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Key Characteristics of Sustainable Chemistry 

Sustainable Chemistry – Towards a Common Understanding

The ongoing international debate on Sustainable Chemistry shows that the expectations towards Sustainable Chemistry differ between the stakeholder groups. As an international collaborative centre, the ISC3 has therefore initiated a dialogue process to develop a common understanding.

Dialogue Process

The dialogue was initiated in 2019 based on the ISC3 Thought Starter “Towards a Common Understanding of Sustainable Chemistry”. The dialogue invited all stakeholders to voice opinions and share their expectations towards the emerging concept. Lively discussions took place during the first ISC3 Stakeholder Forum in June 2019. Furthermore, the Thought Starter was introduced to the SAICM stakeholders through an INF doc, which was submitted by the ISC3 to the OEWG in Montevideo, as well as at a workshop at the margins of the IP3 in Bangkok. The revised version of the paper “Key Characteristics of Sustainable Chemistry” was presented at the 2nd ISC3 Stakeholder Forum in November 2020. The paper can be downloaded below.Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. We are looking forward to learning about your ideas, expectations and questions! (contact©isc3.org)
Download the paper

Extract of the paper:

Key Characteristics of Sustainable Chemistry


[1] In 2015 the United Nations (UN) set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure a sustainable future of our planet. They address a plethora of impending, inter-connected, global megatrends such as population growth, industrialization and urbanization, food security, healthcare, water and sanitation, climate change, etc. to ensure a sustainable future development. Chemistry is both, a non-normative science and a normative economical sector. As such both are indispensable for achieving the targets set within the 17 UN SDGs. Many products of chemical and allied industries contribute to high living standards and increasing life expectancy. However, the ever-increasing extraction of resources, waste and environmental pollution generated by their extraction, by synthesis, manufacturing, and other processes, by the use of products and at the end of their life are in strong contrast to sustainability. Impacts on humans and the living environment have been accompanying negative trade-offs until today.

Products of chemical and allied industries are used because they offer a certain service or function. Considering firstly non-chemical alternatives and alternative business models, including stimulation of non-chemical sustainable innovations and products as well as alternative sustainable business models is of utmost importance for the chemical sector of the future. Such business models have to stop purely focussing on economic goals. In order to sustain any innovation or alternative product offerings, the inclusion of social and societal improvements is inevitable. Innovations need to be developed on all levels which are responsible, trustworthy, transparent and traceable. They have to be monitored continuously. Thereby chemistry both as a scientific discipline and sector can be held in high regard for their sustainability-directed activities, services and products.

Current and future practice of chemical and allied industries have to be aligned with general sustainability principles such as sufficiency, consistency, efficiency, resilience. This together with respecting the planetary boundaries as well as precaution as core principles will create new economic opportunities that simultaneously will go beyond purely economic-driven decisions. They will generally lead to benefits for the planet as a whole and all societies all over the world. This has to be applied to all of chemistry including the chemical sector, from resources to manufacturing, to application and end-of-life of products and service by all stakeholders including the transformation of current education models, re- and up-skilling workforce.

Sustainable chemistry is a framework giving guidance on how chemistry as a scientific and economic asset spanning multiple supply chains and consequently the whole life cycle can comply with the principles of sustainability for the betterment of our planet. The key-characteristics as outlined below are constitutive for Sustainable Chemistry.


Guiding the chemical science and the chemical sector towards contributing to Sustainability in agreement with sustainability principles and general understanding and appreciating potential interdependencies including long-distance interactions and temporal gaps between the chemical and other sectors.


Avoiding transfer of problems and costs into other domains, spheres and regions at the outset, preventing future legacies and taking care of the legacies of the past including linked responsibilities.


Securing its interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary character including a strong disciplinary basis but taking into account other fields to meet Sustainability to its full extent. Application as for industrial practice including strategic and business planning, education, risk assessment and others including the social and economical spheres by all stakeholders.


Adhering to value to all inhabitants of planet earth, the human rights, and welfare of all live, justice, the interest of vulnerable groups and promoting fair, inclusive, critical, and emancipatory approaches in all its fields including education, science, and technology.


Fostering exchange, collaboration, and right to know of all stakeholders for improving the sustainability of business models, services, processes and productsc and linked decisions including ecological, social, and economic development on all levels. Avoiding all “green washing” and “sustainability washing” by full transparency in all scientific and business activities towards all stakeholders, and civil society.


Transforming fully the chemical and allied industries from the molecular to the macroscopic levels of products, processes, functions and services in a proactive perspective towards sustainabilityd including continuous trustworthy, transparent and traceable monitoring.


Supporting the sound management of chemicals and waste throughout their whole life cycle avoiding toxicity, persistency and bio-accumulation and other harm of chemical substances, materials, processes, products and services to humans and the environment.


Accounting for the opportunities and limitations of a circular economy including reducing total substance flows, material flows, product flows, and connected energy flows at all spatial and temporal scales and dimensionse especially with respect to volume and complexity.


Meeting under sustainable chemistry application as many as possible of the 12 principles of green chemistry with hazard reduction at its core when chemicals are needed to deliver a service or function whenever and wherever this complies with sustainability.


Application of the above-mentioned key characteristics for the whole lifecycle of products, processes, functions and services on all levels, e.g. from molecular to the macroscopic levels and all sectors in a pro-active perspective towards sustainability.


[1] Dialogue Paper by the International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3), Bonn, Germany**
K. Kümmerer, A.-K. Amsel, D. Bartkowiak, A. Bazzanella, C. Blum, C. Cinquemani