This week we dipped into the world of “eco-paints” in an attempt to find the best solution for our house. It is not an easy process. There are lots of brands making lots of claims that fall under the broad category of “eco-friendly”, but without doing a Phd on the subject, it is incredibly difficult to compare. Sorry that this post is so long, but hopefully it will be interesting/helpful.
The main reason seems to be what counts as being “eco”. Some paints, eg Earthborn, concentrate on the impact of their paints on the living environment of the user compared to traditional paints. The argument here is that conventional paints can release harmful chemicals into the air, whereas Earthborn’s “natural” paints are water based and contain no VOCs* (the real bad boy in paint) or acrylic softeners.
However, even if these claims are sound (I say this because there is sporadic debate about whether the alternative ingredients of “natural” paints also have a harmful effect on health and the environment), they don’t drill down into other considerations such as the carbon emissions of the manufacturing process.
Also, on another point, without buying and testing a million different pots of paint from each brand (which wouldn’t exactly be eco-friendly), it is impossible to get a thorough comparison of how the different brands compare with one another in terms of opacity and durability. Clearly, even if a paint scores highest in terms of eco-friendliness on a litre by litre basis, if you need to buy a whole lot more litres to do the job, or if the paint lasts only the half the time of one of the competitor brands and needs to be replaced, its high score gets chipped away.
So, somewhat reluctantly, we accepted that without being able to compare reliably, we were not going to find a clear winner. Instead, we decided to go for a brand which appeared to tick as many boxes as possible.
Our choice is Dulux’s Ecosure range. This feels like a cop out but that may just be because of inherent doubts around big mainstream providers jumping on the green bandwagon with token offerings and lots of greenwash… However, putting our natural scepticism to one side, we think that the Ecosure range fares pretty well against out key criteria:
- Almost zero VOCs. According to Dulux “no organic materials such as solvents are added in the manufacture but some of the raw materials that are used can contain traces of volatile components which is why this figure can never really be absolutely zero.”
- 35% less embodied carbon. This was based on analysis of the lifecycle of the new range, developed in conjunction with the sustainability charity Forum For The Future, compared with the standard Dulux Trade range, from extraction, growing and re-processing of raw materials to the manufacturing process itself. What we couldn’t find were the actual figures showing what the embodied carbon was reduced to or from.
- Packaging contains 25% recycled plastic
- “High opacity provides excellent coverage and application” (we couldn’t test this claim, but Dulux produces some charts showing high performance compared with unnamed “eco brands”. Presumably we will find out as we start to use it…
The Ecosure range is more expensive than standard Dulux paint, but probably broadly comparable to other eco brands, although it is difficult to assess as you need to take into account average coverage of the paint as well as the cost per litre. For comparison, the Ecosure is approximately £10 more expensive per 5 litre pot than standard Dulux matt emulsion.
The easiest sell for Dulux is the beautiful colour charts they have. “Greenness” is all very well, but other colours are very important too! Unfortunately, none of the other eco brands that we were looking at could offer us a showroom at the end of our road with a library of beautiful colours and a stool to rest a weary pregnant body on…. I fear this may be the main reason we ended up with Dulux, but please don’t judge me.
It is a bit unfair to judge Dulux above other green brands on this element, as some of the other brands we came across said that they would match any colour, but in terms of ease and practicality, this where mainstream providers do come into their own.
Some more options
In order to give a bit of balance, there were a few brands we came across that looked great, responded promptly to our queries, and appear to offer a good spread of colours. If we had the time and tools to do a proper comparison of their products against the Ecosure range, we suspect they might have done rather well:
- Paint The Town Green – who manufacture their paint in a “green” factory in Iceland which uses hydro-electric and geo- thermal power.
- Auro paints – whose ingredients are sourced as locally and ethically as possible and whose factory uses wind power and solar energy to help with energy supplies and rain-harvested water for washing down machinery.
Anyway, enough talking, we need to get on slapping some paint on the walls asap if we’re going to get into this house any time soon.
*NB it should be pointed out that there is new legislation in effect which means that from 1 January 2011, VOCs levels in paint will be subject to certain restrictions depending on the particular use to which the paint is being put. There is more information here.