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Specifying eco-paints

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Eco-paints offer an alternative to natural paints, but how green are they really? asks Hattie Hartman

Over the last five years, conventional paint manufacturers have improved the sustainability of their products, and a niche market of eco and natural paints has developed. The environmental impact of paint centres on its embodied energy, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) emitted during its lifetime, and waste disposal.

Natural paints – those made from natural materials – are distinguished from ecopaints, which seek to reduce their environmental impact. Durability is also important.

The composition of paints is well-documented in Lynn Edwards’ Handbook for Eco Paints and Finishes (Eco-Logic, 2008). Titanium dioxide, the pigment often used for opacity, is the main culprit when it comes to embodied energy, while synthetic solvents such as white spirit emit VOCs.

The second phase of the EU directive, which sets emission limits for VOCs, will go into effect in 2010. Manufacturers are scrambling to comply. The trend is away from solvents towards water-borne paints.  

Transparency of labelling is key. Auro, Earthborn and Biofa list all their ingredients
on the tin.

Although ecopaints are more expensive, 90 per cent of the cost of painting is labour. Ordering lead times, on-site mixing requirements, and drying times drive the contract price up, not the cost of the paint itself.


Imperium is a metallic, decorative-finish paint in 25 colours, including gold and silver-leaf effect, made up of acrylic resins in a water dispersion. It is free from heavy metals, toxic solvents, aromatics or chlorides.

Manufacturer Oikos
Supplier Bluebell
Uses Interior walls and furniture
Application Brush
Coverage 6-8m² per litre
VOC content 5 per cent maximum
Titanium dioxide content None
Full disclosure of ingredients Yes, in technical literature
Recycling Recyclable plastic containers
Made in Italy
Start of UK distribution Spring 2009



Auro is a natural paint made with organically grown linseed oil resins, and the colour range increased from 32 to 92 shades last year. The paint is 100 per cent biodegradable and can be added to household compost.

Manufacturer Auro
Supplier Greenshop and others
Use Interior walls
Application Brush, roller, spray
Coverage 9m² per litre
VOC content Minimal – 0.29 per cent from essential oils that act as natural fungicides
Titanium dioxide content 15g per litre
Full disclosure of ingredients Yes, labelled on tin
Recycling Fully recyclable pot
Made in Germany
Start of UK distribution 1989

Earthborn Claypaint

Earthborn Claypaint has a thick, ultra-matt finish. It is a breathable paint that minimises condensation and deters mildew, making it ideal for lime-plastered walls. Earthborn is the only UK brand with the EU Eco-label Flower.

Manufacturer Earthborn
Uses Interior walls and ceilings
Application Brush, roller, spray
Coverage 8m² per litre
VOC content None
Titanium dioxide content 20.6g per litre
Full disclosure of ingredients Yes, labelled on tin
Recycling Affiliated to Community RePaint, which uses old paint for community projects
Made in Germany
Start date of UK distribution 2003

Timonox Scrubbable Matt

Timonox, which is available in over 1,350 colours, has exceptional durability and dirt-resistance and uses a water-borne flame-retardant coating. Crown Paints is partnering with i-plas to recycle waste packaging into outdoor street furniture.

Manufacturer Crown Paints
Uses Internal walls and ceilings, especially high-traffic areas
Application Brush, roller or spray
Coverage Up to 14m2² per litre
VOC content Maximum 30g/litre
Titanium dioxide content 21 per cent
Full disclosure of ingredients No
Recycling Currently trialling ‘can back’ recycling scheme
Made in the UK
Start of UK distribution Spring 2009

Ecosure Matt Light & Space

Developed with environmental charity Forum for the Future, this product has 35 per cent lower embodied carbon and 29 per cent less solvent content than standard Dulux Vinyl Matt. It also reflects twice as much light, reducing the need for artificial lighting.

Manufacturer ICI Paints
Uses Interior walls and ceilings
Application Brush, roller or spray
Coverage Up to 17m² per litre
VOC content ‘Virtually zero’
Titanium dioxide content Not disclosed
Full disclosure of ingredients No
Recycling Cans made from a minimum of 25 per cent recycled materials
Made in the UK
Start of distribution June 2009

Farrow & Ball Full Gloss

Farrow & Ball’s Full Gloss has a sheen level of 95 per cent, can be used on ceilings and walls, is completely washable and is available in 132 colours. The company has been affiliated with Community RePaint since September 2008.

Manufacturer Farrow & Ball
Uses Interior and exterior wood and metalwork
Application Brush, roller or spray
Coverage 12m² per litre
VOC content 23.2g per litre
Titanium dioxide content Variable – depends on colour
Full disclosure of ingredients No
Recycling Tins have a high-recycled content, and are recyclable
Made in the UK
Start of distribution January 2009

  • Specifying eco-paints

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