Paul Anastas -- a scientist, entrepreneur, and elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- was awarded the 2021 Volvo Environment Prize this week.
First awarded in 1990, the prize is given every year to individuals who have made discoveries within the field of environmental sustainability. Three former Volvo laureates gone on to later win the Nobel Prize.
The International Prize Jury recognized Anastas for pioneering “green chemistry,” which is based on designing products and processes that reduce or avoid the production of toxics, pollution, and waste.
“Green chemistry is not about sacrifice,” Anastas said in a statement provided by the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation. “The new products of green chemistry not only perform as well, they almost always perform better than the incumbent technologies. It's because, historically, ourway of converting one chemical into another has been rather brutish and ugly. We heat, beat and treat these substances, often making them more toxic. That increases the risk of them reacting with our bodies and the biosphere.”
Anastas began his career in the government as a staff chemist at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is where he first introduced the term “green chemistry” into the scientific lexicon. He then founded the Green Chemistry Institute at the American Chemical Society before serving as the Assistant Director for the Environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1999 to 2004.
In 2009, he returned to the federal government for another stint at the EPA before resigning in 2012 to return to his position at Yale University. He currently serves as the director of Yale’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.
Anastas has his sights set on using green chemistry to tackle the Earth’s overabundance of carbon dioxide, which is contributing to climate change. “What’s going on now is brilliant green chemistry that converts CO2 to useful materials, such as buildings or bridges. Large quantities of CO2 going into materials is part of shifting the equation,” he said. “It’s one of the great challenges that green chemistry is meeting, and this Prize does not recognize me alone but rather the global community of green chemistry practitioners who are doing fantastic research."
Martin Lundstedt, president of the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation and Volvo Group CEO, emphasized that the award is intended to spur action. “How we tackle the enormous environmental challenges ahead must be guided by science,” he said. “That is the reason for the Volvo Environment Prize's existence. But the Prize doesn't exist just to tell the scientists: good job. It's also here to tell everyone else to listen and to act.”
[Credit for associated image: Volvo Environment Prize Foundation]