Sorting Out Green Certifications for Paints and Coatings

Oct. 20, 2016

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 www.greenseal.org.


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 www.greenguard.org.


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


The standards for ECOLOGO are from metrics that are more broadly concerned with green issues and sustainability. “This standard is designed to support a continuing effort to improve and maintain environmental quality by reducing energy and material consumption and by minimizing the impacts of pollution generated by the production, use and disposal of goods and services,” explains UL.

Specific categories of assessment include materials, energy, manufacturing and operations, health and environment, product performance and use, and pro-duct stewardship and innovation. Based on specific chemical data, successful paints and coatings will receive the ECOLOGO distinction.

More details about ECOLOGO can be found at www.industries.ul.com.

MPI Green Performance Standard

Unlike the other green certifications, the Master Painters Institute’s MPI Green Performance Standard evaluates only paints and coatings. MPI’s certification is in large part due to increased research linking ozone depletion to VOCs from paints and coatings.

MPI standards are based on VOCs, chemical components and performance. Unlike some other certifications, MPI values the longevity of a paint or coating in conversation with its chemical impact because of the basic intention of paints and coatings protecting a surface.

But MPI is sure to outline the uneasy relationship environmental friendliness and performance can have. “The standard addresses environmental friendliness with performance in the context of differing geographical environmental regulatory trends,” says MPI. “It does not address sustainability where higher VOC coatings perform significantly better."

MPI also closely scrutinizes recycled paints. One main concern is that the waste stream needs to be “verifiably environmentally preferable.” Another is that recycled paint must “meet the same minimum performance standards as comparable non-recycled paint.” With MPI, there is little “either/or” with performance and environment – they are both expected to be optimal to receive certification.

Learn more about MPI’s Green Performance Standard at www.mpi.net.

These certifications have their own unique motives and metrics, but at the same time there is plenty of overlap between them. If you want to go green on your next painting project, research the certifications out there to find the best fit.

Justin Feit [email protected] is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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