Archive for June, 2009

The Non-Smell of Fresh Paint

June 10, 2009

With the recent painting of my kitchen and living room, my seemingly never-ending construction saga is over. Even better, the house does not, and did not, smell of new paint. The last time I painted my house, it took more than several days for it to fully air out. The smell lingered in the air as the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) made their way from the walls, through house, and eventually outside to pollute the atmosphere. That was back in 2002. Fast forward to 2009, and I did not want to repeat that experience. Fortunately, there are now a variety of environmentally friendlier, non (or low) VOC paints on the market.

And I was a willing consumer. My first hope was to go to the neighborhood paint store and inquire about environmentally friendly, low/no VOC paint. We went twice, and the answer was the same—no dice. (I prefer to shop at the community stores vs. the big box chains, if I have a choice). After getting the wrong answer at the local paint store, it was off to Home Depot and Lowes to see their low/no VOC offerings. Lowes had a low VOC entrant; Home Depot had a NO VOC contestant. The Home Depot brand, The Freshaire Choice (made by Glidden) immediately became the leading candidate. The good news was no VOCs—the bad news was the relatively limited colors available (only 65). (Glidden actually has a very informative pdf on VOCs here:

As for the colors, we did find colors we can use. The skimpy color selection can certainly be a major limitation for a lot of people. We also learned that paint has two major parts –the paint itself and the colorant. The design innovation of The Freshaire Choice is that the colorants are also VOC free, as well as the paint. In fact, the colorants are actually in a package that dissolves into the paint when it is mixed in at the store. As for paint quality, it is actually made by Glidden, which is a good brand. It has also been certified to the Greenguard indoor air quality standard (and that’s a good one).

This sounds too good to be true, and it is. We learned the hard way that while the Freshaire paint and colorant might be VOC free, this does not necessarily apply to the primer. The primer unfortunately had more than enough VOCs to make up for the paint. Even worse, after we do the painting, we found out that there was a Freshaire Choice primer. Live and learn.

From a corporate perspective, Glidden is owned by ICI, which is a major chemical company that was recently bought out by a Dutch company called AKZONobel. AKZONobel calls Freshaire Choice a “premium brand”. (In terms of price at Home Depot, it is priced the same as the Ralph Lauren paint in the neighboring case). Equally impressively, AKZONobel prominently features sustainability on their website. Further, they provide some ways they measure the success (or failure) of their sustainability programs. So I take these claims a little more seriously than most—because what gets measured gets done (

So I achieved my goals with the paint. First, it looks good (now that is on the walls). Second, it did not smell up the whole house. Third, I bought it from a corporation that seems to take sustainability seriously. Not a bad deal for a gallon of paint—or two, or ten.

Red, White, Rose, and Green

June 2, 2009

I returned from California with an expanded definition of “environmentally friendly” wine. I have since learned that I am not alone in at least beginning to think about how I can factor in “sustainability” or “environmentalism” into my wine purchases. I still want to buy what I think will be a good wine. However, I am now more open to checking out whether a brand somehow incorporates sustainable practices into its operations. Once I figure out what grape I am in the mood for, and how much I can afford for a bottle, the environmental angle seems like a perfectly good next step.

I am usually pretty open to learning about new wines. One of the ways I do so is to flip through my Food and Wine magazine. The May issue had a section on Wine Country Travels—and some of the ads specifically included the word “sustainable”. Arrowood talked about “sustainable viticulture; The next ad (Cambria) used the phrase “farmed sustainably” and Rodney Strong made sure to mention “sustainable business practices”. These claims may or may not be legit (after talking to Arrowood, their claims definitely are), but it was striking to see the claims in wine ads at all.

However, defining what “sustainability” and wine really mean together is a gray area at best. Fortunately, about a month or so ago, I got an email from the Sierra Club about “green wines”. Since I like both wine and the environment, and I am a member of the Sierra Club, I opened the email. I was looking for an answer. Sure enough, they were reviewing wines. The wines were red, white, or rose—the green part was the environmental aspect of either the wine or its producer.

Once the basic issue of taste was addressed, I was surprised as to what qualified as “green”. A couple of the wineries were cited for organic or biodynamic grape growing processes. Some were praised for using renewable energy to power their operations, while another’s production facility has LEED (green building) certification. One or two were complimented on trying to preserve wetlands and the habitats around their facility. One was actually fully organic in its grape growing and its production processes. The comments section had some comments about the relative pay of vineyard workers vs. other agricultural workers (I do not know which was accurate).

Although I was a little confused as to how “green” some wines actually are, the article was interesting because it made me think further about what it meant to actually incorporate sustainability into my wine purchases, For me, the best answer is to learn who is at least raising grapes using organic and/or sustainable methods. Then I would give credit to other aspects like using renewable eneegy, habitat preservation, composting/preserving the soil, etc. Finally, to the extent that I can find about these matters, I would prefer to buy from companies who treat their workers well.

And by the way, be sure the wine tastes good and holds up over time.

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