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I have been trying hard not to complain every day about the terribly sloppy use of the term “sustainability,” but I could not pass this one by. GreenerDesign carries a story today headlined, “New Tool Assesses Chemical Sustainability.” It’s hard to find a poorer use of the word. Just what can chemical sustainability be?

The tool generates a sustainability-based score, based on metrics taken from the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, including health and environmental impact of raw materials and products, energy use, waste generation, safety of processes and more.

At best, a tool like this can only point to the relative merits of one chemical versus another in some application. There is nothing wrong or bad about this. The use of this tool should lead to decisions that are better for the environment than choices made blindly. But better does not have anything to do with sustainability. Sustainability rests on much more than incremental decisions. All that can be said of this system is that is produces decisions that produce less unsustainability than others. If the companies that have supported the development of this tool really care about sustainability, they should stop using the word in such a misleading manner.

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