While slapping a new coat of colorful paint on a wall can help make a room feel fresh, in reality, that bit of redecorating is making the planet not so crisp and clean. Paint is composed of a number of toxic chemicals that can cause serious environmental and health risks during their production, application, use, and ultimate disposal, causing the Environmental Protection Agency to put paint on its top-five list of environmental hazards. The emissions caused by house paint have been shown to exceed the combined emissions from a variety of industrial operations, depleting the ozone and adding to climate change.
For years, there have been little to no alternatives to these conventional paints that are damaging the environment. But one women-led company is taking on the likes of traditional paint companies to make an eco-friendly alternative to the toxic house paints of yesterday.
Colorhouse was founded by Virginia Young and Janie Lowe in Portland, OR, in 2005 when it became one of the first paint companies to make a sustainable paint that still emphasized color. Colorhouse's paints are GreenWise certified—the highest green certification a paint brand can get—which means it is produced without the many chemicals that make conventional paint so toxic. That includes methylene chloride, dichlorobenzene, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, and more.
It's these chemicals that cause the paint to make a "chemical cocktail" out of the air in a room, according to Architecture & Design, as the paint continues to release petroleum based solvents—called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)—even after it's dry. Paint isn't the only thing that releases VOCs into the atmosphere, but the EPA in California has found that house paint is responsible for up to 9 percent of all VOC emissions. Additionally, the CO2 emitted during manufacture contribute to petrochemical smog and greenhouse gases.
Colorhouse avoids all that, but it goes beyond just the composition of the paint to make sure the company is sustainable. The paint is sold in containers made from recycled materials with 100 percent PCW chlorine-free labels; the manufacturing plant LEED gold certified; the company is a EPA SmartWay transportation member, which streamline freight and delivery for fewer emissions; Colorhouse's headquarters is run off renewable energy and also serves as a paint can drop off site; and they don't hand out color cards, instead asking customers to buy the cards as a way to reduce unnecessary paper waste.
“Our search for healthier paint options pointed us to the vibrant green building community," Young, one of the co-founders, told Forbes, "a grassroots community that is about sharing knowledge and pushing the envelope on building materials that are better for us and the planet."
While this small company has mostly stayed in the Northwest, they are starting to gain mass appeal and are making their way across the country in big-name retail stores, including Target, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Amazon, and Crate and Barrel.
“As more consumers are looking for green products, major retailers like our current partner Ace Hardware are giving Colorhouse a new platform to reach more customers,” Sherer told Forbes.