Going green with your paint – how confusing can it be?
Very, is the simple answer—
We all want to do our bit for the environment – but forgiving the pun, it is sometimes difficult to see the wood from the trees. There is no doubt for the business community, there is much to be gained by joining the Green bandwagon – by adopting sustainable practices, companies can gain competitive edge, increase their market share, and boost shareholder value. The BIG question however is – how green is their claim to be green? With no recognisable scale, international standard or points system in place, you can forgive the public for being confused when it comes to paint. In order to get to the bottom of this spiny issue, the first point that needs to be re-stated is that there is a discernible difference between the meaning of “eco-friendly” and “environmentally-friendly”, although in modern-day usage, the words have almost become interchangeable.
- Eco-friendly products are natural or non-man-made items – for example paints made up from linseed or pine oil, lime and eucalyptus would be considered pure eco-products.
- Environmentally-friendly products on the other hand do not necessarily have to be natural, but can include man-made products, so long as they do not harm the environment or at least to the minimum extent possible. The taking and putting together of these eco-friendly ingredients does not however necessarily translate into an environmentally friendly paint.
Well it all stems from what are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Unlike most organic products, VOCs aren’t good for you at all – they are the toxic fumes that paints give off when they are drying and changing from liquid to solid. They can be exceptionally harmful to humans, causing respiratory problems, eye, nose and throat irritation, cause liver and lung damage and have even been proven to be carcinogenic.
These VOCs are most prevalent in solvent/oil-based paints (eggshell, gloss etc) but they also exist in smaller quantities in non-environmentally-friendly water-based paints (emulsion). Furthermore, they harm the environment, lingering for weeks after the paint has been applied, causing damage to the ozone layer and contributing to global warming.
The key therefore to finding a good environmentally-friendly paint is choosing one with a very low percentage of VOC’s. Again this is not necessarily that easy – not only because it is often hidden in the small print on the back of the tin, but also some paint companies use the American scale which is far less onerous and allows certain “bad” components to be left out – thus giving an artificially low reading.
The EU is beginning to put legislation in place and as of June 2010 is banning any paint with high VOC ratings. This will result in many oil-based paints disappearing off retailers’ shelves.
One company – eico paints – based in Fulham has taken its manufacturing out to Iceland. Talking to its Managing Director, Rishi Subeathar he explains why:
“Many manufacturers state that they produce acrylic paint, but few admit to manufacturing 100% pure acrylic, which is what is needed to produce the very best quality paint. The reason why manufacturers will skimp on this is obvious. To achieve pure acrylic, you do require enormous amounts of energy, which in turn will add both to the cost and the carbon footprint.
By manufacturing paint in Iceland however, the energy comes from 100% free geothermal and hydro-power energy. This means that not only can we control costs, but also the manufacturing process is 100% carbon neutral.
Our paints also have one of the lowest VOC percentage of any paint in the UK market, which is one of the reasons why we are the paint of choice for allergy and asthma sufferers and have been approached to supply paint for numerous hospital and school refurbishment projects.”
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