Green or Greenwashed?

These days, it's hard to find a product that doesn't call itself "eco-friendly."  When a paint company tells you that its paint is eco-friendly, be prepared to ask some follow up questions that will help you determine whether the product is genuinely sustainable.  

Five questions to ask to determine whether a paint is green- not just greenwashed

1.  What ingredients are in the paint?

  • Paint manufacturers generally keep their full ingredient lists secret.  The best way to get information regarding their ingredients is to read their MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).  However, these do not provide a comprehensive picture, especially because manufacturers are allowed to label certain ingredients as "confidential" or "proprietary," and are not required to list hazardous substances that amount to less than 1% of the total ingredients. 
  • Ask paint manufacturers to give you a full ingredient disclosure, so you can determine whether their products are sustainable and healthy. 

2.  How much energy was used to produce the ingredients- are the ingredients highly processed?

  • Typical latex paints contain as much as 25% titanium dioxide, which is highly energy intensive to purify and accounts for almost half of the embodied energy in the paint.  Look at how much titanium dioxide is in the paint. 
  • Petroleum that is extracted from the earth must go through various processes to become petrochemical paint ingredients such as acrylic binders and synthetic colorants.  This takes a lot of energy.
  • Natural, minimally processed ingredients contain significantly less embodied energy than petrochemical ingredients such as acrylic binders and synthetic colorants. 

3.  Is it made with ingredients that are renewable or in plentiful supply?

  • Petroleum and titanium dioxide are both scarce resources that are widely used ingredients in conventional paints. 
  • Ingredients like chalk and clay are quite abundant. 

4.  How can we dispose of it?

  • If using a conventional chemical paint, be sure to take leftover paint to your local hazardous waste center to prevent environmental contamination.  
  • Natural paints are biodegradable and can be thrown away with normal trash.

5.  What waste and emissions were produced by its manufacture? 

The production of one gallon of conventional paint results in 10-30 gallons of waste.  Ask paint manufacturers for information about the waste created by the production of their paints and the measures they take to ensure that this waste does not contaminate the environment.