Tag Archives: certification

Choosing an Environmentally Friendly Paint

Probably one of the easiest and most affordable ways to refresh your space is to slap a coat or two of paint on the walls. However, walking into your local hardware store or big box home improvement store and coming to aisles full of paint cans can be overwhelming. I’m certainly no expert on all the types of paint and what exactly you should choose for your particular application, but I can tell you how to choose an environmentally friendly paint.

choosing an environmentally friendly paint

Oil Based vs. Latex (Water Based)

The first question to address when choosing and environmentally friendly paint is whether to go with an oil based paint or a latex paint.

Oil based paints are slower drying which can provide a smoother finish, as any pools or ridges will have a chance to settle before the paint is completely dry. Oil based paints also can have better coverage, which means fewer coats, and can hold up better over time. However, oil based paints require more harsh chemicals to keep the colors suspended in the paint. Not only do oil based paints require special disposal at a hazardous material collection center because of these harsh chemicals, but they also give off a lot of fumes. These fumes are dangerous to breathe in. Oil paints also require harsh chemical solvents for clean up.

Latex, or water based paint, dries faster, can be fairly easily cleaned with water, and resists yellowing over time (another common issue with oil based paints). Latex paint contains fewer hazardous chemicals than oil based paint, but still contains some and can release harmful fumes. Latex paint should not be dumped down the drain, or just put in the trash in its liquid state, but if it needs to be disposed of, it can be dried up by soaking it up with kitty litter, newspaper, or sawdust.

When given the option between oil or latex paint, the more environmentally friendly paint is latex paint.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

The harmful fumes given off by paint are due to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are emitted gases that can cause a variety of health problems when breathed in. VOCs can be found in paints, household cleaners, adhesives, pesticides, and building materials among other things. In paint, the chemicals that make up VOCs are used to hold the dyes suspended in the paint. After the paint is spread, the VOCs evaporate out, and the color stays in the dried paint. The US government has created a standard of 250 grams per liter of VOCs for flat paints and 380 g/l for other finishes. However, California, a state that frequently enacts stricter environmental regulations, has capped VOCs at 50 g/l for all finishes. Paints that adhere to the California regulations typically label themselves as Low-VOC. (It’s important to note that in order for a paint to be labeled low VOC, it only has to contain less than the government standards. You should read the label carefully to see the reported number of VOCs each brand and finish of paint contains.)

More recently some paint brands have advertised certain paint lines as being no VOC. In order to do so, they must contain less than 5 g/l of VOCs. Some paint brands have also opted to get evaluated by third party certification programs such as Greenguard or Green Seal to set themselves apart as environmentally friendly paint choices. These certifications evaluate the paint on more than just VOC levels as well and award their labels to paints that meet their environmental standards.

To choose a more environmentally friendly paint, look for low- or no VOC paint options, or paints that have received Greenguard or Green Seal certification.

 Natural Paints

There are some paint options that do not contain the harsh solvents used in oil or latex paints. These paints are instead pigmented with naturally occurring materials such as clay, lime, linseed oil, or chalk. Natural paints do not contain VOCs, but they do come with drawbacks. The color choices are limited, drying time can be long, coverage can be not great, and they are typically significantly more expensive than latex paint. You can find information on making your own natural paint and a list of natural paints here.

If you want to make the most environmentally friendly paint choice, and your needs can be met by the limitations above, look for natural paints.

 

Related: Tell Me More About Greenguard Certification

Tell me more about Forest Stewardship Council Certification

forest stewardship council certification

Lumber is a pretty integral ingredient to how we build and furnish our homes. And luckily, when properly managed and harvested it is a sustainable and renewable resource. It is also an excellent natural carbon sequestration method. And seeing as how we can’t quite seem to figure out how to do that with technology, it seems like we should probably take advantage of Mother Nature when she does it for us. But you see that bolded sentence up there about managing and harvesting properly? That’s the kicker. How do we ensure that the lumber we are building with is managed and harvested in a sustainable manner? Well, that’s where the Forest Stewardship Council comes in handy.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a international not-for-profit organization devoted to responsible management for the world’s forests. It does this primarily through standard setting, certification, and labeling of forest products. The FSC was established in 1953 as a response to concerns about deforestation. It certifies and labels forest products which are harvested in environmentally appropriate ways, are socially beneficial, and economically viable.

