My guest Andrew Meyer is founder and president of Vermont Natural Coatings, manufacturer of patented PolyWhey® whey-based wood finishes. Developed in collaboration with the University of Vermont, PolyWhey has emerged as new wood coatings science, using whey protein to displace toxic ingredients common to traditional wood finishes. CNN Money named Vermont Natural Coatings one of two leaders in innovation and technology in Vermont; the other being IBM. Andrew is a partner in Vermont Soy, LLC and owner of the Hardwick Enterprise Group, LLC, which provides business resources to innovative value-added companies. He is a founding board member of the Center for an Agricultural Economy and serves as a trustee of Shelburne Farms. He is a partner in North Hardwick Dairy, a family organic dairy farm. Andrew served as Agriculture Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator James Jeffords and operated a congressional legislative consulting firm in Washington, D.C. We’ll talk about toxic chemicals in wood finishes, how he makes wood finish with whey, about creating an innovative nontoxic product, and sustainable businesses in Vermont. www.debralynndadd.com/debras-list/vermont-natural-coatings
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Wood Finish Made with Whey Recycled from Cheesemaking
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Andrew Meyer
Date of Broadcast: June 04, 2013
DEBRA: Hi, Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world. And that can be done because even though there are toxic chemicals all around us in the environment and in consumer products, there are some wonderful people who are making some wonderful products that are not toxic.
There are easy ways that we can remove toxic chemicals from our homes and from our bodies so that we don’t have to get sick from them. We don’t have to not be able to think clearly or be unhappy. We can be happy, productive, abundant, whatever it is we want because we don’t have to have our lives [inaudible 00:01:41] by toxic chemicals. It’s our choice.
Today, my guest is going to talk about a wood finish that he makes made from whey that’s recycled from cheese-making. He has a whole little system of sustainable business in Vermont.
But before we talk about that I want to tell you about the results of the study that came in my e-mail this morning. It said 83% of women said they would rather have a healthy body than have a great wardrobe. Isn’t that wonderful? I just love that. And 61% of women said they would rather have a healthy body than a healthy relationship.
So there’s quite a lot of awareness here and quite a lot of desire to be healthy in the world. We just need to know what to do and decide to do it.
So my guest today is Andrew Meyer, founder and president of Vermont Natural Coatings. He’s the manufacturer of patented PolyWhey, whey-based wood finishes. It was developed in collaboration with the University of Vermont and emerged as a new wood coatings science – not just a new wood coating, but a wood coatings science, using whey protein to displace toxic ingredients common to traditional wood finishes.
Now, I want to tell you that I have been using this for several years. This Vermont Natural Coatings Poly Whey, is my very favorite wood finish. So I’m extremely happy that Andrew has done this today, so that we could learn more about it. Their website is VermontNaturalCoatings.com.
Thank you for joining me, Andrew.
ANDREW MEYER: Thank you very much. And greetings from Vermont.
DEBRA: Thank you. I’ve actually never been to Vermont, but it seems like a very wonderful place to be.
ANDREW MEYER: I know. It’s a beautiful day out. It’s in the low 60s and spring has just arrived. We’re excited about a nice summer season here.
DEBRA: Well, that’s the difference between Vermont and Florida because summer is just arriving here. And we’re, I’m sure, going to have a little thunder and lightning here, which is our summer pattern.
So Andrew, I read your bio and as I said, I’ve been using your products. It’s just so unusual for someone to do so much innovation as you’ve done in terms of looking around at the resources in your community, seeing how you can connect with other businesses and taking a pretty toxic product and making something completely new that is much less toxic. It would be so great if everybody in the world would be doing this right now.
So can you tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to want to do this?
ANDREW MEYER: Well, I grew up in Northeastern Vermont in a small family dairy farm. And I think growing up, we spent the summers eating from our gardens, drinking raw milk, eat around beef, living and using the resources that surround us, things that we raised on the farm, whether it was cutting firewood to supply heat for the homes or grow healthy grasses for the cows. They were all common things that every day, we would look at (and how we access healthy foods) and we knew where they came from.
So growing up on a dairy farm, you’re really connected to that element of it. I think today, there’s a lot of disconnect with that.
DEBRA: I totally agree. You were very fortunate to have that upbringing because most people in the world didn’t.
I just want to mention, I’d like my listeners to just go to my website, ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com and look at Andrew’s picture because he is just the picture of health. When I saw your photo, I thought, “Oh, my God! That’s what we should look like.”
I think that it starts in your childhood, just eating the food right out of the ground and not eating the kind of food that most people grow up on today.
ANDREW MEYER: All organic dairy farmers look like that. That’s the way.
DEBRA: Yes, it is, because that’s the way we should be eating and that’s the way we should be looking. Just so healthy.
So go on. What happened next?
