How Do Chemical Engineers Recognize Earth Day?


It was 40 years ago that U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day as an environmental teach-in. It continues to be celebrated on April 22 in the Northern Hemisphere and in the autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Since 1970, largely due to grassroots efforts, Earth Day has blossomed into a movement to create awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. Earth Day became Earth Week and the Earth Day Network was formed to help create Earth Day organizations worldwide. 2010 is also a special year for Earth Day because the United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. Today there are hundreds of events centered around Earth Day.

I asked our audience of chemical engineers how they were recognizing Earth Day or just to provide a chemical engineering perspective.

Alessandra Carreon, Seattle, Washington:

I think this is a good opportunity for chemical engineers to engage with, interact with or participate in the natural world that occurs outside of our computer screens, refineries or chemical plants and inside settings. I do a lot of work with local parks and forests.

Also, through the Society of Women Engineers, we will be holding an outreach event at a local university in honor of Earth Day this weekend to educate K-12 students on environmental topics and how engineers work with and protect the environment.

Earth Day reminds us we shouldn't just "simulate" the environment or model impacts--we need to experience it to understand how what we do, design, simulate or model as engineers affects it. I always enjoy some time spent outside to enjoy the views of the sound or the mountains (hiking, running, camping).

Elizabeth Horahan, Eastern Pennsylvania:

The community [I live in] held an Earth Day event that local companies and organizations participated in. Some local engineers had set up a demonstration and activity on wind power.

I think energy is a big focus this year. The public has become increasingly aware of the issues around energy and sustainability and are looking to engineers to help solve these issues.

Jonathan Monk, New York

My organization (AIChE) is co-sponsoring this year's EPA National Sustainable Design Expo being held this weekend, April 24-25 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The Expo brings together teams of students that are working on projects that contribute to different aspects of sustainability. This weekend they will compete for EPA grants of $75,000 to commercialize their projects. The Expo will also bring in government organizations, NGOs and for-profit companies, not to mention the general public who is invited to join us this weekend!

This blend of stakeholders will generate stimulating discussion and share different perspectives to increase awareness about the exciting science and technology being developed to tackle today's environmental problems.

Feel free to share your feelings as well by commenting below or completing this form (if you want to be formally quoted).

With respect to energy and sustainability, the American Chemistry Council believes that values engendered by the Earth Day movement are shared by chemical companies. They also point out that many people are unaware of just how closely related environmental sustainability is to the business of chemistry. According to the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry uses energy to save energy. In their Earth Day post, the go on to say:

We are the principal supplier of materials that make the U.S. economy more energy efficient. From insulation materials, roof coatings, lightweight vehicle parts and energy-saving tires; to appliances, light bulbs and materials for wind and solar power, our industry is essential to the nation's efforts to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

They provide some great links on their site, including their Earth Day Fact Sheet, which points out some of the ways the chemical industry supports the environment and sustainability. They also detail a number of energy saving products enabled by chemistry, including those used in the automotive industry, silicon-based solar panels, and many others.

How is AIChE involved in Earth Day?

As mentioned above, AIChE is the Co-Sponsor of the National Sustainable Design Expo. The U.S. Environmental-Protection Agency's (EPA) 2010 National Sustainable Design Expo will be held April 24-25 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. This event gathers engineers, business leaders, scientists, and students all responsible for technologies designed to reduce environmental impact and grow the economy. A highlight of the exposition is P3: People, Prosperity, and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability. P3 student teams will address challenges such as purification and distribution of drinking water, pollution reduction and prevention, green building, alternative energy, and others. Take a look at the 42 P3 Phase 1 teams, many of which include chemical engineering students.

The IfS, AIChE's Institute for Sustainability, has recruited companies of all sizes to exhibit at the Sustainable Design Expo as part of their co-sponsoring efforts. Another goal of the Expo is to provide a diverse forum for businesses, governments, and nonprofits to discuss how they approach sustainability. AIChE's participation, along with exhibiting companies, will dovetail with the EPA's goal of encouraging collaboration and discussion of how participating companies can reduce environmental impact through creative engineering design and raise their public profiles. You can read more about the Sustainable Design Expo in this CEP article.

Are you participating in this event or any other Earth Day event?

Have a great Earth Day and please share your opinions.

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