Scaling Green Chemistry - Accelerating Solutions

February 25, 2013
Alison Carlson

As environmental health funders, we have invested a great deal in identifying the problem and supporting chemicals policy reform, but vastly less in materials solutions.  In 2012, the Forsythia Foundation decided to understand what it would take to accelerate innovation of “benign by design” materials and avoid regrettable chemical substitutions. Forsythia hired the consulting firm, California Environmental Associates, to investigate the barriers to developing solutions and what investment opportunities could address them.

There were numerous barriers identified in our first analysis. For rapid adoption, a new material or process must be cost competitive or perform better. In addition, chemical manufacturers have significant investments in current production facilities and displacing that capacity could cause large economic losses.

An equally critical barrier is that funding evaporates in the “valley of death”—the development stage after a new molecule is discovered and needs to be tested to make sure it is cost competitive and has a big enough market.  Figure 1 below depicts the area of opportunity for philanthropy and early investors.

This funding stage is often out of scope for government funding and too early for chemical companies, most angel investors, and other private investors.  But without this early funding, the potential “deal flow” for innovation does not materialize. This is the gap the Forsythia Foundation is looking to target.

CEA presented two primary investment options for Forsythia to address the target area: 1) develop a competition or prize, and 2) support a benign by design chemistry incubator.

Forsythia has decided to focus on an “incubator” or “accelerator” that supports an ecosystem of talent and resources to identify, vet, and scale benign by design technologies. HEFN funders have supported tremendous efforts to help create demand for safer products. Forsythia Foundation hopes that by investing in an incubator, we can help to accelerate the supply of safer materials to meet that demand.

Because Forsythia cannot act on all opportunities to accelerate green chemistry, we invite you to join in a funder call on March 7th at 2 p.m. ET to learn more. The call will explore the growing field of green chemistry and options for philanthropic and impact investing to support the development of safer materials. Register here.

Alison Carlson is President of the Forsythia Foundation. 


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