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Understanding the nuances between green chemistry and sustainability

Understanding the nuances between green chemistry and sustainability

As businesses look to improve their sustainability, the sector in which they operate defines how they vary their approach. One of these nuances is green chemistry – a sustainability initiative in chemical, pharma, science and other related industries.

Green chemistry involves adapting chemical processes and products to reduce or eliminate the creation or use of hazardous substances. Its goal is to tackle unsustainable practices in pharma and other sectors at source, rather than trying to clean up the results. The concept is based on 12 broad principles.

Previously, Relative Insight has examined general sustainability in great detail, as well as what ESG reports tell us about companies’ actions. However, business sustainability solutions are industry specific. This requires granular analysis of different aspects of sustainability, like green chemistry.

Relative Insight’s analysis of online conversations differentiated between the use of this sector-specific concept versus sustainability generally. The research extracted insights from over 600,000 words in a little over 20 minutes – quantifying the nuances between two similar types of discussion using the relative difference metric.

For example, the growth of green chemistry within pharma, chemicals and other sectors is highlighted by people talking about it as a career option and research area. Discussions were 3.4x more likely to reference ‘education’ when compared with sustainability in general, as well as using the word ‘research’ 5.5x more.

Results show that it pays off doing research in green chemistry.

If you’re looking to quantify the differences between audience discussions on related subjects, book a discovery call with one of our experts now. To understand further variations in sector-specific aspects of sustainability, read on…

While this aspect of sustainability is associated with the pharma and chemicals sectors, online discussions highlighted just how many industries need to contribute to successful initiatives.

People were 5.4x more likely to talk about ‘engineering’ and mentioned words relating to ‘manufacturing’, such as ‘materials’ and ‘processing’, 2.3x more. They were also 4.4x more likely to reference metals, including ‘zinc’, ‘steel’ and ‘copper’.

These related sectors and materials often appeared alongside ‘green chemistry’ as part of lists describing growing industries – signifying that green chemistry is part of an overall sustainability solution.

Future economy will be more demanding: AI, robotics, green chemistry, synthetic biology, complexity science, and high-end engineering is the next wave.

Within the context of sustainability, the word ‘clean’ is often associated with energy. However, this study found that the word overindexed 3.2x more in green chemistry discussions. Instead of clean energy, people used the phrase ‘clean science’ infinitely more, indicating there are a range of synonyms for the concept.

Interestingly, people discussing this element of sustainability were 2.3x more likely to use the phrase ‘eco-friendly’. This suggests that the phrase is transitioning from a catch-all term to something used around specific actions to improve sustainability.

Green chemistry is amazingly awesome in achieving an eco-friendly synthesis of chemical materials and has unique applications in many areas of science and technology.

Money downplayed; appears 7.2x less

Two areas of the sustainability debate underindexed in green chemistry discussions – and they’re hugely important.

The first is money. General conversations about sustainability referenced financial matters 7.2x more overall. This incorporated a range of topics, including ‘finance’ (10.4x), ‘money’ (4.5x), ‘debt’ (5.7x), ‘investment’ (2.6x) and ‘taxes’ (11.7x). The phrases ‘economic sustainability’ and ‘financial sustainability’ were also infinitely more likely to appear in these conversations.

Green finance and #sustainability frameworks within organizations and companies mean that they are driven towards more sustainability focused achievements and goals, while incorporating green finance into their structure.

While the specific nature of green chemistry discussions makes it unsurprising that financial elements underindex when compared to sustainability in general, the degree to which it is less likely to appear suggests that greater consideration must be given to economics in this area of sustainability.

This also applies the challenges associated with it. The topic of ‘difficulty’ appeared 1.9x more in conversations around general sustainability, including words such as ‘problem’, ‘hard’, ‘challenges’ and ‘difficult’.

One of the main sustainability issues in beauty is that it’s hard to retrain the consumer behavior from ‘buy, use, throw away’.

If it was easy for pharma, chemicals and other businesses to immediately apply the principles of green chemistry, they would’ve already done so. The comparative lack of discussion around the application of these tenets could highlight a lack of consideration surrounding the practical steps required to put them into practice.

Using baselines within text analysis to gain understanding

To inform this study, Relative Insight gathered online conversations relating to ‘sustainability’ in general as a baseline. This offered a point of comparison to quantify the nuances in conversations specific to green chemistry – putting these discussions into context.

The discourse in this aspect of sustainability is aspirational, but also theoretical. It incorporates potential educational, research and employment opportunities, the sectors at the forefront of change, and offers descriptions of what this aspect of sustainability could achieve.

However, discussions do not focus on the nitty gritty, practical elements of adopting green chemistry. Finance and challenges of implementation underindex in these conversations. Businesses looking to stand out within this space should talk about the difficult subjects of funding and implementation – offering real-life solutions to showcase what is achievable.

Do you need to understand the nuances in conversations on a certain topic or industry? Speak to one of our experts to see how Relative Insight’s text analytics software quantifies the subtle differences in how people speak.

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