Check Paint's Certifications to Avoid Greenwash
Even with all the progress on low-VOC paints and coatings, solvent-based products "are not gone by any stretch," says Rogers. Professional painters prefer a high VOC level because it is easier to touch up mistakes. Another tradeoff is gloss — the higher the gloss, the higher the acceptable level of VOCs.
If a low-VOC paint does not meet its durability target, other factors may be at work, such as the contractor that applies it. But there is no standard for how long a coat of paint should last. "Assuming it was properly prepared and applied after being properly specified," Law says, "it then begins to relate to the environment. A coastal facility with lots of sun and salt spray will not last like it might in a more moderate climate."
"Surface preparation is key," says Zimmer. "I can't stress that enough. That's 70 to 80 percent of the final paint job, to have a clean surface, inside or out."
That's not to say that the quality of the paint doesn't matter. "In a can of paint, you get what you pay for," Zimmer says. The top of the line, Zimmer says, is 100 percent acrylic latex.
Although paints are available today that have far less environmental impact than products from the past, facility managers still have to do their homework to avoid greenwash.
A range of organizations produce ratings and certifications of environmentally friendly paint. But some labels may be nothing more than the manufacturer's own assertion. It's important for facility managers to check out the credentials of the certifying organization.
Crissinger uses Green Seal, which produces standards for paints followed by the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED requirements.
Linda Chipperfield, Green Seal's vice president for marketing and outreach, says that her organization gets input from manufacturers, consumers and regulators before producing a standard, and manufacturers must recertify every year.
The organization adopted a newer, stricter standard for paint a few years ago, which knocked the number of compliant products down from hundreds to just a few. However, Chipperfield says, now "it's started to come back up again, and we're proud of that."
Green Seal's standard takes performance and durability into account. "If it doesn't work, it would just be a waste," Chipperfield says. The Green Seal standard also bars entire categories of additives from paint, such as carcinogens and mutagens, instead of trying to name individual chemicals.
The newer, tougher standard was based on California regulations and on developing trends. "We look at where technology and research has improved," Chipperfield says. "We're trying to push it." For instance, colorants added to Green Seal-certified paint may raise the total level of VOCs only to 100 grams per liter for flat topcoats, or 150 for non-flat.