If your walls could talk, they would have much to say about how they affect your health and the health of your family, guests, pets, employees and customers. They would say how important it is that you understand what you cover them with, and why it matters now and for years to come. Just ask Zsuzsi Apati, the owner of All Women Painting, a Philadelphia-based, eco-friendly painting company.
She will tell you that indoor air is at least three times more polluted than outdoor air and, according to the EPA, is considered one of the top five hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes of indoor air pollution due to the release of low-level toxic emissions into the air after application.
The source of these toxins is VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Until recently, these were essential to the performance of paint. However, new environmental regulations and consumer demand have led to the development of low- and no-VOC paints and finishes. “Most paint manufacturers now produce one or more non-VOC varieties of paint,” according to Ms. Apati. “These new paints are durable, cost-effective and less harmful to human and environmental health. I’m so happy that customers are beginning to understand how important this is for their well-being.”
The EPA reports that VOCs cause health effects including eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea; and damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some VOCs can cause cancer in animals, and some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. In addition to avoiding the health effects of VOCs, no-VOC paints help the environment by reducing landfill, groundwater and ozone-depleting contaminants.
For business owners, the air in offices, stores and hotels can be two to five times more polluted, and in some cases 100 times more polluted, than air outdoors. Improvements to indoor environments can cut down on employee sick days and create a more amenable environment for customers or clients. No-VOC paints are usually no- or low-odor, eliminating the need to vacate the business while painting is being done or shortly thereafter, saving any business money and time. This can also be part of an overall green office program.
Another concern is that companies can make claims of “no-VOC” paints, but VOCs can be hidden in the coloring system. All Women Painting uses brands with no VOC in the paints or the coloring system. Ms. Apati makes sure of this for her clients, employees and even her own health. “Anything I can do for good health and for the planet is something I go out of my way to do,” she maintains. Helping the environment is also one of the reasons why the company aims for a low carbon footprint. One way this has been achieved is by not having any company vehicles, using car-sharing vehicles for deliveries, and then walking, biking or taking transit to client projects.
As a member of the Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia (SBN), All Women Painting has continuous targets of being sustainable through their environmental initiatives, attention to detail, and a “high-tech, high-touch” approach that combines new technologies with old-fashioned, neighborly customer service. “In shrinking my carbon footprint by shrinking my geographic market, I must provide my customers with the best service. By doing so, that is sustainable business practice,” adds Ms. Apati as she hops on her bike to go to her next painting project.