How choosing the right paints can help improve sustainability

To help meet net zero targets, the construction industry needs to adopt more sustainable practices and ensure all building materials are carefully selected, based on their environmental credentials and performance over the intended lifecycle. Here, Peter Howard, Sustainability and CSR Lead at Dulux Trade, explains how the right paints and coatings can not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of a home, but also help to lower their long-term environmental impact. 

Construction and maintenance projects can have a huge impact on the environment. In fact, the construction industry accounts for approximately 36% of worldwide energy usage and 40% of CO2 emissions – which are generated from activities such as manufacturing, transportation, and mining for raw materials. The entire supply chain – from manufacturers through to labourers – has a role to play in helping to reduce this impact. By making small behaviour changes at every stage of a project, a significant difference can be made. 

Selecting the right materials

When choosing building materials, it is important to consider both their environmental credentials (such as compliance to accreditation schemes) and their long-term environmental impact. For example, paints and coatings can play a vital role in beautifying surfaces but carefully selecting the right ones can reduce the need for regular, emission inducing, redecoration work. 

Opting for quality paints that deliver long-lasting results will help to extend the maintenance cycle and cut down carbon emissions and costs over a building’s lifetime. However, to make an even bigger difference, it is important to select paints that provide more than just durability. 

Low VOC paint

To help with the application and drying processes, paints and coatings contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These chemical vapours are found in higher quantities in solvent-based paints and are released into the air as the product is used. However, they also contribute to the formation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and add to ground level pollution and global warming. 

As well as affecting the environment, products with higher VOC content also require decorators to ventilate spaces well during the application and ensure they are unoccupied for longer after the paint is applied, which can cause disruption to the customer. 

Paint manufacturers are continuing to develop ways to reduce VOC content within paint, such as developing water-based alternatives that provide quick drying times, easy application and a professional finish. As a result, redecoration work can be completed quickly and to a high standard, whilst also limiting environmental impact and with a reduced impact on indoor air quality. 

For example, there are now paints available that are 99.9% VOC free – like the recently reformulated Dulux Trade Vinyl Matt. This paint offers high-opacity and excellent coverage for a top-quality and uniform finish, as well as a reduced impact on indoor air quality and a lower carbon footprint when compared with the previous formulation. High-quality, water-based paints like this provide the professional finish and quick drying times needed to complete work efficiently and to a high standard.  

In addition to wall and ceiling paints, it is also important to choose low VOC products for use on wood and metal. For example, trim paints like Dulux Trade Diamond Satinwood that provide a tough and durable satin finish and excellent protection from scratches, stains and grease are ideal. This product is also non-yellowing, quick drying, low odour and has a lower environmental footprint than a solvent-based equivalent. 

Quality assurance

It is important to know that the products selected will genuinely deliver the sustainability benefits needed, and a good place to start is looking for product accreditations and certifications from the manufacturer and reputable third parties. For example, compliance with green building accreditations – or proof of an externally accredited EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) – will provide added reassurance of a paint’s sustainability credentials. Green building accreditations include BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and WELL (a performance-based system designed for measuring and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing).

Packaging waste 

At the end of the project, it is vital that paint cans and packaging are disposed of responsibly. An increasing number of decorative merchants offer free can recycling services that ensure empty cans are recycled, rather than going to landfill. 

For projects requiring a high quantity of paint, such as large housing developments, using conventional 10L paint cans can result in a significant amount of waste. AkzoNobel now offers a selection of Dulux Trade products in 170L reusable containers, that can be cleaned and refilled, so no packaging goes to waste. If they are used twice or more, the bulk units become a more sustainable packing solution than the 10L packs. 

Overall, it is imperative that social housing providers, developers and building owners work with painting contractors to ensure the paints and coatings used on projects not only provide great results but do so with a reduced impact on the environment. Steps such as using long-lasting coatings, lower-VOC technologies, water-based paints and ensuring empty cans are recycled can all make a real difference.