Greenwash Watch: Sherwin Williams GreenSure Label

We learn from Inhabitat that Sherwin-Williams has introduced a new line of paints, and has invented a new label, GreenSure, to go with it. They list a whole pile of standards and requirements that their paints must meet to get GreenSure; no doubt they will mean something to chemists. But what does it mean to the public? Not a whole lot. But let's look at one of the standards, perhaps the most important for paints, the Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. As is shown above, Sherwin Williams' standard for VOCs is 50 grams per litre.

Now I don't know it that is high or low, but I do know that there is an independent third party standard, GreenGuard, that tests products for VOCs and gives its label to products with VOCs lower than .5 milligrams per cubic metre. For some unknown reason Sherwin Williams uses a different metric unit and there are a lot of zeros involved.

UPDATE A commenter has noted that there is a difference between what Sherwin Williams is doing, measuring the VOCs in a liquid, and what GreenGuard is doing, measuring VOCs in the air, and that I may be comparing apples and oranges. While I don't really see the relevance to measuring VOCs in the can rather than in the air, he makes a valid point that my math exercise below is not relevant. he makes some other points comparing GreenGuard to the Greensure that are worth reading.

I note that the Material Safety Data Sheets list an Emitted VOC of 17 grams per litre. GreenGuard's testing procedure is listed here, and involves actual testing of air in a 33 cubic metre room.

MSDS for Duration Home interior latex paint in the Greensure line.
I did not believe my results so I used an online calculator and it confirmed that 50 g/l is 50 Million milligrams per cubic metre, or a hundred million times as high as Greenguard permits. Now a hundred million times almost nothing can still be almost nothing, but that is fifty kilograms per cubic metre; if paint has roughly the same density as water then it is up to five percent pure VOCs.

When you look at the four paints that have GreenSure certification, two are GreenGuard and two are not. The Greenguard ones have zero VOCs; the two that do not have GreenGuard certification have VOCs right up there near the GreenSure limit.

No doubt Sherwin Williams had good reasons for putting the VOCs in; people demand a certain level of performance, coverage, speed of drying, they probably couldn't get the paint to perform they way they wanted with no VOCs

But that doesn't mean that they can call it green.
Just because you don't want to comply with the established third party standard doesn't mean that the customer has to accept your own dubious invention of one.

Unless my mathematics are off by about six zeros, this product is greenwashes in a number of ways:

-it isn't third party verified.
-it is rated against a meaningless standard that is incomprehensible to the public.
-it is designed to confuse, listing "chemical component restrictions" like lead and mercury that haven't been allowed in paint for years.
-it creates a pretty "GreenSure" graphic to give consumers a false confidence.
-it blows past the standard that anyone else in the industry considers the green standard.

Really, lets cover the earth with real science and real standards, not slick marketing. As Andrew Pace of Degree of Green said so well in Inhabitat:

Their program was internally created by their own marketing people, so there is no third party verification of the claims. This is akin to Phillip Morris saying that nicotine is not addictive."

Or as we might say, inside-job green labels aren't worth the recycled paper they are printed on.

Other paints in TreeHugger that meet credible third party standards:
Affordable Low VOC Paint ?
Sico zero- VOC Paint
GreenBuild: What's So Special about Yolo Paint ?
YOLO Colourhouse: Natural Paint
Non:Toxic Paint : Planet Green

From How Stuff Works:

How Low-VOC Paint Works
Low-VOC Paint, VOC-free Paint and Other Alternatives
Paint Components: Dissecting the Grass Green Paint on Your Walls