Sorting Out Green Certifications for Paints and Coatings

10/25/2016 | By Justin Feit

What exactly do those green labels mean?

A quick look at any number of products – especially with paints and coatings – and you might find one of many green certifications that assure the product’s adherence to specific green qualifications. The seemingly limitless number of “green” products provide ample opportunity to find products that are sustainable.

However, the concept of “green” has become less clear as more manufacturers have employed the word to mean almost anything. The very term “green” can suggest a multitude of aspects of a given product, so these certifications can mean little without a greater understanding of what they are and who makes them.

BUILDINGS has profiled some of the most recognizable green certifications for paints and coatings – laying out what their labels mean to you.

Green Seal

As an independent, non-profit organization, Green Seal’s certification program is designed to promote eco-friendly products by evaluating them against their performance, health and environmental criteria. As an organization, Green Seal promotes manufacturing, purchasing and using products and services that fit under the wide umbrella of “environmentally friendly.”

Green Seal’s standards for paints and coatings are robust. They provide certification for qualifying products within 16 different categories, each with its own unique guidelines.

Beyond the chemical makeup and product-specific guidelines set, Green Seal also includes requirements for health, packaging and consumer education.

Once a product receives the mark of certification, Green Seal monitors the product regularly to hold companies accountable for their green products over the long term. That way, manufacturers must maintain their green specs to keep their certification.

In addition to testing products, Green Seal also provides programs to promote green practices in buildings and institutions. Green Purchasing, for example, is an initiative where Green Seal helps organizations take part in environmentally preferable purchasing practices, and the Green Seal Mail Partnership Program has teamed up with the U.S. Postal Service to promote greener mail practices.

Learn more about Green Seal at


UL Environment acquired GREENGUARD in 2011 as a means to expand its efforts in promoting sustainability and safety. Formerly known as the GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification, the GREENGUARD Certification Program may have changed its name, but IAQ is still its focus.

The GREENGUARD emission criteria for paints and coatings has a series of clear benchmarks any product needs to meet for certification. A product under review should not exceed a Threshold Limit Value (TLV) of 0.1 or emit more than 0.05 ppm of formaldehyde, 0.07 mg/m3 of styrene, 0.5 mg/m3 of total VOCs and 0.1 ppm of total aldehydes. Additionally, the criteria contains five requirements based on various standards and statutes that all relate to air quality.

Achieving GREENGUARD certification means that a product designed for indoor use meets these strict emission limits for healthier interiors. The GREENGUARD Gold Certification has stricter guidelines. Gold recognizes products that consider air safety for sensitive individuals (like children and the elderly) and is therefore acceptable to use in education and healthcare facilities.

To receive GREENGUARD certification, a product is tested in dynamic environmental chambers that convert recorded emission levels to calculate air concentrations of what an occupant will actually breathe.

In addition to finding the GREENGUARD label on a product, the GREENGUARD Product Guide offers the opportunity for FMs to find certified products for free online. To find out more about GREENGUARD, visit


Also a UL Environment certification, ECOLOGO includes IAQ in its standards like GREENGUARD but expands its focus beyond emissions.

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