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Sustainable Solutions

Navigating the course of green building standards and VOC compliance is an evolving process.

By Steve Revnew

Navigating the course of green building standards and VOC compliance is an evolving process.

Amid the growing customer demand for green design solutions, it is important that trade professionals understand the standards and future regulation changes for achieving green building certifications. When it comes to meeting those standards with paints and coatings, guidelines on indoor air quality are important to follow. The good news is that paints low in odor and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can help meet these indoor air requirements.

To be classified or marketed as low VOC paint, government organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), require that the VOCs are limited to 50 grams per liter for field applications. Green paints that meet these environmental standards have 20 percent to 30 percent of the VOCs of traditional paints.

However, low VOC should not be the only criteria for green. Quality green coatings should also offer trade professionals a number of performance benefits. These include minimal odor that allows for application in occupied spaces; better hiding and longer lasting performance to minimize the frequency of repaints; antimicrobial properties that resist mold and mildew on the paint film to maintain a fresh appearance; superior stain and burnish mark resistance that make the coatings a perfect fit for high-traffic areas; and, a washable, scrubbable surface that eliminates the need for harsh cleaning chemicals.

While these performance benefits make specification of quality green paints seem like an easy choice, it can still be a challenging decision for trade professionals. This is largely due to the fact that it can be difficult to stay up to date on the VOC content regulations and standards that qualify a coating as "green." For example, there are currently six different sets of VOC regulations being followed throughout the United States. For trade professionals, these varying regulations require a thorough understanding of all regional standards at all times (to ensure compliant products are specified for every project, no matter the location).

What's more, VOC regulations are not hard and fast, but instead are changing every year. For instance, in 2009 alone, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Rhode Island joined the majority of states in the Northeast that follow the Ozone Transport Commission Model Rule guidelines for VOC emissions. Indiana is also expected to join this group sometime in early 2011. Additionally, the EPA has proposed a new national standard for VOC emissions that, if passed, could take effect in early 2011. In California, where the California Air Resources Board Standard is followed, changes to VOC emissions policies are also expected to take effect in 2011.

While the specific details of these pending regulation changes are unknown, and specifying green coatings remains a bit challenging as a result, it is important to stay informed of the changes as they are implemented. Doing so will strengthen relationships and build trust with customers exploring green building solutions for their construction projects. Additionally, as these rules change and become more stringent, certain types of paints that trade professionals have grown accustomed to will disappear from store shelves, and new paint specifications will have to be adopted. For example, high VOC, oil-based paints will soon be replaced by water-based or higher volume solid alkyd paints.

As technology improves and we all become more aware of our global footprint, the green trend will soon simply become the green standard. Understanding new regulations will be a differentiating factor for consumers when selecting a paint, or a design contractor for that matter.

As the green building movement gains momentum, consumers are getting smarter about the sustainable aspects of their purchases. What's more, they want to do business with companies and manufacturers that exhibit a strong commitment to the environment. Trade professionals who are in step with green regulations, knowledgeable of green coating trends, and who can recommend environmentally friendly product offerings will be a valuable resource to their customers.

Be sure to talk with a reputable manufacturer's representative about green paint and coating options. Knowledgeable specialists can provide specific product information and technical performance data that will help in selecting products that deliver maximum quality, appearance, performance, and value to customers.

As vice president of product development for Sherwin-Williams, Steve Revnew lends his talents as the go-to expert for complex product and chemical questions, customer concerns and company-wide green initiatives. Revnew is a member of the National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Marketing Association. He can be reached at