Environmental injustices have exposed our current system of reliance on polluting and toxic chemicals and chemistries as untenable and one whose risks and burdens are disproportionately borne by those who are disadvantaged. Aiming for effective interventions to create system-wide change, green chemistry and adjacent approaches are powerful leverage points to deeply address environmental injustices by changing the very nature of the molecular (for example, chemical, material, energy) basis of our economy and our society, obviating the need to rely on procedural systems that can either serve to enable progress or reinforce the status quo.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 per month
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$119.00 per year
only $9.92 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Taylor, D. E. Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (New York Univ. Press, 2014).
Bullard, R. D. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality (Routledge, 1994).
Bullard, R. D., Mohai, P., Saha, R. & Wright, B. Toxic wastes and race at twenty: why race still matters after all of these years environmental justice: making it a reality. Environ. Law 38, 371–412 (2008).
Mohai, P., Pellow, D. & Roberts, J. T. Environmental justice. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 34, 405–430 (2009).
Taylor, D. E. The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s–1900s: Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change (Duke Univ. Press, 2009).
Anastas, P. T. & Warner, J. C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice (Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).
Erythropel, H. C. et al. The Green ChemisTREE: 20 years after taking root with the 12 principles. Green Chem. 20, 1929–1961 (2018).
Anastas, P. T. & Zimmerman, J. B. Design through the 12 principles of green engineering. Environ. Sci. Technol. 37, 94A–101A (2003).
Zimmerman, J. B., Anastas, P. T., Erythropel, H. C. & Leitner, W. Designing for a green chemistry future. Science 367, 397–400 (2020).
Delegates of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. The Principles of Environmental Justice. First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit (United Christ of Church, New York, 1991).
Commission for Racial Justice. Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States: A National Report on the Racial and Socio-Economic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites (United Christ of Church, New York, 1987).
Bullard, R. D. Solid waste sites and the black Houston community. Sociol. Inq. 53, 273–288 (1983).
Anastas, P. T. & Zimmerman, J. B. The molecular basis of sustainability. Chem 1, 10–12 (2016).
Newman, M. K. et al. New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism (Rutgers Univ. Press, 2004).
Pellow, D. Toward a critical environmental justice studies: black lives matter as an environmental justice challenge. Du Bois Rev. 13, 221–236 (2016).
Al-Kohlani, S. A. & Campbell, H. E. Extending environmental justice research to religious minorities. Rev. Policy Res. 39, 90–112 (2022).
Dombey, M. How governments are systematically poisoning indigenous communities and the U.N.’s role. Univ. Miami Int. Comp. Law Rev. Environ. Racism 27, 131–154 (2020).
Jacobs, B. Environmental Racism on Indigenous Lands and Territories (Canadian Political Science Association, 2010).
Goldsmith, L. & Bell, M. L. Queering environmental justice: unequal environmental health burden on the LGBTQ+ Community. Am. J. Public Health 112, 79–87 (2021).
Pellow, D. & Vazin, J. The intersection of race, immigration status, and environmental justice. Sustainability 11, 3942 (2019).
Rockström, J. et al. Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecol. Soc. 14, 32 (2009).
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis (Island Press, 2005).
Raworth, K. A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can We Live Within the Doughnut? Discussion Paper (Oxfam International, 2012).
Taylor, D. E. The rise of the environmental justice paradigm: injustice framing and the social construction of environmental discourses. Am. Behav. Sci. 43, 508–580 (2000).
The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice (Routledge, 2018).
Anastas, P. T. & Zimmerman, J. B. The periodic table of the elements of green and sustainable chemistry. Green Chem. 21, 6545–6566 (2019).
Anastas, P. T. & Zimmerman, J. B. The United Nations sustainability goals: how can sustainable chemistry contribute? Curr. Opin. Green Sustain. Chem. 13, 150–153 (2018).
Keijer, T., Bakker, V. & Slootweg, J. C. Circular chemistry to enable a circular economy. Nat. Chem. 11, 190–195 (2019).
Kümmerer, K., Clark, J. H. & Zuin, V. G. Rethinking chemistry for a circular economy. Science 367, 369–370 (2020).
Rittel, H. W. J. & Webber, M. M. Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sci. 4, 155–169 (1973).
Ritchey, T. in Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision Support Modelling with Morphological Analysis (ed. Ritchey, T.) 19–29 (Springer, 2011).
Meadows, D. H. in Thinking in Systems Ch. 6 (ed. Wright, D.) 145–165 (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008).
Abson, D. J. et al. Leverage points for sustainability transformation. Ambio 46, 30–39 (2017).
Aubrecht, K. B., Bourgeois, M., Brush, E. J., MacKellar, J. & Wissinger, J. E. Integrating green chemistry in the curriculum: building student skills in systems thinking, safety, and sustainability. J. Chem. Educ. 96, 2872–2880 (2019).
