Presidential Awards for Green Chemistry in Personal Care and Cosmetics

If you think of planet Earth the way you think of the human body, you see how similar they are: a thin skin whose temperature and humidity vary over time; a high content of water and the need to moisturize frequently; a dependence on the sun for all energy but also a threat of damage from the sun’s rays; and the certainty of aging and eventual death. Viewed that way, a formulator might easily make the leap from personal care to planetary care. And indeed, some are doing so, especially at the level of controlling pollution.

In the United States, The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 established a national policy to prevent or reduce pollution at its source whenever feasible. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the term green chemistry to mean the use of chemistry for pollution prevention. More specifically, EPA says “green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances."1

Green chemistry applies innovative scientific solutions to real-world environmental situations. Paul Anastas’s and John Warner’s “12 Principles of Green Chemistry”2 provides a road map for chemists to implement green chemistry. Promoting this new approach to pollution prevention through the environmentally conscious design of chemical products and processes is the focus of the EPA’s Green Chemistry Program.

In 1995, the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics launched the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge, a voluntary partnership to support further green chemistry research and recognize outstanding examples of green chemistry. The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards highlight successes in research, development and industrial implementation of technologies that prevent pollution at the source while contributing to the competitiveness of the innovators. Nominations for awards are judged for how well they meet the selection criteria: novelty, environmental and human health benefits, and impact or applicability in industry. An award is typically issued annually in each of five categories:
• Green Synthetic Pathways
• Green Reaction Conditions
• Designing Greener Chemicals
• Small Businesses

Academic Investigators

Since 1996 when the first Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards were announced, more than 1,000 entries have been reviewed and 62 awards have been presented. The remainder of this article will survey three award winners—from 2000, 2004 and 2006—whose description posted on the EPA’s Web site mentioned a connection to cosmetics or personal care. Table 1 lists 11 other entries whose good ideas didn’t quite make award status. They all illustrate environmentally friendly chemicals and processes that result in safer products, reduced use of energy and resources, and reductions in waste that eliminate costly end-of-the-pipe treatments. 

The descriptions that follow are excerpted and slightly edited from the program’s annual summaries of award entries and recipients posted on the EPA Web site. No references are provided in the summaries to support the facts and claims presented there. For that reason, no references are provided here.

An Award for Designing Greener Chemicals

S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. (S.C. Johnson) formulates and manufactures consumer products including a wide variety of products for home cleaning, air care, personal care, insect control and home storage. The company makes Edgea brand shaving creams and gels.

Starting in 2001, S.C. Johnson developed Greenlistb, a system that rates the environmental footprint of the ingredients in its products. Through Greenlist, the company’s chemists and product formulators around the globe have instant access to environmental ratings of potential product ingredients. 

Greenlist uses four to seven specific criteria to rate ingredients within 17 functional categories. S.C. Johnson enlisted the help of suppliers, university scientists, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure that the rating criteria were meaningful, objective and valid. These criteria include vapor pressure, octanol/water coefficient, biodegradability, aquatic toxicity, human toxicity, European Union Classification, source/supply, and others as appropriate. 

The Greenlist process assigns an environmental classification (EC) score to each ingredient by averaging its scores for the criteria in its category. EC scores range from Best (3) to Restricted Use Material (0). S.C. Johnson lowers the EC score for chemicals with other significant concerns including PBT (persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity), endocrine disruption, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity. 

Today, Greenlist provides ratings for more than 95% of the raw materials the company uses, including solvents, surfactants, inorganic acids and bases, chelates, propellants, preservatives, insecticides, fragrances, waxes, resins, nonwoven fabrics and packaging. Company scientists have also developed criteria for dyes, colorants and thickeners and are working on additional categories as well. 

During fiscal 2000–2001, the baseline year, S.C. Johnson’s EC average was 1.12. Its goal was to reach an average EC of 1.40 during fiscal 2007–2008. The company reached this goal three years early, with an average EC of 1.41 covering almost 1.4 billion pounds of raw materials. 

In recent years, S.C. Johnson has used Greenlist to reformulate multiple products to make them safer and more environmentally responsible. In one example, Greenlist was used to replace polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) with polyethylene in a plastic wrapc. In another example, it was used to remove a particular volatile organic compound (VOC) from a window cleaning sprayd. The reformulated spray contained amphoteric and anionic surfactants, a solvent system with fewer than 4% VOCs, and a polymer for superior wetting. The new formula cleans 30% better and eliminates more than 1.8 million pounds of VOCs per year, according to the company.

Awards to Small Businesses 

Small business awards are presented to innovative businesses whose annual sales are less than $40 million. 

