Green chemistry

What is green chemistry? Watch this 2-minute video.

Green chemistry is a science-based philosophy of designing chemicals, products, and processes with the intention of making them less hazardous and more sustainable. It applies to the life cycle of a product, from creation to disposal.

When put into practice, green chemistry can:

  • Prevent pollution at the source by making safer chemicals.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals—which protects workers, consumers, and the environment.
  • Reduce energy and material use, while increasing use of renewable materials.

We've created resources to help educators, schools, and academic and corporate researchers integrate green chemistry concepts into K-12 and higher education. We also provide pollution prevention technical assistance for businesses that want to learn how to adopt safer products or processes into their work.

The 12 principles of green chemistry

The 12 principles of green chemistry are goals for chemists and manufacturers to consider when they create new chemicals or processes. 

Learn about each principle by watching these short videos:

  1. Prevent waste
  2. Maximize atom economy
  3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses
  4. Design safer chemicals and products
  5. Use safer solvents and auxiliaries
  6. Increase energy efficiency
  7. Use renewable feedstocks
  8. Avoid chemical derivatives
  9. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents
  10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use
  11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution
  12. Minimize the potential for accidents

Examples of green chemistry innovations

Green chemistry has been used in a wide variety of products and processes.

Scientists can study the way leaves repel water to design safer water repellents for waterproof clothing.

Green chemistry has been used in a wide variety of products and processes.

Decaffeination methods

Some manufacturers use supercritical carbon dioxide or water to remove caffeine from coffee beans. These decaffeination methods are much safer than solvents like benzene, which manufacturers once used, or methylene chloride, which some manufacturers still use.

Packing peanuts made from starch

Packing peanuts made from starch are used as an alternative to polystyrene packing peanuts (now banned in Washington). Unlike polystyrene, which comes from oil, starch peanuts are made from renewable plant starch. Instead of going into the trash, starch peanuts can be composted after use. Starch is also much less hazardous than styrene.


Scientists can copy natural processes to create new innovations, an approach called biomimicry. For example, researchers can study how mussels and barnacles attach to wet rocks in order to develop new, safer adhesives for surgery and other uses.