Going Green: Earth-Friendly Products for Decorative Concrete

Ecocrete's Oxi-Colors stains are displayed in Carmel Tan and Coffee Bean in this outdoor pool-deck project.
Photos courtesy of Ecocrete Decorative Finishes

Going green" is more than just a catchphrase - it's a way of life that affects many of our decisions, from what we drive to where we shop to the way we power our homes, and the fast-growing decorative concrete industry is right at the heart of this phenomenon.

A lot of decorative concrete work - such as polishing concrete, to name just one example - has environmental value no matter how it's done. But the materials used to create decorative concrete are becoming more environmentally friendly, too.

Construction supply store owners are beginning to replace the materials on their shelves that are indifferent to the environment with products that are manufactured using a minimal amount of energy, contain gentle ingredients and emit no planet-polluting fumes. According to Dan Chouinard, owner of Earth Friendly Building Materials in Tempe, Ariz., and Cameron Yost, CEO of Two Sisters Decorative Concrete Supply in Colorado Springs, Colo., retailers that do not offer at least one green option are simply not plugged into the current demands of consumers.

"Everybody wants to be green and try to save this earth," Chouinard says. "If you can offer a green product that doesn't cost twice or three times as much as the next product, then why not go green?"

Chouinard and Yost say that by incorporating green products into store inventories, retailers can help reduce the carbon footprints left by decorative concrete projects without sacrificing the quality of the finished product.

Ecocrete's products are displayed here as part of a custom-designed floor pattern.

"It's the responsible thing to do to carry the green product," Yost says. "The market is becoming more aware, so you're satisfying a demand that exists."

Labeling a product as "green" can mean one of multiple things. It could mean that its production causes minimal damage to the environment, such as with glass aggregate made from recycled glass pieces or products that don't require overseas material shipment and save on excessive energy use. Or, the product could be free from harsh chemicals, such as a water-based stain, which does not subject workers to possible burns and poses no threat to the surrounding environment.

Patrick Soler, owner of Illinois-based All In Concrete LLC, is another retailer who considers green a priority - he carries sustainable coatings. He is also a partner at Concrete Earth LLC, a manufacturer of green decorative concrete products.

Soler notes that the cost of green products is slightly higher than their potentially damaging alternatives. However, he says their long-term merits make the price worth it. "As a retailer, if you're not looking at green products today, you're going to take a back seat in the industry in the next year or two. The application and result is very similar when you go to organic stains and coatings, and the benefits to the user are endless."

Price isn't the only thorny issue to consider when stocking green. Some retailers say that while offering green products is a plus, the quality of the product's end result, regardless of the harm it inflicts onto the environment, is of utmost importance. Bart Sacco, of Pennsylvania retailer Concrete Texturing Tool and Supply, carries environmentally friendly sealers, waxes and cleaners - he believes that green is the way to go. However, that's only if the cost is reasonable and the desired end result can be achieved.

Ecocrete's Oxi-Colors - reactive stains made with metallic salts - were used on this concrete floor.
Photo courtesy of Ecocrete D Circle Reader Service Number 06 ecorative Finishes

"My decisions are based on the performance of the product," Sacco says. "Now that we have brought in some green products, we've seen that they're very nice products, they're environmentally green and they do very well. But if I evaluate a product and it's junk, I won't bring it in. Some of them come with a higher price tag, and the added cost can be a turn-off for the builder or installer. Some green products have priced themselves out of the market."

Tim Tuohy, of Concrete Coatings of Georgia, says that cost can especially affect a retailer's decision to carry a green product during a recession. He notes that some green products cost around 7 percent to 10 percent more than their counterparts.

"I think that ‘going green' got a big start at first, but when the economy fell apart, it stopped," he says. "It was an opportunity to do something good for the earth, but now people are struggling. I'm doing the same thing as everyone else - trying to make ends meet."

Tuohy says the type of project can also dictate whether a green product is the best choice. Commercial and public construction projects often offer an extra incentive to go green, as many require LEED compliance. In those cases, the use of green products can help workers earn points toward the project's earth-friendly factor.

While cost and quality concerns may have kept some green products from reaching the shelves of construction supply stores, distributors agree that the decorative concrete industry as a whole promotes a healthy planet. Chouinard says installing a concrete countertop utilizes much less energy than producing and shipping a marble or granite countertop does.

And given concrete's versatility and long-lasting nature, energy is saved any time it is the material of choice. "Concrete is so much more green than any other product that's available," Tuohy says. "It stays put for years and years, and it's much less damaging than asphalt. If you look at the green side of concrete as a whole, we're way ahead of everyone else."

