John Warner – The Materials Metabolism – Rethinking our Molecular Relationship with Nature

For materials from nature to become human-designed products, they have to undergo multiple transformations in processes of assembly and disassembly. Atoms combine to make molecules; molecules combine to make materials; and we humans assemble and disassemble nature’s products to form molecules and materials that we then recombine to create our artifacts and products, but, unfortunately, most of what we produce is fundamentally unsustainable and dangerously incompatible with living systems. However, one of the founding progenitors of the entire field of “green chemistry,” John Warner, explains that by using the principles and practices of the discipline he helped birth, we can embrace and emulate nature’s “materials metabolism” to create the products we need without endangering the web of life. By reimagining how we design and build, we can create a new materials economy that is truly in harmony with nature. 

This talk was delivered at the 2023 Bioneers Conference.

John Warner, Ph.D. is a co-founder of the field of green chemistry. With 300+ patents and 100+ publications, he has designed and created technologies inspired by nature with the principles of green chemistry. After working at the Polaroid Corporation, John served as a tenured full professor at UMASS Boston and Lowell (in Chemistry and Plastics Engineering). In 2007 he co-founded (with Jim Babcock) the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry and (with Amy Cannon) Beyond Benign, a non-profit dedicated to sustainability and green chemistry education. John has won many prestigious awards for his research, inventions and policy advocacy and has served as a sustainability advisor for several major firms.

Learn more about John Warner and his work at


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