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.

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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.

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