Innovation Challenge Spotlight: Paints

Tags: roma (1) , product innovation challenge (5) , paint environmental impacts (1) , natural paint (1) , green paint (1)

The Innovation Challenge: Create a building product that is safe, healthy, affordable, effective, and designed to be returned safely to nature or industry after use. This blog, posted weekly leading up the announcement of the Innovation Challenge winners on November 15, spotlights the key issues with conventional building materials and how the ten finalists’ innovations stand out. This week, we focus on paints.

Paint is ornamental, but it is also key to a home’s durability. It acts as a protective layer between the outside elements and the building’s siding or walls. Without paint, or without maintenance of painted surfaces, walls or siding can rot or otherwise degrade.

There are many kinds of paint, but most fall into two categories: water-based and alkyd (oil-based).1 After water-based paint is applied, the water evaporates, allowing the paint to dry. The process is similar for oil-based paints, except that volatile organic solvents must evaporate instead of water as the paints dry.2

Volatile organic solvents become volatile organic compounds (VOCs) after evaporation. VOCs can lead to a range of health effects, from temporary conditions like headaches to serious issues including liver, kidney, and nervous system damage and cancer.3

One way to reduce health risks from painting is to work in ventilated areas, but it’s even more effective to choose healthier paints. A less commonly used class of paints is known as natural paints. Citrus oil, clay, and lime are examples of ingredients used in such paints. The US Green Building Council considers these paints to be the least toxic option, though some, such as milk-based paints, can mold in humid environments and so are not suited to all applications.4

How the finalists stand out
ROMA presents a natural mineral paint product to the Challenge. This product is a low-toxicity fusion of ancient paint traditions and modern chemistry. This paint also covers more surface area per gallon than conventional paints, which reduces its cost, resource intensity, and carbon footprint compared to alternatives.



1 Ehrlich, B. (2012). Exterior Paints: Long-Term Protection and Environmental Tradeoffs. Environmental Building News 22(2). Retrieved from

2 (Date Unknown). Green Product Category: Paints & Coatings. Retrieved from

3 Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2000). Healthy Indoor Painting Practices. Retrieved from

4 Pennock, A. (2009). Selecting Green Paint – Green Home Guide by USGBC. Retrieved from