Chemistry education at Vancouver Island University is about to undergo a green transformation of a kind that only one other university in Canada has done so far.
VIU recently joined the Green Chemistry Commitment, a consortium launched by the non-profit Beyond Benign to design and develop innovative, efficient and environmentally sound chemical products and processes, and to prepare world-class chemists with 21st-century skills. It also aims to create systemic and lasting change in university-level chemistry education and increase the number of green chemists and scientists and the job opportunities available to them.
The second institution in Canada – the first being the University of Toronto – to sign on to the GCC, VIU joins about three dozen universities and colleges in the United States that are part of the consortium.
“This is a big step forward for VIU’s commitment to sustainability,” said Dr. Alexandra Weissfloch, a chemistry professor who spearheaded the university’s application to join the consortium. “It also means our chemistry program is going to be distinctive, not only in B.C., but also in Canada.”
To join, all members of the chemistry department at VIU had to buy into the commitment, which is all about ensuring continuous improvements in waste and hazard reduction, as well as providing green chemistry education to students.
“We are focusing on reducing the amount of waste – both toxic and non-toxic – that our chemistry department uses,” said Weissfloch. “It also means all our faculty members are going to ensure our chemistry students don’t leave VIU without an understanding of toxicology – how chemicals affect human health and the environment – and knowledge of chemicals and chemistry procedures that are less harmful for both.”
Next up, green chemistry and toxicology are being worked into the department’s current degree planning proposal – VIU is building a new Health and Science Centre at the Nanaimo campus, and with the new building, the institution will be able to offer a major in chemistry.
Amy Cannon, executive director of Beyond Benign, said this is another reason why the GCC is excited to get VIU on board.
“It’s particularly exciting since the chemistry department is in the early stages of setting up a chemistry major and using green chemistry as a framework,” says Cannon. “This is essentially how we hope the future of chemistry departments will be structured, around green chemistry, since it is central to the future of sustainability. We believe VIU can serve as a model for other institutions who are also looking to build chemistry major programs centered around green chemistry.”