What Are Sustainable Chemicals?

What Are Sustainable Chemicals and What Role Does Toxicology Play in Advancing Sustainability?

The 1987 United Nations report Our Common Future, authored by the World Commission on Environment and Development, is generally credited with benchmarking concepts such as sustainability and sustainable development. Simply stated, sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The design and widespread use of sustainable chemicals is critical to health, not just throughout a chemical’s supply chain, but also on a worldwide scale.

Eliminating or substituting a chemical of concern in a product and throughout a supply chain can be an expensive proposition. When faced with a chemical restriction, the least proactive position a company can take is to eliminate a restricted chemical of concern and replace it with a structurally similar chemical that is currently unrestricted, which potentially poses a greater hazard or risk to humans, animals, or the environment (also known as a regrettable substitution).

While processes are still being put into place for basing chemical regulatory decisions on non-animal data, improvements in in vitro and in silico methods serve to strengthen chemical dossiers and facilitate early identification and characterization of adverse effects of industrial chemicals during the product development cycle. Strategies to incorporate the use of non-animal data into informed substitution and new product development can reduce uncertainties in risk assessments while accelerating the introduction of innovative and sustainable products to the market to meet the growing demands by customers and companies throughout the value chain.

As penned by the eminent toxicologist Dr. John Doull in a 2001 review article titled “Toxicology Comes of Age,” “[T]he mandate of toxicology is not to use ‘what if’ predictions to produce media headlines or to stimulate funding to investigate phantom risks, but it is rather to improve public health.” Toxicologists all share a responsibility to realize our profession’s mandate to select sustainable and safer chemical alternatives to reduce the adverse impact of chemicals on human and animal health and the environment.