Akzonobel eyes global shift to water-based paints

EXCLUSIVE: Dutch paint manufacturer AkzoNobel is set to begin a global, industry-wide push to move away from solvent-based paints towards more environmentally-friendly water-based paints.

The Dulux, Cuprinol and Hammerite owner says it is ready to kick-start an “innovation drive” around the sustainability of paint, but admits a key challenge will be convincing consumers that water-based products are the right choice to make, from a practicality perspective.

AkzoNobel’s global sustainability manager David Cornish told edie: “We’ve just agreed a big global push to move away from solvent-based paint towards water-based paint. We’re starting on the journey now – we want to lead the industry in making the change.”

Glossing it over

Traditional solvent-based paints are a source of potentially hazardous emissions due to the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere during the drying stage. These VOCs react with oxygen in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone, which can have detrimental effects on human health and the environment.

International regulations, such as the EU Paints Directive, have prompted paint companies and professionals to adapt to VOC level reductions or move away from solvents entirely. But a water base can be harder to apply and may not have the same glossy appearance as its solvent counterpart, leaving some paint manufacturers, professional painters and decorators and – crucially – customers reluctant to make the change.

“You get a lot of pushback from consumers – It’s not as easy to use, that’s one of our challenges,” added Cornish. “But there are some really positive aspects of water-based paint – it dries quicker, it stays white longer. So part of it’s about educating the consumer.

“Consumers very rarely use sustainability as an active buying choice, but they will of course buy into great product attributes. So if we tell them it dries quicker, stays whiter longer and doesn’t smell round the house, they are much more likely to prefer that product.

“We have to change our own people’s mindset too – we have to convince people in our marketing teams this is the right thing to do.”


edie put the issue to the UK’s largest home improvement retailing company Kingfisher, which owns B&Q and Screwfix. Kingfisher’s group sustainability director Richard Gillies agrees that a change is needed, and that it all starts with the way this change is conveyed to customers.

Gillies said: “If you ask people about paint, they are more likely to tell you about colour, ease of application, and coat. They are unlikely to talk about health or environmental impact.

“For me, it’s a messaging issue – it’s about telling your customers: ‘I am going to meet your needs and it’s better for you’. It’s about how you can continue to develop products so that you begin to eliminate what the perceived disadvantages or advantages are.

“We’re working with AkzoNobel and other companies on how we can continue to drive innovation in paint and overcome some of these challenges.”

‘Right direction’

Globally, the shift away from solvents to water-based paints has picked up pace in recent months, driven in the main by tighter regulations. In China, for example, the government has introduced a tax on some solvent-based products to incentivise industry-wide change.

“That’s a shove in the right direction,” Cornish said. “The movement is there, we just need to industry to drive it.”

Cornish was speaking to edie following the launch of its ‘ReColour’ paint recycling project, which is diverting three million litres of waste paint away from landfill and towards local community projects. Gillies spoke to edie after a business summit in Bristol, at which he spoke of his desire to revolutionise Kingfisher’s business model to incorporate the sharing economy and servitisation.

Luke Nicholls

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