ANDREW MEYER: Growing up on a dairy farm, I went to the University of Vermont and studied Environmental Studies. That experience really gave me a broader outlook and understanding of the issues that really impacted the greater environment (and the health) in which we live.
I learned more about how the federal and state policy impact, how regulations impact our health and our surroundings. That really helped me take a broader look as I grew up on a dairy farm and had access to all these healthy foods and a clean environment too the issues on more of a worldwide scale. It started to broaden my awareness of the issues that are really out there.
So that was a great experience to be part of that program.
And then from the University of Vermont, I was fortunate enough to land a job on Capitol Hill for United States Senator, Jim Jeffords, who was from Vermont. The senator was a very strong advocate for the environment, for diversified agriculture, so I was able to advise him agriculture and natural resources issues for about eight years.
It was an incredible experience and it really opened my eyes on just how connected agriculture and the environment was and all the things that impacted the daily lives that we live, the health impacts around that.
So it was an incredible experience, being a part of that.
DEBRA: What inspired you then to develop a wood finish of all things?
ANDREW MEYER: Well, I think being part of Capitol Hill and being intricately involved with the policies and the politics and seeing the special interest that impacted so many things that we take for granted that are out there. They really impact the quality of our life and the health of our environment, and the homes and places we work.
There was so much involved in creating that and so many influences that, to me, didn’t really have the strong connection to that individual’s health or the overall health as we debated and discussed and helped move legislation to the Senate.
Fortunately, Senator Jeffords is very interested in how these things really impacted Vermont. So I was able to work with him on trying to develop alternatives for environmentally safe products that really sourced local or resources to make these things.
Research developed through the University of Vermont on using whey proteins as a film builder. And in Vermont, we’ve got a lot of cheesemakers, high quality cheese. We win awards every year around the world with our cheddar cheeses and specialty cheeses. We also have a very strong resource in forestry and furniture makers.
So the collaborative concept of how can we help build not only a healthy, safe, new product, but how to build a local economy that can be interconnected using a waste from one segment to create a value-add for another segment.
DEBRA: That sounds wonderful. I’m so excited about your product because not only is whey less toxic than other wood finishes, but it also has this other element to it as well.
ANDREW MEYER: We’re fortunate to be in this position to have such an unbelievable technology with such a high quality source.
DEBRA: I want to hear more about that after the break. We’ll be right back. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. I’m here today with Andrew Meyer, the founder and president of Vermont Natural Coatings. Their website is VermontNaturalCoatings.com. We’re talking about his wood finishes made from the whey, recycled from cheese-making down the road and how that all fits together in a single, sustainable system in Vermont.
Andrew, before we talk about your products in more detail, could you tell our listeners about why they should be using your natural products (or more natural products, I guess I should say, or more sustainable) instead of the standard toxic products? Tell us something about the toxic chemicals that are in the usual wood finish.
ANDREW MEYER: Well, most wood finishes that are out there, they pose a wide range of health and safety issues, basically, due to the volume and physical properties of the chemicals that are used to make up those finishes.
And most people understand the three basic ways chemicals can enter your body, through inhaling and/or breathing, by eating it or ingesting or contact with the skin.
So the finishes that are out there, they all pose those types of risks to people. Basically, it’s because of the chemicals used to make up the formulas. You have lacquer finishes that can have nitrocellulose in them, conversion varnishes. These are things that you would find in the hardware stores. They use acid-catalyzed chemical. And these are all toxic to us.
What we find a lot is these chemicals can have short-term and long-term impacts, just like other chemicals that are out there.So if you’re doing a floor, we’ve had professionals come to us, talk about irritation maybe from contact with it, with the eyes and throat, sometimes headaches. It can cause confusion and fatigue. These are some of the symptoms that you would get from being around these things.
And then, of course, there is longer term, things which can even cause cancer and other things like that.
It’s so important, and anything that you buy and really investigate what’s in the product because the things, whether it’s formaldehyde or these other chemicals, they can be very dangerous. And it’s not only the danger of just putting them down and the off gassing that takes place during that time, but as the product wears off over the course of several years, it will again offgas and put those toxins into your environment, into your indoor air environment.
DEBRA: This is actually one of the more toxic products that exist in terms of home finishes. I think it’s even more toxic than paint. And so to have an alternative like this is really important.
Tell us more about your product.
ANDREW MEYER: At Vermont Natural Coatings, we use whey protein, which is a byproduct of cheese. So we remove that from the waste channel and through a development with the University of Vermont, we’ve been able to come up with a polymer that comes from the whey proteins that creates a very strong bonding agent, which is important to make the finish strong and durable.
So we’re able to use this food grade whey protein solution, which we were able to patent with the help of the University of Vermont to displace chemicals that are typically found.
And so the advantage that we have is we’re able to build a formula that’s safer because we’re displacing chemicals, but also because of how the whey protein bonds and binds together. It’s actually as durable as any chemical formula that’s out there.
