Defining Eco Paints – when is ‘eco’ being economical with the truth.
In this day and age, many companies are jumping on the green bandwagon and it seems you can’t move for old and new paint ranges claiming they are suddenly ‘eco’. We believe a line should be drawn between eco and natural products. Many new eco paints, for example, use a minimal VOC (volatile organic compound) acrylic binder, and are called eco because they are water based and have less smell in order to conform to the latest EU regulations; the ‘eco’ part seems to end there. All paint companies have had to conform to the same EU regulations which was developed essentially to help reduce atmospheric pollution from previously higher VOC’s found in paint products, in the main to make them healthier for the end user. Whilst this is a step in the right direction it does not necessarily infer ‘environmentally friendly’ and in our opinion should certainly preclude the term ‘eco’ being used so consistently in paint products. Healthier, yes but eco….?
One increasingly popular variant of is 'Clay paint'. This paint is a distemper where the base pigment used is clay powder rather than chalk. Though clay paints boast their 'natural' credentials, specifiers should be aware of contents that can routinely include polyvinyl acetate ('vinegar ester') and methyl cellulose ('cellulose binder') as well as additives familiar in more common paints.
Mainstream paint companies have had to react more quickly to the stricter EU VOC regulations that came into play in 2010, whereas natural paint companies such as Auro have formulated and marketed products that conform (and more often surpass) the new VOC guidelines and have done so for well over a decade already. Auro paint products have therefore already been tried and tested in the market and no re-formulations have suddenly been required as they have worked successfully for many years, in fact 30 years already for some Auro wall emulsions. Whereas, after a couple of years of the regulations coming in, we are led to believe that a certain amount of unravelling is beginning to happen as some mainstream companies find their initial solutions to the 2010 regulations are not quite living up to required quality standards. One particular big name brand is already on their fourth formulation of gloss paint for instance as initial recipes start to fail.
I’d perhaps be more impressed if larger companies such as the Akzo Nobels of this world moved their entire domestic paint production over to their new ‘eco’ solutions, but of course I feel confident in saying they won’t and instead will continue to churn out their more typical petro-chemical paints as the larger part of their businesses. It would be interesting to see the difference in marketing and advertising budgets for some paint company’s Eco Paint ranges against their more widely available standard paint products - how serious are they in trying to make a difference? I haven’t seen Dulux’s Eco Sure ads on the telly, have you? I have a strong sense that in many cases a box ticking exercise is taking place – “we’ve got the eco product in the range, now lets move on to business as usual”.
Similarly, adopting the EU flower Logo on some eco paint does mean that they have met certain eco criteria but we wonder if it is strict enough? We have found that pretty much all paint companies adopting this logo tend to still have a petro-chemical acrylic as the greater part of their binder. The EU flower logo although having very good intentions, should not be taken to infer 'natural' in any way. Again, if these companies adopted the flower logo throughout their products I'd be more impressed and feel happier in the knowledge that they were trying to make a more genuine shift towards climate change, reduced CO2 emissions etc. instead of literally ‘buying into’ a logo.
You will find that many paint brands disguise their paint descriptions in eco rhetoric, using words like ‘organic’, ‘solvent free’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘green’ but very few explain fully why this is other than citing VOC free, nor do they offer a declaration of the ingredients used in the product– one should ask “why not”? Surely being as transparent as possible will help customers make more informed decisions and become better consumers. Water based and VOC free (if there is such a thing – even the EU guidelines cite minimal VOC, 0-0.29%, as the lowest rating) does not make paints wholly ecological. This is especially true if the term ecology is defined as incorporating sustainability, which surely should be at the forefront of any eco argument. Moreover, a paint that smells of nothing i.e, VOC free, very often will have another chemical in it masking the smell of a binder, solvent, de-foamer, drier, preservative or any number of other paint additives that have gone in as part of its make-up. There is no way of knowing what is actually off-gassing from these paints which is again another good reason to declare ingredients. Something that the EU regulators may have missed a trick on instead of focussing wholly on VOC declaration on paint tins. Smells are not always necessarily bad things in paints, it informs us in a very obviously sensory way if we are able to tolerate a product or not.
Don’t be misled by terms like organic, all paint is ‘organic’ as they are made using organic, carbon based chemistry. Some manufacturers very much play up this term without fully explaining the meaning - there is no standardisation when it comes to eco paints which is perhaps the problem. We see the term ‘organic’ emblazoned on paint websites and literature and naturally assume that it is certified in the same way the Soil Association properly certifies food products. In the main one should be sceptical about these terms, read between the lines and search for an ingredient list to sort the wheat out from chaff. Auro have always used certified organically grown linseed, made into oil and then boiled to create its main binder and from 2012 are more boldly following a stricter criteria in using ethically sourced materials and proving certified organically grown for the other vegetable oils used in the products. The latest news from Auro AG, our parent company in Germany follows:
Oils and fats from controlled biological (organic) cultivation - Ecology in every detail:
From the beginning of 2012, AURO are using oils and vegetable fats from controlled biological cultivation (German: kbA =kontrolliert biologischer Anbau). The coconut fat and palm kernel fat are certified by ECOCERT. The rapeseed, linseed and soya oils we now use are controlled by the IMO (Institute for Market Ecology) and the sunflower oil by the federal eco control point ‘Grünstempel’®. ECOCERT is one of the most important independent certifying bodies for biological products. ECOCERT’s international activities include examinations in the organic farming business as well as the manufacturing industry in more than 80 countries.The seal of this bio-certification organisation guarantees certified biological quality of food and other products of ecological farming. Moreover, the rapeseed, linseed and soya oils are tested by the IMO (Institute for Market Ecology), an internationally approved independent control organization for the certification of environmentally friendly products, ecological farming and management systems.Finally, the sunflower oil received its‚ green stamp‘ from Grünstempel®, a federal eco control point that is licensed by the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food.
So when we say organic, we mean it in all senses – no other paint company can claim this. We believe that producing sustainable products based on natural, grown and ethically mined materials (wherever possible) is key to creating true ecological products and it is this that makes natural paints such as Auro stand out from the crowd. We fully declare all our ingredients and go further by offering a raw materials glossary explaining what the materials are and where they are sourced. Auro paints are in fact 100% biodegradable and can be composted together with household waste. Based on natural and sustainable raw ingredients, over 30 years of research has gone into these unique formulations, assuring quality and time-tested formulations. Yes, they do take slightly longer to dry but two coats of wall emulsion can still be applied in a day and floors using our floor oils & waxes can be used the following day. Perhaps as end users our expectations on speed need to slow down slightly if a true step towards having ecological, sustainable products is desired and the real challenge of wanting to make an environmental difference is to be met.
A great looking, healthier house can be achieved using wholly natural paints like Auro and at the same price of most other eco paint too, many of which may well turn out to be not quite so eco after all.