A Guide To Green Decorative Concrete Products
From nontoxic stains to recycled glass aggregate to biodegradable bags, earth-friendly decorative concrete products are on the rise. Read on to learn about a few of the leading green products on the market and how you can add them to your inventory.

Buddy's Ultra Green Concrete Mix from Buddy Rhodes Artisan Concrete
Not only is 91 percent of this concrete mix made from recycled and by-product materials, but the amount of resource-intensive portland cement used in its production is drastically lower than what's used in traditional cement mixes. Buddy Rhodes Artisan Concrete vice president of marketing Susan Andrews says the green concrete mix achieves an embodied energy savings of 50 percent over traditional concrete mixes without sacrificing strength or durability. "By dramatically reducing the quantity of cement in our concrete formula, we minimize the concrete dioxide emissions associated with the binder portion of our concrete," Andrews says. "Additionally, we lower the environmental impact of concrete by using 100 percent recycled aggregates." The concrete mix can be used in any job that doesn't require a mix truck, including patios, countertops, walkways, planters, garden benches, backyard shed slabs and outdoor kitchens. When polished, the finished look is similar to terrazzo. Depending on the order volume and location of the retailer, Buddy's Ultra Green Concrete Mix can be purchased wholesale for $5 to $6 per bag. Buddy Rhodes Artisan Concrete currently supplies the mix to retailers in the western United States but plans to expand nationwide in the near future.

(877) 706-5303


The vibrant colors of Ecoprocote SoyCrete from Eco Safety Products are displayed in a completed patio project. 

Ecoprocote SoyCrete Architectural Concrete Stain from Eco Safety Products
Soy is what makes this alternative to acid and polymer-based stains kind to the planet - it contains soy ester resin, a soybean-plant extract. Not only does the stain contain up to 70 percent bio-based ingredients, but the soy ester resin that's used is not a food-grade soy, which means its production does not impact the food supply, says Eco Safety Products CEO John Bennett. The concrete stain's semitransparent color can renew, correct or add a new hue to indoor and outdoor porous concrete surfaces. Its soy ester dispersion chemistry allows the surface's substrate to optimally absorb the product, and with a stain technology that's nontopical and nonreactive, users have more control and flexibility with their designs, Bennett says. Retailers across the country can get their hands on the low-VOC concrete stain for $45.95 per gallon.

(877) 366-7547

Sim Stain from L&M Industries LLC
Another green acid-stain simulator on the market is Sim Stain from L&M Industries LLC. It's water-based, low-VOC and free from harsh and harmful ingredients. The stain penetrates porous concrete surfaces, resulting in one of more than 24 available colors that may be mixed for variation. It can also be used to repair or alter the appearance of surfaces that were treated with a reactive stain in the past. Since a chemical reaction does not take place during the application process, users of Sim Stain do not have to wait for the color to develop and can add additional layers of color immediately, says Linda Meierer of L&M Industries. "It's environmentally safe, easy to use, provides color control, does not require cleanup and can be followed with any choice of sealer." Sim Stain can be ordered in bulk - the manufacturer's suggested retail price is $50 per gallon plus shipping.

(877) 782-4632


Soy Gel Paint and Urethane Remover from Franmar Chemical is scraped off with a long-handled scraper after it softened coatings that needed to be removed from a concrete surface.

Soy Gel Paint and Urethane Remover from Franmar Chemical Thanks to the natural solvent properties of soy ester, Soy Gel Paint and Urethane Remover promises to remove most topical coatings from architectural surfaces. Soy ester allows the paint stripper to stay wet throughout the entire removal and cleanup process, eliminating the need for grinding and other hazards associated with methylene chloride and caustic-based paint strippers. When applied to a coated concrete surface, Soy Gel softens the surface's coatings within two hours - the coatings are then scraped off with a long-handled scraper. The Soy Gel can be cleaned off with water. It's 100 percent biodegradable, and since it's chemical-free, it won't burn the skin on contact. Franmar marketing director Jason Davenport says Soy Gel can even remove more than 20 coating layers in a single application. Soy Gel is available to retailers across the country in bulk at $20.95 for a quart, $64.95 for a gallon and $265.95 for 5 gallons.

