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Can Green Chemistry Create Jobs?

IStock_000009526445SmallGreen chemistry can protect our health and stimulate our economy .

About 4.2 million jobs in the U.S. are directly or indirectly linked to chemical production. While industrial chemicals are an important part of our economy, over reliance on petrochemicals creates pollution, waste and adverse effects on public health. A growing sector of the chemical industry is using greener chemistry to reduce these risks, while making quality, effective products.

A recent report by the Blue Green Alliance and the Political Economy Research Institute highlights the promise of green chemistry for creating jobs while protecting health and the environment. A small sector of the plastics industry, which currently largely depends on petrochemicals, is moving to bio-based feedstock.

The report estimates that if 20% of plastic production shifted from petrochemical-based to bio-based inputs, 104,000 additional jobs would be created in the U.S. This shift will also increase the global competitiveness of the U.S. and help meet worldwide consumer demand for safer products.

Another recent report by the Brookings Institution, “Sizing the Green Economy,” notes that “cleantech” jobs have led the nation in job gains during the recession. The biggest shares of green jobs are in manufacturing, including green chemical products, and export, which includes biofuels and green chemicals. Minnesota’s estimated share of green jobs in 2010 was 37,750 of 2.7 million jobs across the U.S.

The Blue Green Alliance report notes that reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to strengthen regulation of chemicals will put the U.S. on par with Europe and other countries which have taken steps to control industrial chemicals. TSCA currently does not require companies to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals used in consumer products, so companies keep using the same chemicals, rather than using green chemistry to design new safer chemicals. A stronger TSCA will create incentives for innovation. The report notes “the shift towards alternative approaches to chemical manufacturing will reduce toxic releases, lower health risks, decrease reliance on non-renewable resources, and improve our quality of life without compromising economic performance.”

Minnesota businesses, NGOs and representatives from government and academia are working together through the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum to position Minnesota to take advantage of opportunities in green chemistry.




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