In an Ideal World, Every Coating is Green

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Within the business world at large, “sustainability” can often be used as a buzzword of sorts – a broad and sometimes indefinable term that loosely touches upon a corporation’s general efforts to protect the environment.

In the construction industry, sustainability is a transparent and top-line priority for manufacturers, architects and building owners alike, all of whom place major focus on the development, production and incorporation of environmentally friendly building materials into their workflow. For coatings manufacturers, not only must a finished product contain a high-level standard for sustainability, it must also maintain the aesthetic quality that visually brings a project to life.

As a leading coatings manufacturer, it is imperative for Valspar and our peers to set an example for the entire industry and produce more sustainable products and technologies that address the many problems facing our earth. First, let’s address a few of the larger environmental issues that have impacted the industry, then discuss what’s being done to combat them, which organizations are helping steer the cause and what the future holds for sustainability in coatings.

Reduced and Reused VOCs

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) have been a component of the coatings industry for years because they contain properties that assist in the application of coatings to a surface. Recognized as an element that can contribute to the aroma of paint fumes, VOCs play a significant role in contributing to the generation of ground-level ozone and urban smog, which can directly lead to negative health effects for us and environmental issues for the earth.

Once this danger was truly understood, coatings manufacturers shifted their attention to developing chemical formulations that diminished the need for harmful solvents and VOCs. Valspar was able to make a direct impact on this mission by implementing a higher percentage of solids in its formulations.

Adding more solids into a coating formulation results in a smaller amount of the coating volatizing into the air, thus reducing the accumulating effect of urban smog and ground-level ozone. Furthermore, the coil coating process includes the incorporation of a thermal oxidizer. This helps return VOC gasses released during the coating process back into the system to become fuel for the curing process, rather than leak out into the environment.

Protecting a More Impactful Substance

Coil coatings extend the life of a metal substrate by providing a waterproof, weatherproof, corrosion-resistant protective barrier. A metal roof can also be one-eighth the weight of other roofing products, placing a lighter load on the structure and foundation, and extending the life of the entire building. Adding a coating to a metal surface can extend the useable life of that metal substrate well into the future. A recent life cycle assessment performed on metal roof and wall systems concluded that upstream metal production takes the most significant share of the environmental burdens.1 Additionally, metal roofs last far longer than traditional materials. In general, building owners can count on a metal roof lasting up to 40 to 60 years, while the average lifespan of an asphalt roof usually rests between 12 to 20 years.2

Reflecting Infrared Energy

Much like a traveller wears extra, protective clothing while crossing a desert, architectural coatings can help protect a newly constructed building from the harsh rays of the sun and keep it cool. And just like the growing threat of the sun’s dangerous impact on our skin, so grows the escalating issue of the energy costs and concerns over global warming from building owners.

Throughout the day, as the sun beats down on the surface of a building’s roof and exterior, infrared light is steadily absorbed and converted into heat, which gradually increases interior temperatures. When this issue happens in an urban setting with a number of buildings in close proximity to each other, the accumulating temperature exponentially escalates due to local smog, asphalt and lack of foliage, creating what’s known as the “heat island effect.” This problem can drastically raise the overall air conditioning costs and electricity expenses of a city if unimpeded, further contributing to the earth’s energy crisis.

Fortunately, there have been major advancements within the coatings industry that effectively combat the heat island effect by reducing the amount of infrared light absorbed by an exterior surface. Enter solar reflective coatings, which are formulated to reflect the sun’s infrared energy.

Products like Valspar’s Fluropon® SR coating are designed to drastically reduce the energy costs of a building, especially when paired with high-performance metal paneling on a cool roof system. Valspar estimates that cool roof systems that feature a solar reflective coating could save an average of $20 to $30 per year, per 1,000 square-feet. If implemented nationally, that equates to an annual savings of $1 billion.3 Ambitious as that may sound, the technology developed by coatings manufacturers has the ability to make an astonishing impression on sustainability practices at a global scale.

