Courtesy of Paul Anastas

In an award ceremony held in Lisbon, Portugal, Yale professor Paul Anastas received the prestigious August Wilhelm von Hofmann Commemorative Medal for his work in sustainable chemical product development. Broadly known as the “Father of Green Chemistry,” Anastas is a professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment at Yale. 

The medal — established in 1902 by the German Chemical Society — is awarded every two years to foreign chemists, or to German citizens who are not chemists but achieve outstanding advancements in chemistry. On Sept. 1, the prize was co-awarded to Anastas and the Zymergen Corporation’s John Warner for their joint work in establishing the field of green chemistry.

 “There’s a worldwide community of people who are taking actions to advance green chemistry,” Anastas said. “So in very, very real terms, this award belongs to them every bit as much as it belongs to me. I’m happy to be part of this community and part of this award, but I really do think that the award is for everybody across the world who is doing things to advance green chemistry.”

Green chemistry emerged in the 1990s as a method of finding sustainable solutions to human effects on the environment, designing products and processes that reduce the use and production of environmentally hazardous chemicals. Anastas has engaged with a wide range of projects throughout his career, including making fuels from bio-based renewables, splitting water and seawater and generating hydrogen in order to store energy for renewable energy use.

He has also focused on replacing single-use everyday materials — everything from plastics to packaging to ingredients in our products — with more sustainable, bio-based materials. Green chemistry centers on rethinking chemistry and chemical engineering in a way that benefits the economy, people and the environment without the use of hazardous substances.

Everything that you can imagine comes back to this idea of green chemical design,” Anastas said.

As a professor in the practice of chemistry in the environment, Anastas is jointly appointed in the School of the Environment, Department of Chemistry and Department of Chemical Engineering.

Dean of the Yale School of the Environment Indy Burke told the News that Anastas’ desire to develop green chemistry was sparked when he was a PhD student in chemistry in the 1980s.

At the time, Anastas could not understand why chemists — “the people who design, discover, and invent new chemical products and processes” — were not being considered when it came to environmental protection, according to Burke.

“He sought to change that by founding the field of green chemistry,” Burke wrote in an email to the News. “It is a remarkable achievement to affect an entire industry and in doing so to make such strides in the protection of the environment and human health.”

Anastas is dedicated to making information about green chemistry more accessible to students and scientists globally, especially in developing nations, Burke wrote.

Recently, the University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, directed by Anastas, received a $12.4 million grant from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization to increase green chemistry awareness and capacity building in six developing nations across the globe. 

“Paul’s work both in government offices and research laboratories has helped show the world that Chemistry is central to a sustainable future,” Warner, who was co-awarded the Medal, wrote in an email to the News.

 Ultimately, Anastas’ goal is to make the term “green chemistry” redundant, because it will become “simply the way that we do things.”

Outside of his work, Anastas said he enjoys spending time with his two daughters and wife, Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering Julie Zimmerman. Anastas also likes kayaking, woodworking and writing songs.

Anastas and Warner developed a framework known as the “12 Principles of Green Chemistry,” which is widely used in sustainability programs worldwide.