Date: Thu, 10 Sep 2009 15:10:32 -0500
Reply-To: Georjean Adams <gla**At_Symbol_Here**EHSSTRATEGIES.COM>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: Georjean Adams <gla**At_Symbol_Here**EHSSTRATEGIES.COM>
Subject: Re: sustainability definition Redux
Comments: To: "Harry J. Elston"
In-Reply-To: <15756915.1252606946764.JavaMail.root**At_Symbol_Here**
Just wanted to confirm that I am reading all these comments and trying to compile them for consideration by the CEI subgroup.  We may well conclude that it will not be possible to define sustainability as an endpoint.  What I am personally more inclined to pursue is a description of what it means to think and act more sustainably.  Just getting people to think about whether there is a less impactful way to accomplish goals may be taking a big step.

In the case of the example from Harry, is it possible to demonstrate the concepts with "green chemistry" or at least "greener" chemistry? (check out resources on Green Chemistry Institute Education website.) As an individual experiment it has low impact, but how many time is it done?  Is there a better way?  Adding the sodium sulfate to the rest of a lab pack (or whatever routine pickup the school has) may be more energy and materials efficient.  The issue is thinking about it and not just doing it because you've always done it that way.

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments!


At 2:22 PM -0400 9/10/09, Harry J. Elston wrote:
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Henry points out (below) what many of us have come to conclude.  However, what happens when a person or a party or corporation decides what they are doing is "sustainable" and someone disagrees with them?
So we all have some sort of warm, fuzzy feeling on what sustainable means.  Let's get down to brass tacks here - the benchtop:
Case in point:
Freshman laboratory experiment performs a simple neutralization reaction - let's say sulfuric acid and sodium bicarbonate, to a pH of 8.0 (a phenolthalein endpoint) resulting in:
1.  Carbon dioxide being released.  (Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, right?)
2.  Sodium sulfate being produced.  The school decides to dispose of this product through a TSDF even though it is both non-hazardous and non-regulated, because, after all, "chemistry lab waste is hazardous."  NB - the sodium sulfate may or may not be in solution - it really does not matter for this discussion.
For whatever reason, the instructor is unwilling to substitute any of the reactants as they want to demonstrate salt formation of neutralization, conservation of mass, stoichiometry, or any number of other things.
I would argue that #1 above is no big deal, though - and rightfully so - some may say that the experiment contributes to a climate problem, be it real or imagined.  (The existance or non-esistance of global warming or its overall impact or non-impact is not germane to this discussion).  However, #2 is a real, economic problem - it creates a manifested hazardous waste where none really existed and disposal costs are skyrocketing.

Is this a "sustainable" reaction?  Why or why not?
-----Original Message-----
From: List Moderator
Sent: Sep 10, 2009 1:40 PM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] sustainability definition
The real definition:

Sustainability is a relationship, or balancing act, 
between factors which are constantly changing. 
Like "family values," everyone agrees that sustainability 
is a good thing, but no one agrees on what exactly it is, 
or even more significantly, how to achieve it and how 
to know when we have achieved it.

Georgia Tech Research Institute

A practical meaning:

The concept of sustainability refers to our ability to operate 
efficiently and productively while minimizing our negative impact 
on the environment. Seeking the best balance between the demands 
of doing business and the need to protect the environment can be challenging. 

Martin Madaus, PhD, Millipore's CEO

Harry J. Elston, Ph.D., CIH
Midwest Chemical Safety, LLC

Editor, Journal of Chemical Health & Safety

"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have" - Thomas Jefferson

EHS Strategies, Inc.
- enabling organizations to meet their EHS vision

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