Architects memo no.
80: June 2005
how green is green
Resene was one of the first companies to take up the challenge
of NZ Environmental Choice criteria and have spent many hours and research
dollars pursuing these worthwhile objectives. We still, however, get
comments such as 'but you still use synthetic materials rather than
How the word "synthetic" got such bad press completely escapes
this humble scribe. A synthetic material is a product of synthesis -
a means of taking some simple chemical building blocks and transforming
them into more useful products. Nature is the most sophisticated of
synthesisers, producing, on demand, a series of highly complex materials
such as hormones and proteins within our own bodies. Nature is also
responsible for the most important synthesis of all - photosynthesis,
which every green plant can do; and scientists are striving to emulate.
One of the great breakthroughs in recent scientific history was the
synthesis of insulin. To be able to manufacture this highly complicated
molecule under controlled conditions was heralded as a great boon to
mankind. The previous natural method was to extract insulin from the
pancreases of bobby calves. Rumour has it that the calves were pretty
pleased with the breakthrough too.
The other side of 'synthetic is bad' is that 'natural is good.' This
seems to ignore the fact that Mother Nature also brings us curare, deadly
nightshade, ebola, mad cow disease, necrotising fascitis and a host
of other nasties.
The nub of this matter is that, at the inception of the Environmental
Choice Paint Criteria, NZ was the first jurisdiction to recognise that
performance of the coating could not be overlooked in assessing the
environmental impact. A 'deep' green coating that had to be repainted
annually must have a 10 x weighting factor against a 'mid' green coating
that lasts for ten years before requiring repainting.
ECNZ insisted that paints that met its environmental criteria must
also foot it in terms of performance with non-EC paints as measured
by an independent testing regime.
It must be recognised that paint, by its very nature, is designed to
have an impact on the environment. It is designed to prevent the bio-degradation
of timber; it is designed to protect iron from natural oxidative degradation;
it is designed to prevent the carbonation and slow dissolution of cementitious
It must be further recognised that painting, and especially the surface
preparation associated with repainting, is a costly and tedious business
and that paint longevity has a positive economic and environmental benefit.
There can be found on the Internet (indeed what cannot be found on
the Internet?) a range of recipes and references to 'deep' green paints
made from a range of unlikely binders, natural earths, vegetable extracts,
renewable resources, gums, balsams and various unguents. They are generally
combined in a re-discovered "original" formula, which has
been known to have stood the test of time!
Having watched the paint industry for some decades slowly and painfully
making its technological progress towards better, more durable, cost-effective
products, it would be true to say that no valuable technology would
be overlooked or pooh-poohed - even the odd balsam or two. However,
the arrow of progress does seem to be uni-directional and the 'deep'
green paints of yesteryear do seem to be strictly for the enthusiasts