Chemists for Sustainability: A group promoting the chemical sciences for
Sustainable development is one of the overarching global challenges of the 21st century.
In 2015, governments agreed at the United Nations on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) to be achieved by 2030.
Chemists for Sustainability (C4S) was formed as an Action Group in 2014 by an international
group of chemists who believe that chemistry and related sciences have indispensable roles to
play in helping the world to achieve the SDGs. There are currently four core members in the
group, with others co-opted as required to bring additional perspectives to the work. The core group
comprises Henning Hopf, Alain Krief, Stephen Matlin and Goverdhan Mehta.
The group has served advocacy and think-tank roles through written articles, lectures at various
fora and web materials. It holds brainstorming meets about twice a year alternately in India and
Europe, interacting in between by teleconference and email, to maintain a high momentum and deliver
topical products via diverse international platforms.
The following is an overview of C4S products. A complete list can be downloaded
Chemistry and Human Security
The C4S group provides the first-ever framing of the role of chemistry in human security, which is defined by the UN as “freedom from want and fear and freedom to live in dignity”. Human security includes seven main dimensions that are mutually interdependent: health security, food security, environmental security, economic security, personal security, community security and political security. The concept incorporates the SDGs and Planetary Boundaries frameworks and the ‘one-health’ principle which affirms the fundamental interconnectedness among the health of people, animals and the environment.
Chemistry’s roles in resilience (the capacity to withstand shock without permanent deformation or rupture, or to tend to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change) are explored for the first time. The roles are framed by chemistry’s contributions to the sustainability of people and planet, examined via the human security framework’s four material aspects of food, health, economic and environmental security. As the science of transformation of matter, chemistry is deeply involved in these material aspects and in their interfacing with human security’s three societal and governance aspects of personal, community and political security. Ultimately, strengthening resilience requires making choices about the present use of resources as a hedge against future hazards and adverse events, with these choices being co-determined by technical capacities and social and political will.
Repositioning chemistry for the 21st century
The C4S group argues that chemistry as a discipline needs redesign and reform, in order to
ensure that it is attractive and productive as a science and relevant to solving 21st
The C4S group discusses how chemistry's contributions are vital to helping achieve the UN
Sustainable Development Goals and, more broadly, to moving towards a pathway of sustainability for
the planet. As the science that focuses on the analysis, synthesis and transformations of matter,
chemistry is concerned with the material basis of the world, including its environment, society and
economy. It has a critical role to play in providing the molecular basis of sustainability.
The C4S group has called for the concept of waste to be replaced by one in which all material
is regarded as ‘post-trash’ – i.e. matter that is managed to be available for
potential further use – in order to prevent the pollution of the planet's environment and the
depletion of its useable stocks of resources.
The C4S group presents the concept of one-world chemistry (OWC) as a new
orientation for the discipline. OWC emphasises the need for chemistry to be a science for the
benefit of society, embracing the understanding that human health, animal health and the environment
are all interconnected. Acting on the consequences requires ethical behaviour at all times, the
employment of systems thinking in relation to all aspects of the practice of chemistry, and
strengthening the capacity of chemistry for cross-disciplinary working.
The reforms in chemistry, including the OWC approach, advocated by the C4S group call for the
adoption of systems thinking by chemistry. In collaboration with Peter Mahaffy (The
Kings University, Edmonton, Canada), the group sets out the case for chemistry education to adopt
systems thinking and points to pathways through which this can be achieved.
IOCD supported and participated in a project on Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education
(STICE) of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Members of the STICE project
group, including Peter Mahaffy and Stephen Matlin (who served as co-chairs), published
a paper in Nature Sustainability which discusses the potential roles and approaches
that chemistry education can follow and introduces a new visualization tool, the systems-oriented
concept map extension (SOCME) to illustrate systems thinking in chemistry. Further publications,
including in the Journal of Chemical Education, address the value and implementation
of systems thinking in chemistry education.
