Turning a greener shade

James Parker spoke to Peter Howard of Dulux Trade to find out how the firm is attempting to get a clear message to specifiers to drive use of sustainable paint alternatives, and whether the industry is on board.

The true meaning of sustainability can be hard to pin down, and perhaps will necessarily always be a combination of factors, but for many specifiers and clients, using more sustainable solutions remains a key focus. Dulux Trade is trying hard to clearly communicate to the industry the variety of benefits that more sustainable paints can offer to help them transition to greener options without compromising on performance.

With paints having had something of a poor reputation in the past on issues such as solvents and associated VOCs, persuading the doubters can be a challenge, with the risk of the debate being rather one-dimensional. In his role as marketing manager at Dulux’s parent company AkzoNobel, Peter Howard has his work cut on broadening the issue, such as making a strong case for paint’s durability, as well as encouraging recycling, and reassuring people that ‘greener’ doesn’t mean ‘inferior’ when it comes to performance.

As part of this effort, Dulux Trade has developed a new set of marketing messages called Halo, which captures all of the key messages around paint sustainability into a seven-segmented colour wheel (see page 78). Says Peter, “It’s a response to frequently asked questions from customers and where we see things moving as well.”

Broader-brush sustainability

One of the key messages, that of durability, also ties into architects’ desire to provide buildings which are flexible and/or multi-use for a long life, which is a perhaps under- appreciated sustainability factor. Says Howard,

“If you’re looking for a long-stand- ing finish then we can help.”

He adds:

“More and more buildings are multi-use, whether it’s in the domestic or commercial sector.” Dulux Trade has established specialist ranges for decorating exteriors whether wood or masonry which can help extend their life, withstanding the elements and maintaining their looks for up to 15 years.

A couple of other elements within Dulux Trade’s sustainability ‘Halo’ revolve around cutting waste, such as helping specifiers get a project ‘right first time’ so that they do not have to repaint. Part of this is selecting colours using a useful visualisation app, as according to Howard, “colour choices can be quite challenging for architects and interior designers”.

Howard adds that recycling and reuse is his “personal bugbear,” explaining that despite concerted industry efforts to persuade painters and decorators, 78 million plastic tubs and 50 million metal tins end up in landfill every year – “that’s despite many different merchants offering recycling services.”

He does put some of the blame for this on specifiers however, saying:

“contractors aren’t being asked to by the specifier; if architects demand it, it will happen.” This is despite the added benefit with water-based products that once they are dry in the can, they can be recycled. “Whether it’s an architect or interior designer, we’d love them to put ‘use can recycling’ in their specifications. Just that one sentence will drive the numbers. Under one per cent of cans get recycled, despite us always promoting it.”

Another strand of ‘getting it right first time’ is ensuring that paints comply where required with environmental ratings systems, but auditing all finishes used on a project on their environmental compliance can be complex, says Howard.

“Some of the most common questions we get are whether a product is BREEAM or LEED compliant, and no matter how many times we publish the information it always seems to get lost.”

Carbon & life cycle

‘True’ sustainability is often seen as carbon reduction, and Howard says while it remains a core concern for specifiers, moving the industry over to water-based paints is challenging: “Our simple message is that water-based products have a much lower carbon footprint than solvents, plus they dry quicker and have other benefits. We are desperate to try and move people over. We are trying to firstly, give people a simple solution, but also give people the detail they need.”

In terms of that detail, Dulux Trade’s Environmental Product Declaration can provide specifiers with a full life-cycle analysis of individual products.

“If you asked me about the carbon footprint of a particular paint, we have third party trusted data so you can now model that yourself. That level of independence is important, it’s not us marking our own homework.” An interesting and perhaps surprising fact thrown up by the life-cycle analysis was that the water footprint of water-based paint is actually less than that of solvent based paints.

Is the industry continuing to engage with the relevance of paint in contributing to sustainable goals? Howard says that most specifiers “appreciate the positive role that paints and coatings have, firstly in protect- ing the substrate to make it last longer.” He says that concerns about performance are as big a factor as paint’s inherent sustainability however:

“They just want assurance that a product is good quality and will do the job, but doesn’t have a high environmental footprint.” He adds: “Things always centre around how much VOC content is in it.”

He says that the wider sustainability issue of the robustness of the supply chain has come into focus recently at Dulux:

“We have noticed a lot more pressure from specifiers around supply chain standards in the last three years. We now have BES 6001 because we were being asked those questions.” He adds: “This comes up particularly on tenders and PQQs in the commercial sector.”

Performance claims

The final arbiter of quality in the construction industry is whether products perform. However, with the first ‘green wave’ of eco products, there were examples of that performance not being up to scratch, says Howard. “There is a perception among maturer specifiers who perhaps got burned with the first generation of products that let them down. In some cases correctly and in other cases not, people felt that an eco product isn’t necessarily a better product, and they were paying more for something which isn’t quite as good.”

He says that although the industry has moved on “a huge amount – you can get products which are just as good, and cheaper,” that journey “hasn’t happened quick enough for some people. It is a big concern for someone who loves sustainability, because you want people to view sustainable products as having higher, not lesser, quality.”

He admits a balance is necessary to achieve a commercially viable as well as sustainable solution –

“the optimum will be somewhere in the middle – if you keep reducing the environmental impact it’s not always going to suit every environment.” He says product R&D at Dulux Trade “thinks about what are the most common scenarios and how can we best help people achieve them sustainably, otherwise it’s pushing all people towards a solution that might not work for them.”

Water-based paint for exterior applications doesn’t mean a compromise on performance – for example Weathershield Smooth Masonry is water-based and comes with a claim of 15 years “all weather protection.” And for exterior gloss, Weathershield Quick Dry Exterior Gloss lasts for six years. All colours in the Weathershield rain have been “optimised for lightfastness” which helps them look as good when they were applied, for a longer period of time.

While every product still contains some solvent, even those at the medium level are a big reduction on traditional paints, says Howard.

However, he advises:

“Watch out for claims, we make sure all of ours are accredited, sometimes we are overcautious but we won’t mislead the market.” On cost, he says that Dulux Trade is aiming to “not penalise people” for buying water- based, so they can just “pick the product that’s right for them.”

Howard admits that moving painters to new products is a challenge:

“They are conservative and time is their money – the risk is on them if they try a new product and it goes wrong, they have to pay to put it right. Unless they are forced to do it by a customer, they almost won’t have an opportunity to have a go.”

He concludes:

“They’ve been let down in the past perhaps by water-based glosses, and now that’s what they think every time they see a water-based product. There are always challenges but we are now in a position where you can rely on a water based product.”