Rhodes University becomes first SA university to join Green Chemistry Commitment programme

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Green Chemistry champions: Professors Rosalyn Klein and Rui Krause.
Green Chemistry champions: Professors Rosalyn Klein and Rui Krause.

Rhodes University’s Chemistry Department has made history by being the first department in any South African university to join the Green Chemistry Commitment programme. In signing this commitment, Rhodes University is joining over 70 signers from 11 other nations (including Kenya and Nigeria) in a commitment to educating the next generation of chemists in Green chemistry. Green chemistry (GC) is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce and/or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. This approach requires an open and interdisciplinary view of material and product design, applying the principle that it is better to consider waste and hazard prevention options during the design and development phase, rather than disposing, treating and handling waste and hazardous chemicals after a process or material has been developed.

As a signatory of the Green Chemistry Commitment, Rhodes University’s Chemistry Department agrees to work towards adopting the Student Learning Objectives in its own unique way. Rhodes University Head of Chemistry, Associate Professor Rosalyn Klein said the Green Chemistry Student Learning Objectives are at the core of the Green Chemistry Commitment.

Professor Klein said the learning objectives focus on the 12 principles of GC, toxicology, practical application in laboratories, and practical application/engagement beyond the curriculum. “When I heard about this commitment, through the announcement by the University of Bath, I joined one of the Beyond Benign discussion groups, and I found that we are already doing so many of the things that are aligned with this commitment. We already have green chemistry principles embedded in our undergraduate programme; we already have aspects of our practical programme infused with Green chemistry; and we already have Green chemistry education as part of our community engagement activities,” said Professor Klein.

By signing this commitment Rhodes University’s Chemistry Department has committed to an ongoing programme of improving its curriculum with respect to the learning outcomes, and has committed to reviewing its course offering in stages over the next three years. This is to ensure that the department is more conservative in its waste production, water use (although the University already works very hard at this, given the current restrictions on water use), and to incorporate the 12 principles into more aspects of the curriculum.

“One of the things that is so exciting for me is that this is a perspective rather than a curriculum, and so we can commit to this approach at the same time as reviewing our curriculum for the purposes of Rhodes University's commitment to transformation and implementing the Institutional Development Plan. We are preparing our graduates to contribute to sustainable industrial development both locally and globally by teaching them how to do so with the cleanest footprint. I really believe that we are stewards of this earth - and this is one of the ways in which we can do that. I am really proud to do this with my department,” Professor Klein concluded.