Powder Coatings LEED the Way

Posted on Friday, March 22, 2019

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Green design. Eco design. Environmental design. There are many different terms for it, but the idea of sustainable design is all around us in a wide range of products we use every day.

From the symbols on food and drink packaging that show the containers are made of recycled or recyclable materials, to the move towards solar power in buildings and cars, companies in every industry around the world are working to make their products, and their companies, more sustainable. It’s so common, it’s now expected.

The concept of sustainable design is not a new phenomenon; it is something that has been around since probably the mid to late eighties, but it has developed. Over time, as this concept has been widely embraced, ways of incorporating sustainable design into as many aspects of a product as possible have increased. We’ve moved from awareness, through recycling, to renewable resources and onwards.

More and more, we as consumers expect this from our products and from the corporations (big and small) that produce them. That goes for buildings, too. Anyone with an interest in architecture and design, anyone working in the architectural coatings industry, anyone who’s walked into a building and saw the “green building” logo on a wall as they enter, will know about sustainable design in architecture. For a long time, architects and designers have aimed to create buildings that are better for us and our planet. The general feeling is that it’s about building the future, not just building.

Sustainability Initiatives

There are literally thousands of things that can be considered when making a building more sustainable to the community and the planet; for example, location, proximity to public transport or cycle paths, directionality of the location to take advantage of natural heating/cooling, community areas, recycled and renewable materials, solar, wastewater, energy used in construction, longevity of product…the list goes on. And on.

With the focus on sustainable design in architecture entrenched in the industry for so long, it is only natural that ways to formalize, recognize and improve the design approach and thought process didn’t take long to come about. These days there are several organizations, some global, some more U.S. focused, that attempt to guide design professionals through the myriad of ways that a building can be made more sustainable.

The International Living Future Institute introduced the Living Building Challenge, Zero Energy and Declare. The International WELL Building Institute developed WELL, a standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness. On a smaller scale, Google introduced their own “Red List” of banned substances, and a group of leading U.S. architectural firms got together to create mindful MATERIALS, a free platform with aggregated information on human health and environmental impacts of products from leading manufacturers, vetted by experts passionate about making it easier to make informed product choices.

Perhaps I should have prefaced this article with “Welcome to the world of acronyms,” as it seems there are a large number of them used constantly when covering this topic. VOCs, LEED, EPDs – it’s acronym city here, but don’t worry, keep going and we will explain them all as we get to them!

USGBC Seal The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has really taken the lead with LEED. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, better known as LEED, has been at the forefront of sustainability in architecture on a global scale. It’s the most widely used green building rating system in the world and is available for virtually all building, community and home project types. The USGBC states that LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings, and LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.

Where Do Powder Coatings Come In?

“Human beings don’t have a pollution problem; they have a design problem. If humans were to devise products, tools, furniture, homes, factories, and cities more intelligently from the start, they wouldn’t even need to think in terms of waste, or contamination, or scarcity. Good design would allow for abundance, endless reuse, and pleasure,” states an excerpt from The Upcycle by authors Michael Braungart and William McDonough, 2013, this is the issue that design professionals wishing to practice sustainable design run into every day. So, what if there were coatings that were a more sustainable option compared to some of the traditionally used options out there?

It will come as no surprise to those in the powder coatings industry that powder coating, including high performance powders for architectural applications, are a more environmentally responsible coating choice. But why so?

There are no solvents and therefore no, or extremely low, Volatile Organic Coatings (VOCs) in powder coatings. As solvents and VOCs are classified as bad for the environment, the fact that powders are virtually VOC-free is a huge advantage for any design professional wishing to practice sustainable design, especially when they use powders over large areas such as building envelopes.

In many cases, high performance powders are a single coat application that achieve the same chemical, mechanical and weathering performance as competing coatings. Not only does this mean less product is used, but also less energy in both application and curing.

From an application perspective, powder overspray can be reclaimed and reused or recycled. This one speaks for itself.

The pretreatment options for high performance powders are more varied. Both chrome and non-chrome pretreatments can be utilized, while still giving AAMA 2605 levels of performance. (AAMA 2605 is the highest North American standard available for coated architectural aluminum extrusions). This means the ability to remove chrome from the environment and around people is an option. Chrome-based pretreatment does not have to be used, nor does a chrome-based primer.

As well as reducing solvents and VOCs, we can also reduce the amount of hazardous waste.

Toxic hazardous waste is much reduced in both the manufacture and application of powder coatings when compared with competing coatings. That has to be a good thing!

For these reasons, and more, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes and recommends powder coatings as a sustainable coating option.

So, it makes sense that high performance powder coatings for architectural applications should be able to contribute to sustainably designed buildings, right? Absolutely.

Just how does this work? Well let’s take LEED projects as an example. A product does not get LEED certified, the project or building does. When plans for the building commence, a decision is made as to whether or not to pursue LEED accreditation. It’s not a decision that’s taken lightly, as it takes a lot of hard work and resources to make it happen. However, once that decision has been made then the architectural team builds sustainable design into every possible facet of the building, and essentially tracks what they do. Incorporating various environmentally responsible aspects into the building earns the project LEED points. The building has to earn a certain number of points to be LEED certified, and then there are three additional levels of LEED certification: LEED Silver, LEED Gold and LEED Platinum. The higher you go, the more points it takes to earn that level.

Earning a LEED point is not easy. There are many different categories that must be accounted for – and how do you know whether a product will count towards a LEED point? This is one area that LEED v4, the current version of LEED, is trying to make easier. (It should be noted that at the time of this writing, LEED v4.1 is in draft form only.) LEED v4 requires that all vendors to a LEED project must have an Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD.

The Perot Museum in Dallas
The Perot Museum in Dallas achieved three environmental certifications – Green Globes® highest possible ranking for sustainable building design, a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, and certification from the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

What is an EPD?

An EPD provides a third party- verified, transparent look at a product, its ingredients and its impact across the entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. Similar to a nutritional label, an EPD is used to communicate information about the potential environmental and human health impacts of a product.

The good news is powder coatings can achieve EPDs. To get an EPD, architectural grade powder products go through a full life cycle analysis that examines ingredients, production, energy usage, packaging, application requirements, and more. The products are then tested in all of the LEED EPD categories, which include acidification Powder Coatings LEED the Way potential (when acids are emitted into the atmosphere and subsequently deposited in surface soils and waters) and eutrophication potential (yep, I had to look that one up too!). Eutrophication or hypertrophication, is when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients that induce excessive growth of plants and algae. This process may result in oxygen depletion of the water body. Additional categories are global warming potential, smog potential and primary energy demand.

This means that using powder coatings that have been independently verified and have an EPD contributes towards LEED points, specifically a Materials Resources Credit.

EPD Seal

So, Who Benefits With EPDs?

Clearly design professionals can quickly find products that will meet the LEED criteria, assess how sustainable they are, and make a more educated decision as to which products to incorporate into the building design.

Coaters who are using powders from companies with EPDs and are producing coated pieces for architectural projects can (and should) advertise that fact! Knowing that the powder coated objects come with an EPD can influence who gets the coating work. There have been cases where simply having the ability to offer coatings with an EPD have not only won the coaters work but made a loyal customer of both the contractor and architect. So keep this in mind: If you’re going to work in the architectural space, specifying an EPD is helpful for the environment and for your bottom line.

Fiona Levin-Smith is vice president marketing & specification at IFS Coatings.