: You can enter a company that has a strategy and policy. Tomorrow the company is bought by another one and the strategy and policy change. Even if you stay in the same office for the same job, you must adapt to the new strategy and policy of the new company.
Second example: You can be hired for your expertise in a certain area. Tomorrow, for any reason, the company decides to stop this activity, so you must find a solution: either to develop a new expertise in another area in the company or to leave the company to practice your expertise in another one. It is a problem of flexibility.
Third example: you can have a big opportunity to develop your career in the same company but in other country. What do you do? Are you mobile? Are you adaptable to the new environment in a foreign country? If you are mobile and adaptable you can go for this journey.
Finally, nowadays as a researcher you must follow all new discoveries, new trends that are done in your area and take in account all other advancement from other areas. You will work in a multidisciplinary team and you must adapt yourself to these new technologies.
Here is an example concerning the evolution of communication: in the past we communicated by letters, then by fax, after by email, etc. What kind of new system will it be tomorrow? We are now talking about Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, robots in the laboratory to do our experiments. All these new tools change the ways of working and we must be flexible, adaptable, and mobile to use them. The future starts now, and if you want to know the future, dream it and create it for a better chemistry and for a better life. The only thing that remains constant about technology, sciences, and even the world is the fact that it is constantly changing.
Thank you Dr. Lecomte-Norrant for your valuable participation. We look forward to continuing our discussion in La Rochelle!
ISGC is the leading event for scientists and industries to share their findings on sustainable chemistry. ISGC 2017 will take place in La Rochelle, France from May 16th-19th. NESSE will be present with activities for early-career professionals seeking to be part of a sustainable future.