What you should know about: Paints and Coatings

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Paints and coatings can have significant impacts on the environment and human health, depending on what ingredients and components they contain. For example, if a paint uses organic solvents rather than a water base, it will release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the surrounding air. Solvent-based paints can also contain about 50 percent more embodied energy.

VOCs are detrimental to indoor air quality, and their minimisation is one way to achieve possible Green Star credits. Exposure to VOCs can trigger headaches; irritation to eyes, nose and throat; damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous systems; and loss of coordination. They're also suspected to cause cancer in humans and have been associated with "sick building syndrome", according to The Fifth Estate.

Pigments, which are used to give the colour and opacity to paint, can also be problematic for the environment. Titanium dioxide is widely used in the paint industry and its manufacturing process can be environmentally harmful: it contains high embodied energy, is a limited resource and results in unwanted air and water emissions. 

GECA-certified paints and coatings do not contain carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals, and there are limits placed on the amount of titanium dioxide used. GECA only certifies water-based paints with low VOC content. Those certified under the most recent Paints and Coatings standard meet the requirements of the VOC credit under indoor environment quality as part of Green Star.

For more about how to choose environmentally-preferable paints, have a read of our previous article here. You can also search for GECA-licensed paints and coatings, and check out how certified paints were chosen to refurbish a school.