Sustainable Paints Illustrate the Dilemma of Sustainable Building Materials

You can think about the whole subject of sustainable architecture in two main chunks. On the one hand there is energy efficiency. That is how to run a modern home, keep it comfortable without using energy or at least without burning fossil fuels.

Sustainable Paints
Sustainable Paints

On the other hand there is the “sustainability” of the materials you use. There are many ways of looking at this for example: materials that minimise waste, local materials, natural materials, durable materials, renewable materials, ethically sourced materials, non toxic / hazardous materials. The choice of material often results is a dilemma. An oft quoted example is bamboo. It grows quickly, is renewable, durable, clean, smart, but the best bamboo grows in China and transporting it to Europe uses lots of fossil fuels.

Paint embodies this dilemma perfectly. Solvent based paints look like the least environmentally friendly. They derive from fossil fuels, they contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and the create toxic waste the cans cannot be recycled and washing brushes contaminates vast quantities of water.

However a good paint improves the durability of materials and lasts a long time. Having to redecorate every 10 years as opposed to every two makes huge difference to the amount of fossil fuels consumed in the maintenance of a building.

The efficacy and durability of paint means that relatively high-emission paints with high durability may sometimes be a better choice than low emission paints with poor durability.” Forum for the Future

  1. Less paint needs to be manufactured and transported.
  2. Applying fewer coats over the decade means that fewer VOCs are released into the environment.
  3. Decorators use less fuel to get to and from site and consume less electricity while they work.

In the meantime there are many ways the paint manufacturing industry is becoming greener:

Technological Improvements Paint Manufacture for example water based paints have a carbon footprint around 25% lower than solvent based paints and advances are being made in pigmentation and bindings qualities of water based paints.

Specialist Can Recycling: waste is a significant issue for the paint manufacturing industry. The can itself represents 10 to 20 of the environmental footprint of the paint. The paint residue is hard to remove from the can and so it can’t be recycled so easily. Rimless cans that don’t have a grove that traps paint are an innovation and plastic cans too are easier to recycle.

Mobile Brush Cleaning Units Instead of washing the water into the drains which contaminates vast quantities of water mobile units wash brushes, rollers and equipment, and separate the solid waste from the water.

Closed Loop water projects Some projects take the water used to wash brushes and equipment and use it in the manufacture of paint saving he quantities of water.

Solvent Based Paints cannot be recycled but they can be used as fuel.

Author: John Wolfendale

Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida Homes and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials.  He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with over 22 years experience living and working in Spain.

John Wolfendale Chartered Surveyor Granada
John Wolfendale Chartered Surveyor Granada