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Sustainability and paint product performance (in the EU)

Published 16.02.2022


The global recognition and demand for more sustainable products is on the rise as consumers become increasingly aware of the hazards both to human health and the environmental that are associated with the use of certain products. Architectural paints are mostly industrially produced, chemically complex and widely used and discarded by the general public and lessons learned from the recent decades clearly indicate that it is necessary to assess the environment and health risks associated with conventional paints. Over time global conversation about sustainability goals has also inspired the production and recognition of more sustainable paints. Sustainability being the buzzword of industries after the Green Deal has been introduced in the EU, sometimes it is not easy task for consumers to understand how certain performance standards work and thus trust the quality and performance of the paint products.

The aim of this blog post is to reintroduce the term 'sustainable paint product' and provide insight into the performance qualities of paint products that are recognised as sustainable and awarded with the EU Ecolabel (leading environmental excellence label in the EU).

How sustainability is linked to the paint product performance and why it matters?

Sustainability implies the goal of ability to sustain something, to endure. In modern context the term is significantly more complex implying aims for multidimensional resilience to problems caused by growth. While the definition of sustainability can lack in guidance, the practice of the UN Sustainable development goals aims to equally support the environment, people and economy and in doing so recognise that the world resources are finite. Sustainable products therefore must be assessed for how the production, use and waste impacts social, economic and environmental dimensions (a).

Conventional paint products contain hazardous chemicals and substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), biocides and heavy metals. The best understood environmental impacts throughout the paint life cycle are associated with raw material sourcing, production and waste management stages. With this knowledge, for a paint product to be recognised as sustainable it must:

  • Contain lower amounts of hazardous substances, titanium dioxide and white pigments;
  • Perform well in comparison to conventional paints;
  • Have lower and safer amounts of VOC emissions and heavy metals;
  • Be recycled or safely disposed of and, in additon;
  • Have positive social and economic impact.

Read more about how to make a sustainable choice of a paint product in our blogpost: link

In the European Union the leading certification program evaluating product sustainability is the EU Ecolabel. In short - the EU Ecolabel is a voluntary, third party evaluated certification program awarding their recognition label to products exceeding in specific criteria when compared to other products of the same category that are available in the market. Additionally, the EU Ecolabel claims to promote circular economy by encouraging producers to generate less waste and CO2 emissions during the manufacturing process (b). 

The EU Ecolabel is awarded to paints that meet quality criteria of 6 stages and include:

EU Ecolabel
  • White pigment and wet scrub resistance;
  • Titanium dioxide;
  • Efficiency in use;
  • Volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs, SVOCs);
  • Restriction of hazardous substances and mixtures;
  • Consumer information and product label criteria (c).

Read more about what it takes to label a paint product with the EU Ecolabel in our blog post: link

Paint performance requirements for the EU Ecolabel

The EU Ecolabel is, among other criteria, demonstrating the efficiency of the paint and varnish products, providing to the consumers information about the label-awarded paint product quality and performance. Performance evaluation implies product testing and compliance with certain nominal standards. Eligible for such evaluation are 8 paint categories: Indoor paint; Outdoor paint; Trim and cladding paint; Thick decorative coating (indoor and outdoor); Varnish and woodstain; One pack performance and floor covering paint; Primer; Undercoat and primer.

Paint performance requirements for the EU Ecolabel include 11 criteria including: Spreading rate; Resistance to water; Adhesion; Abrasion; Weathering; Water vapour permeability; Liquid water permeability; Fungal resistance; Crack bridging; Alkali resistance; Corrosion resistance.

Regarding general public interest in architectural paint performance three main product groups can be distinguished and analysed for performance requirements set by the EU Ecolabel:

Indoor paint

The only paint performance requirement for indoor paints (white and light colours) is that the spreading rate of such paints should be at least 8 m2/L, meaning that one liter of paint covers surface of at least 8m2.

