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Paul Anastas is matter of fact about the influence he and his collaborators have had on science. It was always their intention to change the world through green chemistry.
An organic chemist by training, Anastas maintains an active research program at Yale University that spans chemistry, chemical engineering, environmental sciences, epidemiology, and related disciplines. He also codirects the Yale Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.
Academia is only part of his story. He spent almost 20 years in government service, culminating in a 3-year appointment by former president Barack Obama to lead R&D at the US Environmental Protection Agency. He’s active in the business of chemistry, including holding founder, adviser, and board roles in start-ups such as the personal care ingredient maker P2 Science and the carbon dioxide-to-chemicals firm Air Company. He also has consulting contracts with Fortune 100 firms. As an advocate, he’s championed federal legislation encouraging the adoption of green chemistry principles in government-funded research.
On Sept. 1, Anastas and frequent collaborator John Warner received the August Wilhelm von Hofmann Commemorative Medal from Germany’s chemical society in recognition of the lasting impact of the pair’s 1998 book Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, which laid out the 12 principles of green chemistry, and their subsequent work fleshing out those concepts. C&EN interviewed Anastas via video call in mid-July. This conversation was edited for length and clarity.