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Environmentally Friendly Epoxies or "Greenwash"?

By Jack Josephsen

With environmentally friendly attached to so many products these days, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s become just another meaningless buzz word for marketers.

Taking a step back, green products aren’t about feel-good “tree hugging” in my opinion. There’s absolutely no point making an oven cleaner that doesn't clean your oven, so I see the green product movement as the search for better performance while being safer for both man and environment. With numerous raw materials and manufacturing practices proven undesirable in this regard, the epoxy industry is the perfect candidate for a push toward environmentally friendly products and momentum has been slowly gathering.

The environmentally friendly response

In response to trends like this, you find that coating manufacturers tend to do one of two things. Some go for Option 1, which is to spend their time and money developing new technology, in this case environmentally friendly epoxies, aimed at the future market. When the surge in demand inevitably comes, these manufacturers have proven, genuine technology ready to offer a hungry market. On the other hand, some go for Option 2. These manufacturers see an opportunity to cash in immediately on the budding trend by promoting their existing products as compliant in any way they possibly can. This is called Greenwash, and it’s a problem we need to look at.

What Greenwash looks like

Greenwash occurs because, to put it bluntly, some companies take the easy way and just make their products sound green. For example, I recall a manufacturer that reduced their solvent content from 20% to 10% and pumped it up as environmentally friendly. Another did a similar thing to gain green certification with one product, yet sneakily promoted their entire range fell into line. These might be steps in the right direction, but a joke if you’re serious about making green products that are safer for both man and environment.

What makes that kind of practice even worse is the fact these “green products” only address higher profile dangers like solvents. There are all sorts of unpleasant chemicals and wasteful manufacturing processes that conveniently get ignored when the easy option is taken. These all have an impact on the environment and have to be considered in order to offer genuine environmentally friendly epoxies.

In addition to all that, we’ve also learnt from exposure to asbestos that it’s pointless just looking at the front end of product usage. We need to measure the entire lifecycle, including the removal, recycling and/or disposal.

How to avoid Greenwash

So, how can you tip-toe through the marketing to find genuine environmentally friendly epoxies? The answer is the same with any form of marketing: don't believe popular product perceptions or the manufacturer’s spiel unless the claims can be fully supported. One way to do this is to look for green products that have been independently audited under an internationally recognised standard. Even then, it pays to do a bit of research on what the standard is about because they’re not all equal as far as testing is concerned. Failing that, you could even ask the manufacturer if they have an environmental disclosure statement, but, once again, look for those that have been independently verified.

The logo of Good Environmental Choice Australia - a program that certifies green products.

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