Eliminating paper labels from nail polish bottles: Traditionally, decorative indicia on glass bottles of nail polish were applied by one of three processes, each of which had problems. Paper labels are easily removed if exposed to water or abrasion, and they lack aesthetic appeal. Decals can be expensive and difficult to apply at high-line speeds during production, and they are made from materials that are generally not biodegradable. A process called applied ceramic labeling requires coating the glass with heavy metals and then bonding the high-VOC ink to the glass by baking the bottles in ovens at high temperatures for several hours. 

Clearly there is a need in the glass decorating industry for a decorated glass container that is aesthetically pleasing and durable, and that can be obtained in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient manner. Envirogluve technology from RevTech Inc. is one way to fill that need. 

Envirogluv is a glass-decorating technology that directly silk-screens radiation-curable inks onto glass, then cures the ink almost instantly by exposure to UV light. The result is a crisp, clean label that is environmentally sound, with a unit cost that is about half of that incurred with traditional labeling. 

Envirogluv inks are reported as having no VOCs and no toxic heavy metals. These organic-based UV-curable inks were initially developed for Revlon and first used in the early 1990s for high speed printing and filling of nail enamel bottles and hot stamping of environmentally acceptable foils to emulate the look of raised silver and gold. Since then the process has produced hundreds of millions of units. Revlon reportedly saved millions of dollars throughout the years through energy, space and labor efficiencies as compared to its traditional heat-cured glass-decorating process. Today Envirogluv is used primarily in the food and beverage industry.

Replacing petroleum-derived surfactants with biosurfactants: Tens of billions of pounds of surfactants are used each year to lubricate, clean or reduce undesired foaming in industrial applications. Surfactants are widely used in soaps, laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids and many personal care products, such as shampoos. Jeneil Biosurfactant Co. developed biobased surfactants that are less toxic and more biodegradable than conventional petroleum-based surfactants.

Jeneil successfully produced a series of rhamnolipid biosurfactant products, making them commercially available and economical for the first time. These biosurfactant products provide good emulsification, wetting, detergency and foaming properties, along with very low toxicity. They are readily biodegradable and leave no harmful or persistent degradation products. These qualities make them suitable for many diverse applications.

Rhamnolipid biosurfactant is a naturally occurring extracellular glyco-lipid that is found in the soil and on plants. Jeneil produces this biosurfactant commercially in controlled, aerobic fermentations using particular strains of the soil bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The biosurfactant is recovered from the fermentation broth after sterilization and centrifugation, then purified to various levels to fit intended applications.

In many applications, these biosurfactants can replace less biodegradable synthetic or petroleum-derived surfactants. Further, these biosurfactants have excellent synergistic activity with many synthetic surfactants and, when formulated together in a cosurfactant system, can allow a substantial reduction in the synthetic surfactant component.


The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards Program invites nominations that describe the technical benefits of a green chemistry technology as well as human health and environmental benefits. The awards program is open to all individuals, groups, and organizations, both nonprofit and for profit, including academia, government and industry. Self-nominations are allowed and expected. Entry details are at the EPA’s Web site.3 Nominations are due December 31 each year for an awards ceremony usually held in late June the following year in Washington, D.C. 

There is no financial component in a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award, but it does provide national recognition of outstanding chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture and use, and that have been or can be used by the industry in achieving its pollution prevention goals.

The fact that there are no greenbacks associated with this green chemistry award highlights the fact that the word green has so many meanings, and plays to so many interest groups. For example, one can use the word green when referring to money, plants, bananas, recruits, lumber, golf, a political party, a revolution in agriculture or an environmental movement. Wikipedia says the word commonly represents nature, growth, hope, youth, sickness, health and Islam.4 Its meanings, like its root grow in Old English and German, are constantly growing. Discover the many ways to formulate green at the C&T Green Summit. For more information, visit

Althoug there are many industry definitions of what green is, there is a consensus on one fact: the principal definition of the word green is a color. In fact, green is the color, the perception of which is evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 520–570 nm,4 which is coincidently the area of greatest color sensitivity of the human eye. The color green is between blue and yellow, near the center of the color spectrum. And the color spectrum is near the center of the electromagnetic spectrum. The color green would seem an appropriate color for an environmental movement aiming to be both perceptive and central to its time. 

Because the word green has so many meanings, however, it may be that it appears in the name of this presidential award because national recognition is very flattering, and it leaves those who didn’t win feeling slightly green with envy.



1. (Accessed Jan 22, 2008)

2. P Anastas and J Warner, 12 Principles of green chemistry, In Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, Oxford University Press, New York (1998)

3. (Accessed Jan 22, 2008)

4. (Accessed Jan 22, 2008)     

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