In September 1987, twenty-four countries agreed to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which called for countries to cut down on their use of ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).1 These chemicals were commonly used as coolants for air conditioning and refrigeration, propellants in aerosol spray […]

These days, crude oil can be purchased at low prices, so why discuss solar energy? Part of the issue is that the oil market is very volatile and today’s “cheapest” prices could become tomorrow’s “most expensive” prices. Additionally, companies would do well to invest in solar energy because it is more often used to generate electricity than anything else. In fact, oil use accounts for only one percent of U.S. electricity generation and so continued discussion and investment in solar energy is essential for a sustainable society. Research efforts should continue to determine how best to transform sunlight into usable chemical fuels.

For the last several years, we’ve seen a push toward sustainability. While we typically associate this movement with the food and clothing industries, it’s also affecting other sectors. So-called green homes have become increasingly popular, which leads to more interest in eco-friendly construction materials such as plant-based paint. Even more striking, the growing focus on decreasing our carbon footprint has encouraged people to recycle more and minimize the usage of plastic materials. In recent months, however, there’s been a noticeable demand for something that addresses all of the above. Product manufacturers have begun to seek more sustainable materials, resulting in the popularity of adopting recycled plastic materials in the construction sector. It’s a surprising combination that tends to fuel skepticism. How can you guarantee quality in materials if you use recycled plastics? Will they actually meet required specifications? The reality of the matter, however, is that recycled plastics can be just as good as virgin plastics.

In many parts of the U.S., winter weather brings snow and though students might happily think “day off” with its onset, many others see the powdery material in less positive light. State and local agencies spend over $2.3 billion dollars in “snow and ice control operations” because snow-related weather events account for approximately 22 percent of vehicle crashes and 19 percent of fatalities. Part of the solution to the dangerous conditions caused by snow and ice has been to salt roads, which researchers believe have reduced crashes by 88 percent. However, salted roads cause damage to cars, which in turn might increase drivers’ vulnerabilities to accidents. Alternatives to salt could decrease the danger of wintery conditions.

According to a report by ProPublica, pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000 and cost the U.S. nearly $7 billion in property damages since 1986. Though this might seem relatively insignificant compared to the 32,675 deaths due to road accidents in 2014 alone, critics argue that oil and gas pipelines can and should be safer, an initiative that begins with improving our country’s aging pipelines or more immediately, the type of coatings the oil and gas industry uses to protect them.

The hazards of plastic pollution are well-known to many, including the potential to poison and entangle animals, and even to resurface in the human food supply where the chemical additives can prove especially harmful for the most vulnerable among us. In this milieu, CPG companies have taken an interest in biodegradable plastic—plastic that can decompose due to the action of living organisms, usually bacteria. Though biodegradable plastics are not necessarily made from biomaterials such as plants, CPG companies have more seriously considered biodegradability as a positive functionality of plastic (along with durability, strength, etc.) and its use often appeals to an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer base.