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NAD recommends Sherwin-Williams modify no-VOC claims for Harmony Paints

Published March 15, 2011
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The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that The Sherwin-Williams Company, maker of the Harmony line of paints, modify or discontinue advertising claims that the Harmony paint line is completely free of VOCs.
NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, reviewed express and implied claims made by Sherwin-Williams in website and print advertising following a challenge by Benjamin Moore & Co.

Benjamin Moore challenged the express claims:
“No-VOC formula.”
“Zero-VOC formula.”
“Formulated without silica and without VOCs for better indoor air quality.”

NAD also reviewed the implied claim that the full line of Sherwin-Williams Harmony paints, including base paint and paint containing color, contain no VOCs. For purposes of this challenge only, both parties agreed that a “zero VOC” or “no VOC” claim is substantiated if the VOC content of the paint contains less than five grams per liter VOC.

In this case, NAD considered the Sherwin-Williams’ representation that, based on its Material Safety Data Sheets and Technical Data Sheets, certain colors in its Harmony line would exceed the five grams per liter VOC threshold when its “deep base” paint was mixed with conventional colorants, but the majority of the paints in its Harmony line would yield less than five grams per liter.

NAD also reviewed evidence that included the results of testing commissioned by Benjamin Moore on selected colors of Harmony brand paint. The results of that testing indicated that, after the addition of conventional colorants to Sherwin-Williams “deep base” paint, VOC levels ranged from 42 to 112 grams per liter for “Coating” VOCs (used by air quality districts to determine whether or not a paint is in compliance with the limits set by the district’s rules.)
Sherwin-Williams questioned the testing and maintained that because the majority of its paints in the Harmony line fall below the five grams per liter threshold, its zero-VOC claims are substantiated as to its entire line of Harmony paints.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD determined that the Sherwin-Williams’ claim of “zero-VOC” was a line claim for the full line of Harmony paints after the addition of colorants.

The evidence in the record, NAD noted, “demonstrates that not all of the paint colors in the Harmony line perform as promised when Sherwin-Williams’ Deep Base is mixed with conventional colorants.”

NAD recommended that the claim be discontinued or modified to clearly convey to consumers that there are exceptions to the line claim by clearly and conspicuously disclosing that the addition of conventional colorants to Harmony Deep Base paint may result in higher levels of VOCs for some colors.

Sherwin-Williams, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “is disappointed that the NAD did not agree with its position that both consumers and the industry understand zero-VOC claims to pertain only to the majority of colors in a paint line, as opposed to being a 100 percent ‘line claim.’ However, out of respect for the self-regulatory process, Sherwin-Williams will accept the NAD’s decision and will take the NAD’s findings into consideration in its future advertising for Harmony.”

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