Adrianne Jeffries

IS IT GREEN?: Sherwin-Williams Paint

by , 01/22/09

sherman williams low voc paint, sustainable building, green design, eco paint, eco-friendly paint, greensure, greenseal, sherman williams harmony paint

Even if you’ve taken the steps to weatherproof, insulate, and seal up all of your home’s energy-sapping drafty spaces, you may be alarmed to find that your home’s interior is far from eco-friendly. Studies done by the EPA have shown that indoor air quality can be just as bad, or worse, than outdoor air quality. One of the culprits is all over your walls – paint. Despite their awkwardly earth-unfriendly logo, Sherwin-Williams has launched several lines of paint that claim to offer eco-friendly alternatives to standard VOC-laden paints – read on for an in-depth look at the company’s efforts to go green.


sherman williams low voc paint, sustainable building, green design, eco paint, eco-friendly paint, greensure, greenseal, sherman williams harmony paint

The problem with most paints derives from volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are used to hold the paint in liquid form until it’s applied. Once paint starts drying, VOCs help speed the process along as they evaporate in a process known as off-gassing. This is great for the impatient painter, but the chemicals emitted during off-gassing contribute heavily to indoor air pollution. The process of off-gassing continues for months or even years even after the paint has dried.

VOCs include benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene, and others. Some of these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer or nervous system problems. VOCs can also react with sunlight to produce smog.

But paint producers have risen to the challenge – Sherwin-Williams is one such company. It developed a proprietary label, GreenSure, to designate which of its products are environmentally friendly. So far that label applies to two products for home use: a low-VOC paint (Duration Home) and a no-VOC paint (Harmony), as well as two products for professionals.

All GreenSure products come in 100% post-consumer recycled packaging with labels printed in soy ink. And they are currently working on some top-secret paint formulations using raw materials like soy and sunflower oil. The company is also doing some self-reflection in an attempt to be more green:

“At Sherwin-Williams, we believe that being environmentally responsible goes well beyond the product formulation. We have established our own sustainability initiative called “EcoVision.” EcoVision is a company-wide approach to look at all aspects of our business and see where we can become more environmentally responsible,” said Steve Revnew, director of product development at Sherwin-Williams.

One way is by using biodiesel fuel in the trucks that transport Sherwin-Williams products – although SW says it’s still “testing” this change. Revnew also says the company has a “zero-discharge” policy that distills and reuses solvents and recycles all cardboard, paper and metal at their solvent-based plants.

sherman williams low voc paint, sustainable building, green design, eco paint, eco-friendly paint, greensure, greenseal, sherman williams harmony paint

Is It Green?

I consulted Andrew Pace, of Degree of Green, a holistic rating system that assesses the sustainability of building products based on 45 categories. Pace has been in the industry for 15 years, and he said he knows Sherwin-Williams’ products well.

Sherwin-Williams cited other efforts like recycling stretch wrap used in shipping, using heat reflective roofs, installing recycling programs and streamlining national distribution to reduce energy consumption as part of their environmental campaign.

“All good things to do, but purely on a common sense basis, not because it’s considered green,” Pace said. “Landfilling stretch wrap and other recyclables is an expense that is eliminated if you contract with a company to pick up your recyclables. Therefore, it just makes good business sense. Same with reflective insulation, since it will save on energy costs. “We would classify these types of claims as greenwashing,” he said.

The GreenSure paints do have 50 g/l or fewer VOCs, which is as strict as the GreenSeal and LEED building standards. None of the GreenSure paints include acetone or ammonia in their ingredients (even though those ingredients are not regulated by the EPA), and they don’t include a long list of scary ingredients like benzene and formaldehyde – although they may be artificially inflating that list a bit. The avoided ingredients include lead, which is good because the EPA banned lead from paint except in trace amounts.

Sherwin-Williams offers some low-VOC paint – that’s a fact. And Revnew says they are hoping to get to 100% low- and no-VOC paints in the future. But Andrew Pace isn’t ready to say they are green.

”Many of them are good quality, durable coatings. However, their program was internally created by their own marketing people, so there is no third party verification of the claims. This is akin to Phillip Morris saying that nicotine is not addictive,” Pace said.

+ Sherwin-Williams

+ GreenSure

+ Degree of Green

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9 Comments

  1. heat reflective roof paint March 24, 2010 at 6:14 am

    very nice blog……but I don’t think this is a very fair comparison. It seems Sherwin Williams claims for their paint are “as strict as the Green Seal and LEED building standards”. nicotine is not addictive would be a lie, green sure seems to not be, a good significant difference.

