Course 02 ACM

Chemistry and Sustainability


Instructor: Terrence J. Collins


Welcome to Chemistry and Sustainability. In this course, you will explore sustainability ethics and the development of green chemistry as a practical expression of the pursuit of building a sustainable civilization. We will focus on hazards to health and the environment that help to reveal green chemistry’s most daunting challenges, and will develop the skills necessary for articulating the causes and consequences of pollution. Some of the outstanding research and inventions that green chemists have achieved will also be featured.

Course Aims

We hope that after completing this course you will be able to:

  • Explain how the decisions of people who control the chemical enterprise often have moved and continue to move human civilization away from a sustainable future, and how that trend can be reversed.
  • Develop a point of view on how the decisions of people who control the chemical enterprise movie or civilization away from or toward a sustainable future.
  • Articulate a personal appraisal of the role of the university in advancing the chemical dimension of sustainability.
  • Define "green chemistry" and place its birth and expansion in an historical context.
  • Explain green chemistry's major challenges and postulate what it will take to solve these in both the technical and cultural dimensions.
  • Explain the science of specific persistent and/or bioaccumulative pollutants and be able to think creatively about reducing or eliminating them.
  • Give accounts of the long-term history of certain pollutants and their impacts on human health.
  • Explain to any and all what endocrine disruptors are and why these represent major health and environmental hazards.
  • Discuss the chlorine industry and its products where there are clearly established needs for green alternatives and explain how and why organochlorine pollution has on unchecked and how the future might be improved.
  • Consider the principles of The Natural Step (TNS) and the approach of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) for promoting interdisciplinary, trans-sectoral, cross-cultural communication or sustainability challenges.
  • Reflect philosophically to an audience on those motives and forces that underlie our adoption and commitment to technologies that are obviously harmful to health and the environment and think creatively about how to lead the society away from these to achieve a more sustainable future.


Lesson InstructorLesson Title
1 Terry Collins,
Carnegie Mellon University
A New Ending
   M1: The Sustainability Crisis
   M2: Building a Great Sustainability University
2 Terry Collins,
Carnegie Mellon University
A Compass for Sustainability
   M1: Towards Sustainability
   M2: Sustainability Determinants
   M3: The Natural Step (TNS)
   M4: The Compass
3 Terry Collins,
Carnegie Mellon University
Sustainability Ethics
   M1: Science and Sustainability
   M2: The Altered Nature of Human Action
   M3: New Dimensions of Responsibilty
   M4: The New Imperative
   M5: Future Oriented Ethics
4 Terry Collins,
Carnegie Mellon University
Sustainable Energy
5 Terry Collins,
Carnegie Mellon University
Green Chemistry Defined
6 Terry Collins,
Carnegie Mellon University
Green Chemistry Bookcase

Check the Table of Contents for quick links to all lessons in this course.


Assignments principally ask students to read classic sustainability writings and show comprehension through essay writing or quizzes.

  • Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984
  • Deceit and Denial, The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, Univ. California Press, 2002.
  • Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? - A Scientific Detective Story, Theo Colburn, Dianne Dumanoski, John Peterson Myers, Plume, New York, 1996.
  • Vandenberg LN, Colburn T, Hayes TB, Heindel JJ, Jacobs DR, Lee D-H, et al. 2012. Hormones and endocrine disrupting chemicals: low dose effects and non-monotonic dose responses. Endocr Rev; doi:10.1210/er.2011-1050, and material from
  • Others as noted

Other Significant Readings

We will be using and referring to many books for this course. Here is a sample:

Green Chemistry and Sustainability

  • Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice by Paul T. Anastas and John C. Warner, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.
  • Collins, T.J., ‘Green Chemistry’, Macmillan Encyclopedia of Chemistry, Volume 2, Simon and Schuster Macmillan, New York, 1997, pp. 691-697—downloadable in special panel at
  • Collins, T.J. “Toward Sustainable Chemistry” Science, 2001, 291, 48-49: DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5501.48

Sustainability Ethics

  • David W. Orr, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, Island Press, Washington, DC, 1994.
  • Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994.
  • Silent Spring Revisited Gino J. Marco, Robert M. Hollingworth, William Durham, Eds.; ACS: Washington DC, 1987
  • Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, Haughton, Mifflin, Harcourt, Boston, 1962.

Endocrine Disruption

  • Endocrine Disruption: biological bases for health effects in wildlife and humans, David O. Norris and James A. Carr, Eds; Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006

Chlorine Industry Problems

  • Joe Thornton, Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000.
  • The Many Faces of Chlorine. Point–Counterpoint Debate in Chemistry and Engineering News, Terrence J. Collins, C. (Kip) T. Howlett, Chemistry and Engineering News, October 18 issue, 2004, 40-45—


  • Casarett and Doull’s Toxicology: the basic science of poisons, 6th Edn. Curtis D. Klassen, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2001 The biological chemistry of lead, Hilary Arnold Godwin, Current Opinions in Chemical Biology, 2001, 5, 223-227
  • Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World: 101 Smart Solutions for Every Family, Philip J. Landigran, Herbert Needleman, Mary M. Landrigan, Rodale Organic Style Book, Emmaus, PA, 2001

Proper Practice in this Course

This course is provided for students at no expense and has no formal assignments or evaluation process. Students can proceed at their pace and to the limits of their interest. Lessons and modules have quizzes for self-assessment only. Even if you are studying this content as part of an extended curriculum or for credit education, you are encouraged to discuss your work with your peers and to seek help from others in understanding the exercises and course material.

If you are taking this course for credit through a college, university, corporation or other organization, you should work out any questions you have about other course requirements with your professor or learning institution.