Leading Partners

Bettering the sustainability practices and technology of the coatings industry is not a task that coatings manufacturers have undertaken alone, and it would be remiss not to recognize the organizations that have contributed just the same. The following three organizations have set industry standards for the evaluation of and certification for environmentally conscious construction practices and building materials.

ENERGY STAR® is a program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that helps identify and promote energy efficiency in products, homes and buildings nationwide. The program helps building owners make the smartest choices possible when it comes to protecting the environment and saving money, by advising on ways to use less power and prevent greenhouse gas emissions. More than 1.6 million homes and 25,000 buildings in America are ENERGY STAR certified, undergoing the program steps needed to achieve maximum energy efficiency. Like many fellow coatings manufacturers who have dedicated resources to becoming more focused on sustainability, Valspar is proud to offer a diverse roster of coatings that are ENERGY STAR certified.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) is a third-party verification program led by the U.S. Green Building Council that is designed to authenticate a building’s adherence to the most up-to-date environmental standards. The program is divided into four LEED rating levels: Certified, Bronze, Silver and Gold, and buildings must earn credits based upon the sustainability and energy-saving features of the overall construction process and architectural products used. Solar reflective architectural coatings applied to metal paneling exemplify a construction process that earns LEED credits, as they can lead to greater energy efficiency in a building. LEED v4, the organization’s latest program, is its most extensive to date, offering a more transparent and specialized way for architects and building owners to achieve higher sustainability goals.

The Living Building Challenge™ is the most comprehensive and stringent certification program on the market, requiring observance to the most advanced measure of sustainability in the construction sector. Composed of seven performance categories, hopeful candidates must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy. The latest iteration of the program, Living Building Challenge 3.1, requires manufacturers to be transparent about the materials used in their products and meet lofty environmental guidelines.

Addressing the Future

Many coatings manufacturers take these sustainability goals to heart and work hard to deliver products that not only meet the demands, but also exceed them. Valspar is no exception, and has recently developed an architectural coating that not only meets the rigorous requirements of the Living Building Challenge, but also the necessities of LEED v4 and ENERGY STAR, while addressing the issues of VOC release and deterrence of infrared energy.

Fluropon Pure is the most recent addition to the Fluropon -family and is the company’s most sustainability-focused coating to date. Fluropon Pure complies with Living Building Challenge’s Red List by eliminating hexavalent chromium, phthalates and PFOA from its formulation. The coating also offers the same benefits of Valspar’s original Fluropon line, which include superior durability, formability and color consistency, ensuring that using Pure won’t sacrifice the beauty and durability of a building. Additionally, the new coating contains solar-reflective pigments to aid in structure cooling and combat the heat island effect.

This product is just one example of the countless innovations that many coatings manufacturers have contributed to the cause of going green. From lower VOCs, developing advances in solar reflective technology, and becoming more transparent and environmentally focused about coating formulations, coatings manufacturers across the board have made an immense impact on raising the sustainability standards of the industry. Along with partnerships from programs like ENERGY STAR, LEED and the Living Building Challenge to lead the way, there is so much we can accomplish together.

It is the job of all coatings manufacturers to push the envelope and create products that meet the continuing needs of customers and suppliers. We should all strive to consistently develop products that boost transparency surrounding the chemical make-up of coatings, and ensure that end users will be able to reach their own high sustainability goals. 

References

1   PE International, Inc. 2012. Life Cycle Assessment of Metal Construction Association (MCA) Production Processes, Metal Roof and Wall Panel Systems.

2   Data sourced from Metal Roofing Alliance: http://www.metalroofing.com/v2/content/about/faq.cfm.

3   Data sourced from Valspar Green Focus Brochure: http://www.valsparcoilextrusion.com/opencms/export/sites/coilextrusion/galleries/pdfs/Valspar-GreenFocus-Brochure.pdf.