  2. G.D. January 14, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Given the fact that we are the most information hungry generation ever, let’s look at what Sherwin Williams has to offer. Every product is time tested for two years before it ever hits the shelves for sale. They also spend more in research and development than most paint companies sell every year. Yes, most info is printed on the label of every product, and extended info is available through data pages and msds sheets by just asking a friendly associate at the counter. I agree that it would be a good idea to check with a doctor before proceeding with any product application. The warning of cancer has been thoroughly tested and is meant to inhibit the growth of mildew throughout the paint film. Once the film has cured, all concerns should be set aside. Also, if one is rethinking a recent purchase at Sherwin Williams, they need to glance at the back of their register receipt. All products sold are subject to customer satisfaction. This is their policy, no ifs, ands, or buts.

  3. mdk0092 December 2, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Munacindy,

    First off, latex paint is not a natural rubber. It is actually acrylic latex if you want to get technical. Acrylic latex is a plastic resin. What’s great about latex paint is that is not flammable, will not yellow, and dry faster than the alkyd paints that you were using. The elastomeric properties that they are talking about is that it allows the paint to stretch a little as the walls swell and contract with differing temperatures, etc. If you are still really concerned about picking the wrong paint, go to Sherwin Williams and ask for a data sheet on the harmony paint. Then take it to your son’s doctor for approval. I’ve been with Sherwin Williams for three years and I’m disappointed that the Sherwin Williams you went to didn’t not really give your more information about the benefits of latex paint. Well I sincerely hope that my comment helps you. God Bless.

  4. munacindy December 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    my son who is 33 and born with spina bifida and is also developementally delayed, he also is severely allergic to latex and is chemical sensitive to almost evrything. my house was painted in a sherwin williams paint B34 WZ 1101 which is a sya alkyd polymer i was supposed to be going gree and sherwin williams told me to use harmony but it has latex, they say it is not natural rubber but someone who works at sherwin williams told me it has elastomeric properties (ground up tires) no one at sherwin williams will put their john hancock on a letter stating that there is zero natural rubber in their harmony paint, any help? what do you all think? does anyone know of a paint similar to the soya alkyd as sherwin williams says that they don’t make it anymore. my son also has an immune defiency and he can’t fight infection, i don’t want to make his life an worse by using the wrong paint. thank you

  5. Kris September 3, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I think the Logo is great. Why would anyone think it means to cover the world with a bucket of paint, how stupid would that be?

    When has Philip Morris ever said that their products are not addicting, it says on every pack of cigarettes Surgeon Generals warning Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health, what does that mean?

    And why would you wait until you got home to read the label, are there signs in the store that prohibit you from reading labels when your at the store? I’ve read labels on paint cans in a Sherwin Williams store before nobody kicked me out, instead they asked if I had any questions or needed any help.

    Do you think the LEED people are lying to you? They go by extreme guidelines for everything they do they, are very intelligent people trying to make this world a safer place. If you have a problem why don’t you call them and talk to them about VOC’s and find out more information. If Sherwin Williams says there paint qualifies to be consider Green, why would they subject themselves to the lawsuits if it weren’t true? And don’t you think the LEED people might question them? I would say the manufactures of the paint go by some pretty strict guidelines and I am sure it is tested to the fullest extent, by the government or people working directly for the government.

    It’s PAINT at least someone is trying to do something about it – what kind of paint is in your home now? Is what you bought better than that? YES

  6. jrry660 May 30, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I just bought the harmony paint by sherwin williams and thought I was getting a no VOC toxic free paint. My biggest fear is to get some sort of cancer from these paints and chemicals. So i researched and selected Harmony. However, when I took the paint home and read the label, it said in the warning section \”This product contains chemicals known to the state of CA to cause cancer and birth defects….\”

    THIS IS SCARY!

    I will be calling the store manager where I bought the paint from.

  7. volswood February 24, 2009 at 7:32 am

    What is the level of emitted VOC after it is tinted. Most companies boast “zero” VOC and then add TONS of VOC by using glycol based colorants. There are some that now use waterbased tinting colorants. ASK before you buy. Zero doesn’t mean Zero.

  8. davethebutcher January 27, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    “This is akin to Phillip Morris saying that nicotine is not addictive,” Pace said.”

    I don’t think this is a very fair comparison. It seems sherwin williams claims for their paint are “as strict as the GreenSeal and LEED building standards”. Phillip Morris saying nicotine is not addictive would be a lie, green sure seems to not be, a pretty significant difference.

    Also, just because the green sure program was created by sherwin williams does not mean it is unverifiable. By law the VOC levels must be made public, the VOC levels in sherwin williams green sure paint are below the levels required by these strict standards so they are advertised as green. I’m not sure where more third party verification would be needed.

    And I agree, that logo is awful.

  9. lighthouse January 24, 2009 at 12:41 am

    I still think they have the worst logo ever…. Cover the earth…with a bucket of paint.

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