Updated: Sep 7, 2022
Pic via Theartofeducation.edu
Why write a blog post about eco-friendly / green interior paint when it's the most explored topic in the green interiors universe?
Becaaauuuuusssseee... We're not seeing many that quickly and easily break down the types of eco-friendly paint so you can pick the best one for your project.
AND because we've discovered a few companies, new and old, doing AMAZING work and offering great services in this niche.
The difference between sustainability and non-toxic in the interior design world is something I review and distinguish between a lot, especially on our podcast Green By Design and I think is worth reviewing here for paint specifically to increase the likelihood of picking a paint with some eco-qualities for any given project.
Sustainable Paint Manufacturing (Sustainability Outside of The Can)
What goes IN the can or any finished product is just one part of any sustainability story. What I am thinking about here is:
How are the factories run that make the coatings?
What are the companies doing with waste and byproduct?
How does the sourcing of ingredients impact the sustainability supply chain?
Here's a rollercoaster of an example:
According to renewablesnowtexas.com, PPG Industries Inc. a fortune 500 company who makes paints and coatings, will receive energy and project-specific renewable energy certificates (RECs) from Big Star solar project over a period of 10 years - the company will procure about 4.6 million kWh of energy per year by using the Constellation Offsite Renewables (CORe) retail power product. This is great!
Howwwweevvvverrrr... when looking into who PPG exactly was a little more, it turns out they're a company with a terrible environmental history:
When they were producing chromium plating products, they straight up dumped carcinogenic chromium byproduct into river systems near their plants and only decades later were ordered to pay remittance for clean up Erin Brockovich style - GROSS!
They were also slapped with hefty fines by the FTC alongside Sherwin Williams, for making it sound like a few product lines were VOC-free when they were not as soon as pigment tinting was added to the base product as early as 2013. ARGH!
So it's good they have a sustainability team and clear objectives these days, and hopefully they can make up for past indiscretions as conscious-consumerism grows.
Sustainability From Circularity (Sustainability From Reusing The Can Contents)
If you have ever gotten paint and not used all of it - this section is for you. I do a lot of this with all the samples we collect for client. Even the littlest paint cans have too much in them for the paint boards I create for clients. I usually store them up and take them once a year to the Los Angeles hazardous waste collection center that properly recycles them.
Here's the deal. There is SO much leftover paint (I'm seeing around 70 million gallons a year.....................!) on both a residential and commercial/industrial level that can easily be remixed and reused. 11 states have recognized this problem and mandated that paint stewardship programs be implemented, funded by a small fee imbedded into the cost of paints. Paintcare.org, a non profit via the American Coatings Association runs this program and has lots of info on how this works.
Luckily, companies have been formed to pick up the slack where governments ran short, and are deservedly doing well in the process. For instance, I recently found RECOLOR® - here's how this women-owned company does it: "RECOLOR paint is made from unused, post-consumer paint and post-industrial paint that we collect based on a careful set of criteria. We rigorously screen, sanitize, and filter the unused paint we receive to ensure RECOLOR® recycled paint meets our highest standards of premium quality, durability, and superior coverage.
Finally, we remanufacture our beautiful recycled paint that will continue its life cycle and bring more color to the world."
Like the E-commerce sites above, Greensheen works with Paintcare and has 3 in-house paint recycling facilities in different states, offers free collection and resells the cleaned and remixed paint. However they appear to offer wholesale supplies to retailers (big and small) for a fraction of the cost, so they don't offer paint to the end customer on their site.
As far as I can tell, all of these companies recycle their old cans as well :)
Sustainability With Coatings Chemistry (Sustainability from within the can)
A few years ago, claims started surfacing that the new paint and coatings products could directly impact the existing atmospheric CO2 content by absorbing it, and other products could indirectly impact C02 reduction by reducing energy needs of the building the coating was applied to.
CO2 absorbing paint
Independant and paint company-affiliated scientists have been working on paint that during the curing/drying process absorbs CO2 from the surrounding air, technically making it a carbon sequestration material. The chemistry is a little beyond me here , but the idea is if there are compounds that bond with
For instance, check out the Graphenstone company. They indicate that their paints absorb 2.5 - 5.5 kg of CO2 per unit of paint (this ranges but say 15L) in their product line through an augmented limestone ingredient. The most simple explanation I could find said that during the drying cycle of this paint, a reaction occurs where the lime reacts with atmospheric CO2, forming died thin layers of calcium carbonate in the paint application. It becomes limestone again in the “lime cycle” process. This company also boasts a range of sustainability certificates regarding the sustainability of the products lifecycle like Cradle to Cradle, and toxicity standards from Ecolabel, Material Health, Sensitive Choice, Global Green Tag and more.
Heat reflection reduction paint
From what I can see, this is not commercially available yet, but we ma
y see it soon. Professor Shchukin of the University of Liverpool is designing heat reducing paint to help manage energy use. Through arduous work he and his team were able to enclose "nanocapsules" that absorb and store heat at their melting temperature, the PCMs turn into liquid and during the cold nights they crystallise at a defined temperature, releasing heat and warming the room. This was done using "salt hydrates in polymer shells as small as 10nm,
which protects them from the surrounding environment but also allows them to respond to the heat in a controlled way. He calls his product Enercapsule and there's another company doing the same thing that called their product Airlite, so be on the lookout.
Solar energy and hydrogen-production paint: According to solarreviews.com, there are researchers across the globe looking to use alternatives to solar panels that are small and malleable enough to embed into coatings and generate solar energy. There's also a team of researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed paint that absorbs moisture from the air and using solar energy to break the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, with the goal that the hydrogen can then be used to produce clean energy (more than was used to make it!) However, they're not there yet commercially so we'll be keeping an eye out.
OK so this is a deep and complex topic. Here are the basics. There are a lot of different chemicals in paints and wet-applied procuts. A large group of them that easily offgas into the air are called VOCs. These impact indoor air quality to the detriment of those manufacturing, applying and living or working around these paints. There are other types of chemicals in paints like antimicrobials that are of concern in regards to the manufacturing process and other means of exposure like to the skin or improper disposal. The general public has learned a bit about VOCs and chemicals in paint, and there's been a demand for products with less of these types of chemicals, which is the first step.
BUT The first thing to know is even if a product says it's low or no VOC it may only apply to the basecoat without the pigment added. As mentioned above, Sherwin Williams and PPG were sued by the FTC for doing just this. Next, there are chemicals that
don't count in legal and labeling terms for the EPA that still impact human health when labeled as zero VOC. Joel Hershberg of Greenbuildingsupply.com (my favorite building supply source) explains it like this "...case in point, neither acetone nor ammonia are considered a VOC by the EPA because they do not react with sunlight or other pollutants and promote smog. However, everyone knows from experience that their emissions indoors are not good to breathe. Even the labels on the outside of the cans say inhalation can cause serious health problems."
For a list of companies doing a much better job making non and less-toxic paints per paint category, check out this article by mychemicalfreehouse.net who mentions some of my favorites like ECOS Paints, AFM safecoat, and Old Fashioned Milk Paint.
8/31/22 By Erica - EMI head honcho