In the years following the release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, environmental issues have moved to the forefront of the U.S's agenda and the public's consciousness. Consumer demand for healthier options today is being driven by the media's focus on issues of health and sustainability. The idea of "going green" has gained widespread support across a broad spectrum of consumers and businesses.
From fuel efficient hybrids to celebrity advocacy to daily headlines concerning global warming, the green movement continues to gain momentum. In 2006, for example, an estimated $10 billion worth of green buildings were under construction in the U.S.
Green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, is an umbrella concept that has grown substantially since it fully emerged more than a decade ago. By definition, green chemistry is the design, development and implementation of chemical products and processes to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of substances hazardous to human health and the environment.
Green is also a marketing tactic. Having a low level of VOCs has emerged as a key selling point. All major paint makers today have "green" product offerings. Some feature green certification on the label, such as Green Seal.
But what makes green paints green and are they really green?
Many environmental organizations such as the U.S. EPA, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEEDS) and Green Seal have established a number of standards regarding VOCs. But there is no universally accepted definition of green as it concerns VOCs and odor.
Generally speaking, VOC levels for interior latex paints are 150 grams per liter for non-flat paints and 50 grams per liter for flat paints. Exterior paints are typically 200 grams per liter for non-flat and 100 grams per liter for flat paints.
However, often these levels do not account for the colorant system that is added to the base paint. Universal colorants can have more than 240 grams per liter of VOCs. From this perspective, green paints may not be as green as they are touted.
While many kinks still need to be worked out in the green arena, paint makers are moving in the right direction. Moving forward they will continue to tweak formulas to meet consumer demand for healthier products as well as an increasingly stringent regulatory environment. Building on the Ozone Transport Commission's low VOC paint regulations in 2005, further regulations went into effect in certain areas of northern Virginia in January 2008. In May of this year, Connecticut will en act its own Architectural Industrial Maintenance (AIM) regulations, restricting non-low VOC paints. Massachusetss will en act its AIM regulations in January 2009. Further legislation is expected at the federal level with a proposed implementation date of January 1, 2009.
Solving the issue of colorants has been a top priority for paint makers. The following products are well on that path with innovative colorant systems.
In November of last year Southern Diversified Products introduced Mythic Paint. The result of over six years of research with polymer research partners at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), the new paint is based on patented technology designed to improve latex paint at its core and has been formulated to offer all of the premium qualities of conventional water-based paints without the need for toxic solvents, according to the company. This means zero VOCs, zero harmful toxins released into the air and no unpleasant odor when painting. This line includes a primer and flat ceiling paint in addition to flat, eggshell, semi-gloss and exterior satin varieties and uses a proprietary toxin-free coloring system and MatchRite Color Matching Software.
C2's LoVo low VOC paint
ArmourColor is a new division of UK-based Armourcoat. The company launched its ArmourColor range of decorative finishes with low VOCs to the U.S. market earlier this year at PACE 2008. The range of architectural coatings comprises three surface finishes including Perlata, Escenta and Tactite.
Freshaire Choice Paint uses the ColorFresh delivery system to ensure uniform color and mixes a new zero VOC paint with a new zero VOC tinting system.
To help consumers identify its green coatings, Sherwin-Williams has introduced the GreenSure designation for its environmentally friendly products. Duration Home and Harmony carry the GreenSure logo and both have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Elan is a new low odor and low VOC formulation from Valspar. The 100% acrylic latex enamel utilizes the latest ceramic technology and is meant for interior wall, trim and ceiling surfaces.
ICI's Freshaire Choice Paint
Three years in development, Benjamin Moore unveiled Aura on the West Coast last year and completed the product's nationwide rollout earlier this year. A 100% acrylic interior, Aura features Benjamin Moore's patent-pending ColorLock technology partnered with a waterborne colorant system. ColorLock technology locks in the color, enabling Aura to cover most surfaces in a single coat, according to the company. Aura is also now available in an exterior edition.
By creating a waterborne colorant system, Benjamin Moore says that no additional VOCs are introduced into the product when colorant is added. Aura is GreenGuard certified and was included in the "Best of What's New" for 2007 from Popular Science.
History of green chemistry
1991: The phrase "Green Chemistry" is coined by the chemist Paul Anastas.
1992: UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Agenda 21 was adopted.�� �
1995: On President Bill Clinton�s initiative, EPA started to give an annual "U.S. Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award." Today there are similar awards in Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Germany and Japan.�� �
1997: The Green Chemistry Institute is formed by Joe Breen in the U.S. In 2001 a similar cooperation is started with the American Chemical Society.�� �
1998: Paul Anastas publishes the book "Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice" together with J. C. Warner. The book includes "The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry."�� �
1999: The Royal Society of Chemistry in London formed "The Green Chemistry Network" and started to publish the paper "Green Chemistry."�� �
2002: "Handbook of Green Chemistry and Technology" is published.�� �
2003: MISTRA�s Greenchem program is started.
The 12 principles of green chemistry
1. It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed.
2. Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
3. Wherever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.
4. Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity.
5. The use of auxiliary substances (e.g. solvents, separation agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary whenever possible and, innocuous when used.
6. Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.
7. A raw material feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practical.
8. Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection and deprotection, temporary modification of physical and chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible.
9. Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
10. Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and break down into innocuous degradation products.
11. Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
12. Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires. �
Anastas, Paul T., and Warner, John C. Green Chemistry Theory and Practice, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.