S.A. Matlin, P.G. Mahaffy. Systems thinking, green chemistry and the molecular basis of
sustainability. Paper presented at the 4th Green and Sustainable Chemistry
Conference, Dresden 6 May 2019. International Organization for Chemical Sciences in
Development, Namur, May 2019. Presentation;
The C4S group argues that chemistry organizations must play a leading, pro-active role in the
repositioning of chemistry that is required in the 21st century. This necessitates
reforms in both national (e.g. chemistry societies) and international (e.g. IUPAC) bodies that
represent the interests of the discipline and the profession.
The C4S group discusses the need for new champions of chemistry to step forward to help drive
the reforms that are need in the discipline.
S.A. Matlin, G. Mehta, H. Hopf, A. Krief. Championing
chemistry. Chemical and Engineering News 2017, 95(6) 20-21.
In the ‘post-truth’ era, the C4S group emphasises the importance of chemists and
other scientists vigorously promoting ‘scientific temper’ (the adoption of the culture
of science, in and beyond the field itself, as a way of life that rejects anti-science thinking)
Chemistry has made central contributions to improving health, wellbeing and life expectancy
– but even more is needed now. The C4S group identifies a number of disconnections
that are preventing the optimal contributions that can be made and suggests systemic approaches
to developing solutions.
S.A. Matlin. The changing landscape of health innovation networks to foster research and
development. Paper presented at the 2019 World Conference on Access to Medical
Products - Achieving the SDGs 2030. 19-21 November 2019, New Delhi, India.
The C4S group analyses the system of scientific publishing, with emphasis on a perspective
from the chemical sciences, and identifies a deep crisis that is unfolding, driven by the
conjunction of sub-systems that connect the primary purpose of scientific advancement with financial
and reputational rewards. It argues that piecemeal solutions are unlikely to be effective or
sustainable and the time is ripe for the stakeholders in science publishing to seek new, systemic
approaches that comprehensively address the fundamental flaws. The outlines of an action plan for
the science community to generate such a process are suggested.
The growing problem of fake science and its interface with fake news more broadly is presenting
major challenges for scientists, the public and policy makers. It affects the credibility and
standing of science and the capacities of all individuals to make evidence-informed choices. The
C4S group discuss the problem and a possible pathway towards solutions. The dangers of hype
and hypocrisy as first steps down the slippery slope towards falsification and fakery in science are
A review written for the 2011 International Year of Chemistry by IOCD scientists Stephen Matlin and
Berhanu Abegaz (Ethiopia) highlights achievements of the chemical sciences during more than
two centuries of advancing knowledge and creating useful processes and products. The C4S
group presents insights from notable chemists of the past, which have stood the test of time and
resonate with contemporary contexts beyond the science discipline itself; and overviews the work of
C4S to promote IOCD and its role. The group reflects on the significance of the International Year
of the Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements 2019 and also celebrates the contributions to science
and to IOCD by chemists Glen Seaborg and Thomas Eisner.
S.A. Matlin, B.M. Abegaz. Chemistry for
Development. In: J. Garcia-Martinez, E. Serrano-Torregrosa (eds), The Chemical
Element: Chemistry's Contribution to Our Global Future, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2011,
Chapter 1, 1-70.
The chemical sciences and equality, diversity and inclusion
In collaboration with Vivian Yam (Hong Kong University, China), the C4S group
discusses the challenge of dealing with conscious or unconscious forms of bias and discrimination
in the sciences and argues that the chemical sciences can play a leading role in addressing
biases, through (1) becoming a model of good systemic practice in policies, processes and
actions; (2) developing practical skills through training in cultural competence; and (3)
promoting a stronger evidence base, to uncover both the extent of problems and the degree to
which approaches to improve equality, diversity and inclusion are working.
S. A. Matlin, V. W. W. Yam, H. Hopf, A. Krief, G. Mehta.
Science's Gender-Parity Problem. Posted online by Project Syndicate, 9
February 2018: this article was syndicated in newspapers around the world.
International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development
Executive Director: Prof. Federico Rosei
Centre for Energy, Materials and Telecommunications
Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique
Université du Québec, Canada
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