Lasker, G. A. & Brush, E. J. Integrating social and environmental justice into the chemistry classroom: a chemist’s toolbox. Green Chem. Lett. Rev. 12, 168–177 (2019).
Lasker, G. A., Mellor, K. E., Mullins, M. L., Nesmith, S. M. & Simcox, N. J. Social and environmental justice in the chemistry classroom. J. Chem. Educ. 94, 983–987 (2017).
Matlin, S. A., Mehta, G., Hopf, H. & Krief, A. One-world chemistry and systems thinking. Nat. Chem. 8, 393–398 (2016).
Kümmerer, K. Sustainable chemistry: a future guiding principle. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 56, 16420–16421 (2017).
Mahaffy, P. G., Matlin, S. A., Holme, T. A. & MacKellar, J. Systems thinking for education about the molecular basis of sustainability. Nat. Sustain. 2, 362–370 (2019).
Mahaffy, P. G., Ho, F. M., Haack, J. A. & Brush, E. J. Can chemistry be a central science without systems thinking? J. Chem. Educ. 96, 2679–2681 (2019).
Matlin, S. A., Krief, A., Hopf, H. & Mehta, G. Re-imagining priorities for chemistry: a central science for ‘freedom from fear and want’. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 60, 25610–25623 (2021).
Holifield, R., Porter, M. & Walker, G. Spaces of environmental justice: frameworks for critical engagement. Antipode 41, 591–612 (2009).
Walker, G. Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics (Routledge, 2012).
Pasgaard, M. & Dawson, N. Looking beyond justice as universal basic needs is essential to progress towards ‘safe and just operating spaces’. Earth Syst. Gov. 2, 100030 (2019).
Orum, P., Moore, R., Roberts, M. & Sanchez, J. Who’s In Danger? Race, Poverty and Chemical Disasters: A Demographic Analysis of Chemical Disaster Vulnerability Zones (Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, 2014).
Lerner, S. Sacrifice Zones: the Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States (MIT Press, 2010).
Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation With Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities (US Government Accountability Office, 1983).
Banzhaf, H. S., Ma, L. & Timmins, C. Environmental justice: establishing causal relationships. Annu. Rev. Resour. Econ. 11, 377–398 (2019).
Mohai, P. & Saha, R. Which came first, people or pollution? Assessing the disparate siting and post-siting demographic change hypotheses of environmental injustice. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 115008 (2015).
James, W., Jia, C. & Kedia, S. Uneven magnitude of disparities in cancer risks from air toxics. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 9, 4365–4385 (2012).
Johnston, J. & Cushing, L. Chemical exposures, health, and environmental justice in communities living on the fenceline of industry. Curr. Environ. Health Rep. 7, 48–57 (2020).
Wright, B. H., Bryant, P. & Bullard, R. D. in Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color (ed. Bullard, R. D.) 110–129 (Sierra Club Books, 1994).
Terrell, K. A. & St Julien, G. Air pollution is linked to higher cancer rates among black or impoverished communities in Louisiana. Environ. Res. Lett. 17, 14033 (2022).
Landrigan, P. J., Rauh, V. A. & Galvez, M. P. Environmental justice and the health of children. Mt Sinai J. Med. 77, 178–187 (2010).
Banzhaf, S., Ma, L. & Timmins, C. Environmental justice: the economics of race, place, and pollution. J. Econ. Perspect. 33, 185–208 (2019).
Elliott, M. R., Wang, Y., Lowe, R. A. & Kleindorfer, P. R. Environmental justice: frequency and severity of US chemical industry accidents and the socioeconomic status of surrounding communities. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 4, 24–30 (2004).
Friedman-Jiménez, G. Achieving environmental justice: the role of occupational health. Fordham Urban Law J. 21, 605–632 (1994).
Office of Emergency Management & Office of Land and Emergency Management. Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act, Section 112(r)(7) (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2017); https://www.regulations.gov/document/EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0734
Chemical Releases Caused By Natural Hazard Events and Disasters - Information for Public Health Authorities (WHO, 2018).
Jafry, T., Helwig, K. & Mikulewicz, M. The Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice (Routledge, 2019).
Wright, B. H. in Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards (eds Bryant, B. & Mohai, P.) 114–125 (Routledge, 1992).
Calvert, G. M. et al. Acute pesticide poisoning among agricultural workers in the United States, 1998–2005. Am. J. Ind. Med. 51, 883–898 (2008).
Moyce, S. C. & Schenker, M. Migrant workers and their occupational health and safety. Annu. Rev. Public Health 39, 351–365 (2018).
Castillo, F. et al. Environmental health threats to Latino migrant farmworkers. Annu. Rev. Public Health 42, 257–276 (2021).
Occupational Exposures in Petroleum Refining; Crude Oil and Major Petroleum Fuels (IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, 1989); https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531272/
Minority and Female Employment in the Oil & Gas and Petrochemical Industries (IHS Global, 2014).