(800) 538-5069

Recycled Glass Aggregate from American Specialty Glass
To make its recycled glass aggregate, American Specialty Glass uses discarded glass pieces from recycling centers and companies across the country that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. After receiving the glass, American Specialty Glass remelts and reprocesses it to ensure color and size consistency. The glass chips can then be used in terrazzo flooring and concrete countertops to add color, texture and durability to the surface. Depending on its application, this recycled glass aggregate can allow users to gain one or two LEED points on a construction project. Glass may be purchased in bulk by the pound. Prices range from $0.66 per pound to $9 per pound depending on the quantity ordered.

(877) 294-4222


Trojan Color Sealer tinted Canyon Brown, from
Eco-Wares Inc., is applied to a pool deck.

Tek Gel for Flattooing, Tek Gel for Profiling and HD24 Heavy Duty from Surface Gel Tek
Surface Gel Tek's three grades of gelled acid help prepare unsealed concrete surfaces for successful colorant application. In addition, they can be neutralized with water, contain no VOCs, are flushable to the sewer and will not generate silica dust or noise pollution. Tek Gel for Flattooing - the company's lowest grade of gelled acid - evenly opens up the surface of concrete to ensure optimal results when an acid stain is applied, and it is ideal for use with the company's Flattoo stencils. The medium and heavy-duty grades of gelled acid prep concrete surfaces for nonacid-based colorants, resulting in 120-grit openings when using the medium and 80-grit to 100-grit openings with the heavy-duty. "What we care about is the environmental impact," Surface Gel Tek president and CEO Tamryn Doolan says. "It's green for the environment and safe for the end user." Depending on the quantity ordered, the gelled acid ranges in price from $38.54 to $46.79 per gallon for the light grade, $34.60 to $42 per gallon for the medium grade and $39.72 to $48.23 per gallon for the heavy-duty grade.

(888) 872-7759

Oxi-Colors, Low VOC Water Based Acrylic Sealer and Water Based 2 Part Epoxy Sealer from Ecocrete
While Ecocrete Decorative Finishes offers two solvent-based sealers, every other product offered by the company is earth-friendly. Oxi-Colors are acid-free reactive stains made with metallic salts that react with the dried overlays of concrete surfaces, creating a stain in one of 10 available hues. Oxi-Colors contains no VOCs. Ecocrete's green sealers are water-based and hold a VOC rating of only 50. The acrylic sealer provides a glossy finish and five cycles of freeze/thaw resistance on decorative concrete surfaces, while the epoxy sealer is intended for use on indoor concrete countertops as well as other decorative concrete surfaces and leaves a high-gloss shine. Wholesale prices for Oxi-Colors range from $11.95 to $14.95 for a quart, $39.95 to $49.95 for a gallon and $199.75 to $249.75 for 5 gallons. The sealers cost $29.95 per gallon and $149.75 for 5 gallons.

(321) 662-5559

Commercial Trash Bags and Plastic Drop Cloths from Perf Go Green
The creators of Perf Go Green products believe that not only should the products used in a construction project be green - the waste disposal process throughout the project's tenure should be green as well. Perf Go Green offers a full line of trash bags, dropcloths and shrink-wrap that are made from recycled plastics and are 100 percent biodegradable. Within two years of their disposal, Perf Go Green's products fully break down into carbon dioxide, biomass and water, and yet they promise to hold up just as powerfully as competing trash bags do while in use. Commercial bags are available in various sizes and can hold up to 60 gallons of waste. Drop cloths are available in 20-by-30 sheets and can be used in lieu of tarps during construction projects. Wholesale prices vary according to the size of the order.

(212) 935-3550

Trojan Masonry Sealer and Trojan Color Sealer from Eco-Wares Inc.
Eco-Wares offers a clear, water-based sealer that can be used on both indoor and outdoor concrete surfaces, but the company's most unique green product is its Trojan Color Sealer - an all-in-one stain and sealer system that's also water-based, nontoxic and LEED compliant. The sealer is available in 37 colors and penetrates the surface of concrete to achieve a look that's similar to an acid stain. Eco-Wares' Mike Kornell says polyester resin in the sealer hardens and strengthens the concrete, eliminating the need to finish the job with a topcoat. Neither the color sealer nor the clear Trojan Masonry Sealer will damage nearby elements such as indoor air and grass while in use. "It won't harm anything or anybody," Kornell says. The Trojan Masonry Sealer is available to retailers for $31.95 per gallon, while the Trojan Color Sealer costs $40.95 per gallon. A discount of $2 per gallon is awarded when 5 or more gallons are purchased, and retailers save $4 per gallon when 50 or more gallons are purchased.

(866) 874-8070