How does lumber become FSC labeled

There are two types of certifications that the FSC offers, Forest Management and Chain of Custody. Both certification require evaluation by an independent FSC accredited certifier that the forest of chain of custody meets the principles and criteria that the FSC has developed.

The FSC maintains 10 principles to determine if a Forest can be certified:

  1. Compliance with all applicable laws and treaties, and all FSC principles and criteria.
  2. Tenure and use rights and responsibilities.
  3. Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples rights.
  4. Operations must maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic well being of forest workers and surrounding communities.
  5. Efficient use of products to ensure economic viability, and social and environmental benefits.
  6. Maintain the ecological functions and and integrity of the forest.
  7. A long-term appropriate management plan must be written and followed.
  8. Monitoring and assessment
  9. Maintenance of High Conservation Value forests.
  10. Plantations which are in accordance with principles 1-9

In order for lumber to be labeled by the FSC it must come from a forest which is certified in Forest Management, and it must follow a supply chain which has been certified in Chain of Custody.

What sorts of products are FSC labeled

More than just lumber can be labeled by the FSC. The label can also be used by paper products, furniture, jewelry, and medicines that were made by products in certified forests.

Want to learn about other environmental, energy, and sustainability certifications? Check out these posts:
LEED certification
Energy Star certification
Green Guard certification

Tell me more about Greenguard Certification

It seems these days that every packaged product has some symbol boasting its quality. But not every seal or certification is created or bestowed equally. The marks of a meaningful certification program are high standards, rigorous third party testing, and ongoing off-the-shelf evaluation. It also helps if the certifying body is not-for-profit.

Greenguard is a third party certification that is used for indoor air quality. It was started by the Greenguard Environmental Institute in 2001, and was acquired by UL Environment in 2011. The certification is for indoor use products that produce low emission amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

There are a couple different types of Greenguard certification that a product can receive. The Greenguard Certification is for indoor use products that meet strict chemical emissions limits and are suitable for use in a healthy indoor air quality environment. Greenguard Gold Certification is a stricter certification specifically for sensitive individuals such as children and seniors. The products that are certified as Greenguard Gold are appropriate for use in schools, childcare facilities and healthcare facilities.

How does a product become Greenguard certified

A product manufacturer applies for product certification. The product is evaluated and tested to make sure it meets the Greenguard standards for certification. The standards are set based on criteria set by key public health agencies. If a product is certified, it is then subject to annual testing for more than 10,000 different VOCs.

What sorts of products are Greenguard certified

Over 10,000 products from 350 different manufacturers currently carry the Greenguard seal. There is a wide variety of products that have received Greenguard certification, including paint, adhesives and sealants, building materials, furniture, electronics and textiles. If you are looking for specific products that have received Greenguard certification, you can look here.

Interested in learning about other environmental certifications? Check out these posts on LEED certification and Energy Star.

Tell Me More About Energy Star

Chances are you’re familiar with the blue and white logo that can be found on many types of home appliances, but do you know what being Energy Star certified actually means?

The Energy Star program was started by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in 1992 as a labeling program for energy efficient appliances. Energy Star is now an international standard for energy efficiency. The Energy Star label can now be applied to computers, servers, appliances, heating and cooling systems, home electronics, imaging equipment, lighting, and new homes and buildings.

In 2010 it came to light that the Energy Star label was being wrongly granted and misused. It was being granted to products that did not exist, and if a company had one product certified they were able to download the label and put it their other, non-certified products as well. Since then, a number of critical audits were completed, and the Energy Star label and certification process has been revamped to prevent these sorts of fraudulent claims.

Now each application is reviewed for approval. Products must be third-party tested in EPA approved labs. Additionally, each year off-the-shelf tests are conducted on a percentage of Energy Star labeled products to ensure that the consumer is receiving products that meet the standards.

So what does it mean if something has and Energy Star label

Each product has a set of standards that it has to meet in order to receive the label. For example, a refrigerator must save 20% of energy based on the industry minimum standard, an air conditioner must save 10%, and a light bulb must save 75% vs a standard incandescent. These standards are updated every couple years or so, in particular when at least 50% of the market is held by energy star labeled products.

The Energy Star label and buildings

There are currently Energy Star ratings for new homes, commercial spaces, and industrial plants. Buildings are evaluated for the energy efficiency of their heating and cooling systems, water management, and air quality. Buildings are evaluated by professional engineers or registered architects and have to receive a rating of 75 or higher (out of 100) in order to receive an Energy Star label.