Bertazzi, P. A., Pesatori, A. C., Zocchetti, C. & Latocca, R. Mortality study of cancer risk among oil refinery workers. Int. Arch. Occup. Environ. Health 61, 261–270 (1989).
Xin, F., Susiarjo, M. & Bartolomei, M. S. Multigenerational and transgenerational effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals: a role for altered epigenetic regulation? Semin. Cell Dev. Biol. 43, 66–75 (2015).
Rothstein, M. A., Harrell, H. L. & Marchant, G. E. Transgenerational epigenetics and environmental justice. Environ. Epigenet. 3, dvx011 (2017).
Lane, M. K. M. et al. What to expect when expecting in lab: a review of unique risks and resources for pregnant researchers in the chemical laboratory. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 35, 163–198 (2022).
Martin, E. M. & Fry, R. C. Environmental influences on the epigenome: exposure- associated DNA methylation in human populations. Annu. Rev. Public Health 39, 309–333 (2018).
Reichert, A. K. Impact of a toxic waste superfund site on property values. Appraisal J. LXV, 381–392 (1997).
Currie, J., Davis, L., Greenstone, M. & Walker, R. Environmental health risks and housing values: evidence from 1,600 toxic plant openings and closings. Am. Econ. Rev. 105, 678–709 (2015).
Messer, K. D., Schulze, W. D., Hackett, K. F., Cameron, T. A. & Mcclelland, G. H. Can stigma explain large property value losses? The psychology and economics of Superfund. Environ. Resour. Econ. 33, 299–324 (2006).
Boehm, T. P. & Schlottmann, A. M. Housing and Wealth Accumulation: Intergenerational Impacts (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 2001).
Anguelovski, I. in Neighborhood as Refuge: Community Reconstruction, Place Remaking, and Environmental Justice in the City (ed. Gottlieb, R.) 29–54 (MIT Press, 2014).
LaDuke, W. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (South End Press, 1999).
Lewis, J., Hoover, J. & MacKenzie, D. Mining and environmental health disparities in native american communities. Curr. Environ. Health Rep. 4, 130–141 (2017).
Leonard, L. G. III Sovereignty, self-determination, and environmental justice in the Mescalero Apache’s decision to store nuclear waste. Boston Coll. Environ. Aff. Law Rev. 24, 651–693 (1996).
Martinez-Alier, J. Mapping ecological distribution conflicts: the EJAtlas. Extr. Ind. Soc. 8, 100883 (2021).
Castleman, B. The export of hazardous industries in 2015. Environ. Health 15, 8 (2016).
Bogdal, C. & Scheringer, M. Climate Change and POPs: Predicting the Impacts (UNEP/AMAP, 2011).
Pellow, D. N. Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice (MIT Press, 2007).
Friedman, R. S. et al. How just and just how? A systematic review of social equity in conservation research. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 53001 (2018).
McDermott, M., Mahanty, S. & Schreckenberg, K. Examining equity: a multidimensional framework for assessing equity in payments for ecosystem services. Environ. Sci. Policy 33, 416–427 (2013).
Pascual, U., Muradian, R., Rodríguez, L. C. & Duraiappah, A. Exploring the links between equity and efficiency in payments for environmental services: a conceptual approach. Ecol. Econ. 69, 1237–1244 (2010).
Schulte, P. A. et al. Occupational safety and health, green chemistry, and sustainability: a review of areas of convergence. Environ. Health 12, 31 (2013).
Anastas, P. T. & Hammond, D. G. Inherent Safety at Chemical Sites: Reducing Vulnerability to Accidents and Terrorism Through Green Chemistry (Elsevier, 2015).
Krings, A. & Thomas, H. in The Routledge Handbook of Green Social Work Ch. 32 (ed. Dominelli, L.) (Routledge, 2018).
Zimmerman, J. B. & Anastas, P. T. When is waste not a waste? Sustain. Sci. Eng. 1, 201–221 (2006).
Boodhoo, K. & Harvey, A. Process Intensification Technologies for Green Chemistry: Engineering Solutions for Sustainable Chemical Processing (Wiley, 2013).
Costanza, R. et al. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387, 253–260 (1997).
Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Panel, 2005); https://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.356.aspx.pdf
Mihelcic, J. R. et al. Sustainability science and engineering: the emergence of a new metadiscipline. Environ. Sci. Technol. 37, 5314–5324 (2003).
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Justice Timeline. EPA (accessed 9 Jan 2023); https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/environmental-justice-timeline
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information
Nature Sustainability thanks Jennifer Burney, Grace A. Lasker and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.
About this article
Cite this article
Lane, M.K.M., Rudel, H.E., Wilson, J.A. et al. Green chemistry as just chemistry. Nat Sustain (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-01050-z