Safe by Design: Responsible and Innovative Research for Safe and Sustainable Chemistry

A guest post by Ester Papa and Elena Semenzin

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Rome, Italy (13-17 May 2018).

“What is sustainable? How can chemicals be Greener? What is safe?” are questions of great importance nowadays.

Recent years have been characterized by continuous growth and development. Can care for the environment and nature resources be paired with increased societal needs and economic development? How can we address the often careless use of chemical substances, which has resulted in increasingly complicated problems for human and environmental health and ecosystems in countries worldwide? Can this ongoing development and growth in the use and production of chemicals, while aimed at improving the quality of life and industrial processes, continue in a sustainable fashion?

the-12-principles-of-green-chemistry-pocket-guideThe concept of sustainable chemistry is relatively recent and largely based on the philosophy of green chemistry, an area of chemistry consolidated in the 1990s around the principles published by Paul Anastas and John Warner. Green chemistry underwent a growing development during the last decade thereby increasing the social awareness towards less pollution and the use of renewable resources. Similarly, the Safe by Design (SbD) approach aims to design and realize products and processes that are more sustainable and compatible with human and environmental health.

The implementation of SbD prevents hazardous substances from being developed, thus entering the environment, but also creates safer alternatives for existing hazardous chemicals. Even though this topic is supported by the OECD, whose definition for Sustainable Chemistry is “a scientific concept that seeks to improve the efficiency with which natural resources are used to meet human needs for chemical products and services. Sustainable chemistry encompasses the design, manufacture and use of efficient, effective, safe and more environmentally benign chemical products and processes,” and related programs supporting sustainability, there is still a need to increase worldwide awareness.

Recently, the application of international regulations for chemical substances, such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of CHemicals, Cosmetic Directive, Biocidal Products Regulation, among others, and the high economic and negative social costs of animal testing, did push the implementation of SbD onwards. The approach can be applied to support the timely identification and management of uncertainties and potential risks associated to chemicals and to guide the step-by-step development particularly of new, safer, and more sustainable products. For instance, the SbD approach has been aligned to the Stage-Gate innovation process (by Robert Cooper and Scott Edgett) to support sustainable nanotechnology innovation. The Cooper Stage-Gate innovation process is an industrially standard systematic approach that divides technology innovation into five stages, incorporating a risk and sustainability analysis to inform decisions on project termination, the need for stage reiteration to improve the product safety, sustainability, and progression to the next stage. Introducing SbD at the innovation stage provides the possibility for iterative optimization of the sustainability of new chemistries, such as, for instance, manufactured nanomaterials.

Also, the increased use of alternatives to animal testing, such as in silico predictions based on Quantitative Structure Activity relationships, has raised the interest in the use of computational chemistry as a fast and inexpensive way to screen thousands of compounds for their potential adverse effects on human and environment. Particularly, within the above mentioned regulatory frameworks the use of QSAR and other alternative tools has been promoted. Furthermore, in silico strategies can be applied to identify sustainable alternatives to existing undesired chemicals prior and after chemical synthesis and marketing, thus providing opportunity for an SdB approach.

A panoramic view of these topics, and an itinerary through possible solutions offered in different fields of application of SbD is presented in our session “Safe by Design: Responsible and Innovative Research for Safe and Sustainable Chemistry” at the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting, which will be held from 13–17 May 2018 in Rome, Italy. The platform and poster presentations will move from the design of more efficient and less harmful engineered nanomaterials for different applications to the implementation of advanced frameworks for the design of chemical processes, from the identification of alternatives for pollutants in clothing textiles and food packaging to industrial and daily use of chemicals and from human to environmental safety.

The aim of this session is to provide a forum to exchange experiences, existing knowledge, and recent insights gained within the application of the SbD approach to chemical substances, including traditional and emerging contaminants.


Author’s artwork

So, if you have pondered the above questions from time to time, then our session “Safe by Design: responsible and innovative research for safe and sustainable chemistry” may very well be the right one for you. We will learn together about frameworks for SbD, about in silico approaches to predict and screen hazard related properties of chemicals, about how to apply safe by molecular design methods and risk assessment along the life cycle of chemical substances and products. We don’t promise to provide final answers but aim to suggest feasible solutions, which may form the basis for the development of standard practices in the SbD of chemicals. This will include technological, economic, and social, in addition to environmental, dimensions to support decision making towards safer and sustainable innovation in the chemical sector.

Session information: Safe by design: Responsible and innovative research for safe and sustainable chemistry
15 May 2018 | 14.00 p.m.–15:30 p.m. | Room D


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