Going Waterborne in Noncompliant States

July 1, 2010
Shop operators and paint experts share their advice for going waterborne in noncompliant areas of the country.

Shops in California, Texas, the East Coast and in a few other spots around the country that know waterborne paint is coming—or whose areas already mandate it—have seen it all and done it twice when it comes to waterborne paint technology. So we asked shop operators and paint experts in the trenches with waterborne paint to give us their best advice for making the conversion process as smooth as possible for shops in noncompliant areas of the country.

1. Do it sooner rather than later.

If you wait until everyone in your region is trying to meet a tight deadline to convert to waterborne paint, you’re going to be fighting for time with your paint company. “By doing it early, you have more resources from your paint company to help you,” says Mike Veney, regulatory affairs manager for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Refinishes. If you convert before other shops in your area, you can also use that as a marketing tool, says Brent Wallace, BASF’s brand manager for North America. “We have a lot of shops around the U.S. who’ve converted ahead of time who are using it as an advertising opportunity to promote themselves as being part of the green movement.” However…

2. Don’t market your shop as green just because you’ve converted to waterborne paint.

“Going waterborne is a step in the right direction,” says Dan Bailey, president and chief operating officer of CARSTAR, based in Overland Park, Kan. “But there are a lot of other steps” to becoming green. During the past couple of decades, the Federal Trade Commission has refined its environmental marketing guidelines, and you could fall afoul of them if you claim to be green when, by FTC standards, you’re not, because you’re still using other hazardous materials such as solvent-based clear-coats and primers. “I don’t call us green, but I like to say that we’re making a solid effort on behalf of the environment,” says Bob Keith, who co-owns five CARSTAR locations in Nebraska and Kansas. Visit the FTC’s consumer protection website at ftc.gov/bcp/menus/business/energy.shtm for more information about marketing yourself as green.

3. Talk to other shops that use the paint you’re considering using.

“I don’t care what brand you’re using. Talk to someone who’s using the product to find out what you’re getting yourself into,” says Gary Mahnke, owner of Mahnke Auto Body in Arvada, Colo. Mahnke has four body shops in Colorado, one of which is waterborne. “We relied on the paint company, and to tell you the truth, the paint company wasn’t completely up to speed when we wanted to go waterborne. Shops should get information from their vendor, but they should also reach out and get information from other shops that are in the trenches.”

4. Get your employees on board with the conversion instead of forcing them into it.

“You have to get your guys to understand the change. You have to get their buy-in and their support, because they’re the ones working with it every day,” says CARSTAR’s Keith. Diane Rodenhouse, who converted her Rodenhouse Body Shop in Grand Rapids, Mich., in March 2009, suggests creating a sense of economic urgency among your staff. “They have to be motivated to get it done by a certain date, and here’s the economic reason why,” she says. “It has to be sooner rather than later, and it has to be all or nothing.”

5. Send your painters to formal training.

Mahnke had to let one of his painters go after the conversion to waterborne because he just couldn’t grasp new techniques. Mahnke wishes he’d sent that painter to some formal training, rather than trying to learn it in the shop. “It’s a totally different way to paint. Some guys get it instantly, and some guys just don’t,” says Mahnke. Keith of CARSTAR echoes Mahnke. “The shops that I’ve talked to that struggled, they decided to just let their jobber or vendor do the training in-house. Going to training gives the painter time to play with it before they’re supposed to produce.”

6. Designate painters, and have at least two of them.

“The old idea of a bodyman painting his own work, that just won’t work with the flow,” Rodenhouse says. “You need to have designated painters and designated bodymen.” And if you’re a small shop, make sure you have at least two people certified to paint, so when your painter is out of town or sick someone else can step in.

7. Don’t be afraid of the water.

“It’s different, it’s not hard. But so often in our industry, different becomes hard,” says Rodenhouse. Most shops are delighted with the quality of the paint and the color-matches (on cars that are increasingly manufactured with waterborne paint.) “The colors are better, it increases productivity,” says Roger Wright, who is in charge of waterborne conversion for Sterling Autobody. Sterling has more than 60 locations in 16 states, including California. “It costs a little more, but that’s the cost of doing business. It’s a better product,” Wright says.

In My Hometown

When the federal government enacted the Clean Air Act and its amendments in the last half of the 20th century, it left the execution largely up to the states. Now as low-VOC (volatile organic compound) mandates—which fall under the Clean Air Act—start to crop up around the country, different regions, states and even counties are taking different steps and timelines to implement the changes. It’s not always easy to find information about what low-VOC mandates your shop might have to comply with, and when—especially if you have multiple locations in different counties or states. Here are some of the major legislative developments regarding low-VOC requirements around the country.

• California. The state of California is in the process of mandating use of low-VOC materials in 33 “air districts,” district by district. While the other states have been watching California closely during this process, they won’t likely take the same approach, says Mike Veney, regulatory affairs manager for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes. “California is an anomaly in how it’s organized, in that districts have the authority to regulate body shops,” he says. “In the other 49 states, it’s done at the state level.”
For more information, check out the California Local Air District Directory: arb.ca.gov/capcoa/roster.htm.
• Ozone Transport Commission states. The next region of the U.S. that will likely have low-VOC mandates are the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) states: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. By Jan. 1, 2012, these states will have each individually implemented low-VOC mandates. Delaware has already published proposed rules. Pennsylvania is also working on rules.
For more information, go to otcair.org.
• Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium states. The states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, which make up the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO) will have taken a similar approach as that of the OTC states. Each state will have individually implemented low-VOC mandates by a certain date, which Sherwin-Williams’ Veney estimates will be Jan. 1, 2014. “They’re waiting to see how things go in the Northeast states” before setting any specific deadlines, Veney says.
For more info, visit ladco.org.
 • Texas. The Lone Star state is going it alone in its mandating schedule for low-VOC products. Although there’s no current regulatory activity in the state, Sherwin-Williams estimates it will have a deadline of Jan. 1, 2015, for shops to have converted to low-VOC products.
For more information, check out the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division at tceq.state.tx.us/nav/main/air_main.html.
• Arizona. Arizona will likely start to require low-VOC products one year after Texas, starting on Jan. 1, 2016, according to Sherwin-Williams estimates. One area in the state that might go sooner is Maricopa County, where the Phoenix metro area is located. “They have an air quality issue they’re trying to figure out ways to deal with,” says Veney.
Visit the website for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Division for more info: azdeq.gov/environ/air.
• The rest of the country. None of the 30 other states have conversion to low-VOC products on their regulatory radars at this point. “The Plains states and the Midwest are taking a wait-and-see approach,” says Veney. Otherwise, most of the country might not have mandated conversion until the federal government establishes guidelines, which Sherwin-Williams estimates will have a deadline of Jan. 1, 2020.


Source: Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes

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