Outdoor paint

Outdoor paint performance requirements include nine criteria:

  • Spreading rate for white and light coloured paints must be no less than 4m2/l for elastomeric paint and 6m2/l for masonry paint;
  • Weathering requirements must meet 1000 h, meaning that the paint product has for 1000 hours been made susceptible to artificial weathering in a specialised apparatus and evaluated for flaking, cracking and blistering of paint;
  • Water vapour permeability must meet class II or better, this typically regards exterior masonry and concrete paints claimed to be breathable;
  • Liquid water permeability of a paint must meet class II or class III, this typically regards exterior paints claimed to be water repellent or lastometric;
  • Fungal and algal resistance must meet class 1 or lower for masonry or wood paints, this regards paints claimed to have anti-fungal or anti-algal properties;
  • Crack bridging for elastomeric paints must meet A1 requirements;
  • Alkali resistance regards masonry paint and it must meet ISO 2812-4 standard, meaning it shall show no noticeable damage after being spotted with 10% NaOH solution for 24 hours;
  • Corrosion resistance regards outdoor anti-rust paint. Rusting must be lower or equal to Ri2 standard, while blistering must be lower or equal to size 3/density 3.

Thick decorative coating (indoor and outdoor)

Thick decorative coatings for indoor and outdoor must comply with six out of eleven performance requirements set by the EU Ecolabel:

  • Spreading rate for white and light coloured paints must be at least 1m2/l, meaning that one liter of thick decorative paint allows for 1m2 of coverage;
  • Weathering requirements must meet 1000 h outdoors;
  • Water vapour permeability for outdoor use must meet class II or higher;
  • Liquid water permeability of a paint intended for outdoor use must meet class II or higher;
  • Fungal and algal resistance must meet class 1 or lower for outdoor paints (d; e; f).

More information about the EU Ecolabel and criteria for paints and varnishes is available in:

Recognising well performing and sustainable paints

Recognising well performing paints that are also sustainable can be difficult, thus the safest path a consumer can take is either to go for all natural paints like chalk and lime paints (when they are appropriate choices for the planned painting project) or to follow the environmental labels, since they are created with the overall purpose to guide the consumer to safer product choices and also speak on behalf of the paint manufacturer whose products have been recognised by the EU Ecolabel, Greenguard or other national and independent environmental labels. Such labeling and certification programs typically offer an online catalogue of products evaluated and recognised by the label (e; f).

In regard to environmental labels, it is important to pay attention to the ISO number of a paint label, since ISO 14021only refers to single-attribute environmental claims made by manufacturer and not those tested by a third-party, while the ISO 14024 and ISO 14025 refers to third party evaluated and life-cycle assesed paints (g).

Read more about How to understand paint labels in our blog post: link

It must be noted that paint performance also depends on surface preparation by the user as well as the paint choice and correct application of paint. Learn more at - Choosing paint for the right surface.




Sustainability becoming the buzzword of industries and markets, the paint and coatings industry is no exception. As international and national regulations become better defined and increasingly implemented, paint and coating manufacturers are required to balance both - the quality and  performance of their products as well as sustainability.

Recognising the EU Ecolabel as the largest and most thorough certification program currently active in Europe in evaluating paint products for predefined sustainability criteria and performance qualities, in this blog post the sustainable paint performance was analysed through the EU Ecolabel set criteria for “efficiency in use”, where 11 criteria have been defined with set limitations. These criteria include the spreading rate, weathering, fungal and algal resistance and others, namely, indicating that the EU Ecolabel, being a voluntary, third party evaluated environmental label, is motivating manufacturers to work towards innovation of sustainable and competitive paint products, that can ultimately become the primary choice of consumers and professionals caring for safer painting experience as well as a good quality paint product.

Consumers and professionals looking for the EU Ecolabel awarded paint and varnish products can explore the online catalogue of paints having this label or look for the EU Ecolabel marking on products available at retailers.


Author: written by Anse Romančuka, edited by Linda Kikuste


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