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Chemicals in Paint and the Importance of ESG Initiatives

    A generation demanding sustainability and prioritizing of health without the greenwashing

    Dave Morrissey ASL CIO, wrote in our last newsletter that the S in ESG does not stand for ‘Simple’, nor indeed does it stand for ‘Sustainable’. It stands for Social: the social impact of a business, the consequences a business has on society. As Dave wrote,  ESG is an approach to evaluating and operating businesses that goes beyond the sole focus of shareholder return. Instead, ESG takes into consideration the ecosystem, both internal and external, that businesses operate in and how they affect each other.[i]

    To meet these desired high ESG standards, the modern paint manufacturer must incorporate energy and resource conservation, waste minimization, use of renewable materials, health considerations and the societal impact of the manufacturing process into its day to day operations and ESG initiatives.  As mentioned, it’s not simple.

    But help is at hand, and businesses do not have to navigate these ESG initiatives alone. Here at ASL we are proud to be able to enable paint manufacturers meet and surpass standards for health considerations and influence society in a positive way. Our mission is to create the healthiest possible indoor environment through science, certification and education…. And we are experts at it. Through our Certification Program, we can ensure that the promises made by manufacturers (or indeed retailers) are kept when a product is purchased and used by the consumer.

    The manufacturing of paint and its chemical contents has undergone many iterations. From its first incarnation in the caves of South Africa when bone marrow was used as a binder (almost certainly indicates that its manufacturers weren’t prioritising health!) to its current high-tech multi-chemical constitution, it has certainly evolved for the better.

    Over the years the ingredients of paint have changed and it’s true that many harmful substances, like lead for example, have been banned. But many paints still contain potentially harmful substances such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These chemicals can be a big contributor to poor indoor air quality and pose potentially serious health risks. These health issues range from headaches, dizziness and nausea to asthma, allergies and nerve damage. Some VOCs, such as benzene and methylene chloride are known carcinogens. . Also, some other chemicals used in paint can cause sensitivities or even allergic reactions and ideally should be used in as low a concentration as possible to minimise any adverse health effects.

    In the past decade huge strides and ESG initiatives have been made to reduce the amount of organic solvents in paints and advances in the formulation mean that many of the newer paints perform on par with older formulations that contained more potentially harmful ingredients. It’s often believed that sustainable or healthier solutions are less economical and will sacrifice performance, while in reality that is far from true. Thanks to outstanding efforts and ESG initiatives by paint manufacturers we no longer have to sacrifice performance for the sake of the environment or our health – healthier paints can be the norm.

    It is advised that people impacted by asthma limit exposure to VOCs as much as possible but considering their potential harmful effects it is better that we all limit exposure to these chemicals. However, because many manufacturers don’t disclose all their paint’s ingredients ( and this may be to protect IP and innovation) it does make avoiding particular ingredients a difficult task for the consumer. Third party certification programs are one way to allow the consumer identify a more suitable product. Manufacturers can voluntarily submit their paints to a third party for independent testing against certain standards and the product can be awarded a stamp or certification. asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Programtakes a balanced approach when certifying products. Of course, it’s not possible to make paint without using chemicals and there are some chemicals which can have a negative effect but which are necessary for different reasons. We want to identify paints that do not contain ingredients that are unnecessarily harmful and we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended. We measure VOC levels at 24 and 336 hours after application of the paint as we believe it’s important that VOC levels should remain low from the outset when a consumer paints their home. We also test the performance of a paint- it needs to act like paint, so must pass standardised performance tests. Certification facilitates the making of informed decisions and improves the competitiveness of a product on the market. Being a voluntary process, this requires a significant level of corporate responsibility and so demonstrates a business’s desire to do better. This generation of consumers demands just that – integrity, respect and a culture of continuous improvement. And rightly so.

    In 2021, the global paint and coatings industry was estimated to be valued at some 160 billion dollars. It is forecast that by 2029 the sector’s market value will surpass 235 billion U.S. dollars. Paint is big business and with this there comes a burden of responsibility to produce the healthiest product possible, provide safe and healthy workplaces, protect employees and communities with the least impact on our precious environment. Is this too heavy a burden? We don’t believe so – after all, consumer demand has already transformed sustainability into a business opportunity. This consumer demand along with retailer guidelines, scarcity of raw materials and the popularity of third party certifications have all combined to create powerful drivers to sustainable, healthier practices making the transformation of the industry to a holistically sustainable one a no-brainer.

    We believe that ESG should be a mindset. It must be second nature, not a second thought. This requires complete investment in sustainability and social responsibility –  from the ground up, from the grass roots, from the inside out. Businesses need to be all in. Our health and the health of the environment is too fragile, too important to dismiss with small gestures towards the idea of sustainability. The evolution of the idea of sustainability to it being a mindset that underpins all decision making processes must be a reality to be of benefit to all. Let us help you with that.


    [i] What is ESG and Why Does it Matter to your Business?