Responsible Purchasing Network

Paint: Overview

Welcome to the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Paint. This Guide describes the components of a successful procurement program for responsible paint.

Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide: Social & Environmental Issues; Best Practices; Cost, Quality & Supply; Policies; Specifications; Standards; Products; Handy Facts; Definitions; and Credits & Endnotes.

Social & Environmental Issues

The social & environmental issues section discusses a wide range of issues with paint, including energy conservation, air and water quality, hazardous substances, and waste. Some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), common in paint products, are known to cause human health problems, including damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system over long-term exposure (Green California, n.d.). Heavy metals, which occur in small levels in paint, may cause liver and blood damage (EPA, 2006c). Due partly to these hazardous materials, paint disposal is a concern to human and environmental health. Additionally, improperly disposed latex paint can contribute to suffocation of aquatic ecosystems. Paint contains petroleum-derived ingredients, a non-renewable polluting resource extracted from unstable and ecologically sensitive regions. Latex Recycled low-VOC and zero-VOC paints mitigate disposal challenges and reduce risks to human health and the environment. More specifically, recycled paint manufacturing conserves resources by reusing waste materials. It is important to note, however, that recycled paint has VOC levels approximately equal to its feedstock.

Best Practices

The best practices section provides guidance on responsible procurement, use, and disposal of paint. To procure paint and manage its use and disposal in the most responsible ways possible, it is advisable to form a team specifically devoted to the task; establish baseline data on inventory and impact; set goals for cost reduction and fewer adverse health and environmental impacts; adopt a policy; evaluate standards and specifications; educate staff and improve current practices; and measure and report progress.

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Cost, Quality & Supply

The cost, quality & supply section discusses how high quality, low-priced recycled-content architectural paints are widely available (CIWMB, n.d.). But until recently, gauging recycled content and performance standards has been difficult in the absence of consistent standards and third-party certification. Now, recycled-content architectural paints certified by Green Seal include recycled content minimums and meet the Master Painters Institute performance standards that apply to other latex paints. Low- and zero-VOC latex paints typically carry no price premium, perform as well as virgin latex paints, and are widely available. “Natural paints,” made from non-toxic ingredients like soy, milk, and silicate typically cost more, need to be special ordered, and have not been adequately evaluated in terms of performance. It should be noted also that any of the above lower-impact paints can contain some petroleum-derived ingredients (see the Specifications for additional details).


The policies section contains a listing of paint procurement policies passed by federal, state, and local governments as well as educational institutions. Paint purchasing programs should include a policy that commits to purchasing socially and environmentally preferable paint, and provides a framework for defining and implementing improved purchasing practices. Exemplary policies emphasize the use of recycled-content and low- and zero-VOC paint, and identify desired human health and environmental attributes. This guide provides model policies and specifications from a variety of institutions.


The specifications section provides sample bid and contract language for responsible paint procurement. In addition to requiring third party certifications that address hazardous chemical component limitations and recycled-content, supply/feedstock, and end-of-life management.


The standards section discusses and compares environmental paint certifications include: 1) Green Seal GS-43 for recycled latex paint, which builds on GS-11 for interior and exterior paints, setting limits and restrictions on hazardous ingredients and incorporating the performance standards established by the Master Painters Institute for virgin latex paints; 2) EcoLogo (formerly Environmental Choice) CCD-047 for architectural surface coatings, which is similar to GS-11; and EcoLogo CCD-048 Recycled Water-borne Surface Coatings for recycled-content paint certification, which had no approved products as of January 2007; 3) Scientific Certification Systems’ Indoor Advantage Gold program tests and certifies compliance with specific indoor air quality emissions requirements, such as those of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) Section 01350; and 4) GREENGUARD Environmental Institute certification, which addresses indoor air quality and sets limits for VOC emissions (actual air emissions, rather than product content).


The products section contains an online database with hundreds of paint products certified by Green Seal, EcoLogo, Scientific Certification Systems, and GREENGUARD.

Handy Facts

The handy facts section provides a referenced set of facts and findings pertaining to paint


The definitions section provides a glossary of terms used throughout the Guide.

Credits & Endnotes

The credits & endnotes section lists the people responsible for writing, reviewing, and editing this Guide along with a listing of sources referenced.

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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