I am participating in the standard development process for “Greener Chemical Products and Processes, "  sponsored by the Green Chemistry Institute of the American Chemistry Society and NSF.  Here's an article in the May 10, 2010, C&EN summarizing the efforts : "Common Ground for Going Green."  There's a spectrum of opinions and we each have our own vision of what the standard should be used for.  My thoughts:
Our starting point is to deal with the life cycle stage of chemical manufacture - transforming chemicals to make another chemical.  Information generated under the standard would be handed to the next step in the life cycle -  other manufacturers, users or formulators - and not to do a full life cycle review at this time.  In later iterations of the standard we hope to expand thoughout each step of the value chain.  There are already several green certification standards for end use consumer products (cleaners, computers, carpets, etc.) and we didn't want to duplicate that.  There is no standard directed at the raw materials from chemical manufacture. So this is a B2B - business to business - information standard.

My view of the purpose is to come up with a way to present a reliable set of information on a variety of attributes that companies that are trying to go green are looking at.  The standard should be focused on not defining what is "green" as an endpoint, but providing information that a business purchaser can use to decide which chemicals from which sources meet whatever their most important "green" or sustainability goals are. In addition, the customer will be able to use this information in describing his own products and processes (eventually using the next iteration of the standard) to pass on "green" information to his customers.

As noted in the C&EN article, there is a strong demand to go beyond this to a whole life cycle evaluation and a "green" label - but we aren't there yet.  We are taking a first step.  My assumption is that there is no magic single number of "greenicity" or simple label to generate because each company has its own context and set of issues it is trying to manage and the information is quite diverse and complicated to be able to quantify in a single value:  How do you add tons of greenhouse gas + mg/kg acute toxicity to worms?.  If water supply is a big issue where they are, then water conservation will be weighted higher than if water is quite abundant.  If they are sophisticated in how to manage workplace exposures, then toxicity may not be as high a concern as, say,  greenhouse gas releases.  If their process demands certain performance characteristics of its raw materials, this should provide a way to compare chemistry and suppliers to make the "greener" choice, even if the chemicals are not the greenest.

We still have a ways to go on this standard.  My biggest worry is we'll make it so complicated and burdensome no one will use it.  But we might also come up with ways to help people identify areas where they can make significant steps toward sustainability without making it just a simple-minded checklist (see previous rant).

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