No Plastics and no VOCs
The problem started just after World War 2 when the drive for modern building materials gave an exponential rise to the use of concrete, steel, glass and plastics. There was an enormous waste mountain of acrylics and latex from the war effort (a by-product of the crude oil refinery) which saw the drive for cheap plastics. Most of the (building) world still has that mind set. However, one thing we can probably all agree on is the fact that plastics are bad for our planet. Not just in terms of waste but also how it is made. Most conventional paints from the big brands are essentially all the same product: synthetic colourants mixed in acryclics / latex. So, to begin with, all our paints are all completely free from plastics and phthalates or micro beads. Just because linseed paint works so well, doesn't mean that it cannot be healthy, too. You can have your cake and eat it!
The Exterior Range is completely free of VOCs; the Interior Range, and Satin Wood Oil contain less than 0.03%. The new international regulation is for paint to contain less than 0.5% VOCs. Brands like Farrow & Ball, Little Greene, Dulux, Crown, Johnston, Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore all still contain enormous amounts of chemicals. The whole new drive by these brands to make their paints 'water-based' (as if the word water makes it a natural or healthy paint), is pure green washing. The reduction of the VOCs in these paints means they have to add all kind of other chemicals (stabilisers, chemical emulsifiers, anti-coagulants, phthalates) to make their products work. These paints are no healthier than their previous generations.
Linseed paint is made from vegetable oil (pressed flax seed) with raw-earth pigments wherever possible. For example, the vast majority of our pigments are natural - some blues however, would be too expensive to make if only raw earlth pigment like lapiz-lazuli was used. So when you see us using a picture of one of those beautiful violet-coloured flax or linseed plants, we are not using it to give the product an air of healthy qualities, that is actually an image of the main ingredient of our paint. Paint used to be a building product: it was needed for protection from the elements, it was a sacrificial layer. Nowadays, it is mostly seen as a decorative coat, whatever that is made of. If we actually go back to looking at paint as a structural element of a building, we solve the biggest problem in one go: use less plastic.
Breathable or wicking paints are essential to keep homes free from mould / fungi. Both the WHO and the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM) recommend a work and living environment free of fungi / mould their presence can have serious impact on a person's health. According to the WHO:
While groups such as atopic and allergic people are particularly susceptible to biological and chemical agents in damp indoor environments, adverse health effects have also been found in nonatopic populations. The increasing prevalences of asthma and allergies in many countries increase the number of people susceptible to the effects of dampness and mould in buildings.
It [Dampness] is estimated to affect 10–50% of indoor environments in Australia, Europe, India, Japan and North America. In certain settings, such as river valleys and coastal areas, the conditions of dampness are substantially more severe than the national average. The amount of water available on or in materials is the most important trigger of the growth of microorganisms, including fungi, actinomycetes and other bacteria. Microorganisms are ubiquitous. Microbes propagate rapidly wherever water is available. The dust and dirt normally present in most indoor spaces provide sufficient nutrients to support extensive microbial growth. While mould can grow on all materials, selection of appropriate materials can prevent dirt accumulation, moisture penetration and mould growth.
Microbial interactions and moisture-related physical and chemical emissions from building materials may also play a role in dampness-related health effects. Building standards and regulations for comfort and health do not sufficiently emphasize requirements for preventing and controlling excess moisture and dampness. Apart from its entry during occasional events, such as water leaks, heavy rain and flooding, most moisture enters buildings in incoming air, including that infiltrating though the envelope, or from the occupants’ activities. Allowing surfaces to become cooler than the surrounding air may result in unwanted condensation. Full report here
But it is not just damp and humidity causing issues. Factors such as chemical contaminants (VOCs and chemicals used to reduce VOC contents in most modern paint) and electromagnetic radiation also have a major impact. This article on the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM) sets it out in more detail, for those interested in reading up on it.
Low Carbon - Low embodied energy
Low-carbon is still a concept not very well know to consumers but important to most architects as it indicates how much energy was needed for the manufacture and transport of certain materials. Concrete, for instance has one of the highest embodied energies. Traditionally, paint does not perform very well as the base (acrylics and latex) and colourants are derived from crude oil. Since linseed oil is obtained by cold-pressing flax seed (no heat or refineries needed), our paint has a fraction of that of normal conventionally available paints. Our pigments (raw earth) are mostly mined in daylight mining. The pigments and oils are ground into a paste using a triple-roller mill - not a machine which requires a lot of energy to run. Therefore, the biggest part of the embodied energy of our linseed paint is in transport and packing. Both areas we continuously look at improving. For our packing we use mainly recyclable and recycled cardboard (we have a big cardboard shredder). For transport we work mainly with DHL as they have one of the most advanced carbon neutral schemes and target. Their size also means they can group a lot of consignmets, bringing the carbon footprint down. More importantly, shipments mostly seem to arrive in one piece without damage, meaning we don't need a second journey to send out replacement goods. We are very much aware that DHL are still a large corporation moving 'stuff' around, but for now, they are the best partner.
A product which leaves no imprint on the environment from the moment when it is conceived, to manufactured, to supplied, to recycled or reabsorbed by mother earth, is the holy grail. This concept is called cradle-2-cradle. Again, better known in architectural circles, but something which we believe consumers should at least be aware of. Since linseed paint is the perfect cradle-2-cradle product, we researched getting accreditation. Unfortunately, this already seems to have fallen foul of corporate industry as accreditation starts at £10K and has, therefore, a whiff of green-washing about it. Hopefully, this will change soon to include products and companies on the basis of how products actually perform rather than how much cash they can spend on it.