And that’s important because there are so much more awareness of indoor air quality. I think our indoor air quality is probably five times worse than our outdoor air quality for a number of reasons. Opening a can of solvent-based or high VOC wood finish or paint in your home can have long-term impact on your health. So, by using whey, we’re able to come up with a very safe and durable product.
DEBRA: I’m looking at your website and there are some pictures flashing in the header that shows pictures of cutting boards for food and children lying on the floor and chairs out on the patio or I should say out on the deck. You really can use this all around the house, on everything, correct?
ANDREW MEYER: Yes, we have a number of different formulas for different uses. We have furniture formula that is used on anything from a new table to trim, all kinds of projects like that.
Another interesting project that the furniture formula is used on is the Naked Table Project, which is a sustainability workshop that we do using maple to build a table and using our finish on that. And of course, that’s a weekend workshop. That’s an exciting way of tying people together from their resources or where the tree came from, from building the tree and then the next day, we line up the tables head to head and we have a big locavore feast with all the people who were involved in the chain of custody from the tree to the folks who grow the vegetables for the dinner. We’re still proud that our furniture is part of something like that.
And we have a floor formula that’s used on floors from the homes to schools to gymnasiums and a lot of different uses because of how it holds up. And we also have an exterior product that’s used on anywhere from benches, decks and siding.
We’re very interested in continuing to innovate with new products. Our goal really here is to source as much of the resources we can locally to really look at the agricultural roots there or around us, to keep building on these products.
So we’re really excited about how those have worked. We’ve even formulated a new paint with a company, which is exciting. We have a few more new products that are going to fit nicely into our [inaudible 00:21:18] products.
DEBRA: I can hardly wait. And we’ll be back after this message. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. And I’m talking with Andrew Meyer, founder and president of Vermont Natural Coatings. He’s at VermontNaturalCoatings.com.
We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd.I’m here today with my guest, Andrew Meyer, the founder and president of Vermont Natural Coatings. That’s VermontNaturalCoatings.com. And ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com is where you can find out more about this show.
Andrew, before we go on to talk more about your products, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed hearing about your Naked Table Project. It’s because I have an experience on my own where I spent 12 years living in the western part of Marin County, California.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with that area, but there are a lot of dairy farms. And even though I didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, I was driving by the cows every day.
There’s also a lot of family farms growing organic produce in that area. One day we had an event. I knew a lot of the organic farmers that lived there and I participated in a community-supported agriculture program. So I was actually going to my local organic farm just up the hill from where I lived and working at the farm and collecting my produce.
But one day we decided to get all the small, local, organic farmers together and have a dinner. I had the privilege of being the support staff for that and driving around and picking up produce from the farms and then doing the prep work for the meal and then being able to sit down with them in the field with everybody at the table, all of our local organic farmers.
It was just one of the most beautiful and memorable experiences of my life to be able to participate in seeing, going, and picking up the food from where it was being grown and then being in the kitchen with a chef and serving my local farmers. It was just amazing.
When I saw that on your website, I am so happy that you’re doing that. I think more people need to do that. More people in the world need to have that experience of having, really seeing and experiencing that progression from soil to mouth. It’s just amazing.
ANDREW MEYER: Thanks for mentioning that. And Marin County is such a beautiful place, so many similarities too. There are so many places around the country that value that.
And meals are so important. I think what’s so significant about what you talked about and what we’re trying to do with the Naked Table Project here in Hardwick, Vermont is the connection that people are making to where their products are from, who made them, how they were made, that there’s a person behind it, that there’s a care behind it and a thoughtfulness about it, about making it healthy for you.
I think the other aspect of it is just taking time, people slowing down, taking time to really enjoy these things that we all value so much.
So it’s a great experience. It fits in so nicely with what we’re doing as a company and what we’re doing as engaging with our community. So thanks for mentioning that.
DEBRA: Yes, it does. You’re welcome. And also, even too (as long as we’re on this subject) it was such a great experience for me living in West Marin because I knew people in my community and I was growing food in my own backyard. But not only was I growing food, I was growing my neighbors’ food. People would bring me raspberry canes and they would bring me tomato plants. I knew that these were Joe’s tomatoes and Susan’s raspberries. It just integrates you in a different way.
And in that same way, now, here you and I are talking, and I know now when I use Vermont Natural Coatings on my floor, I know it’s Andrew’s wood finish. And it’s not just this nameless, multinational corporation. I know the person now behind the product. And my listeners, when they use your products, will know you and they’ll know who created it and the care that goes into it.
I think that’s missing from so many products. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’re doing. I know you get it.
ANDREW MEYER: Well, Debra, let me tell you just quickly about a new product that we’re launching that builds that concept of collaboration and using local ingredients.
We’re partnering with Caledonia Spirits, which is a local distillery. They made gin and vodka using local ingredients. They use juniper berries to flavor and finish and infuse the gin. What we’re working with them is we’re taking their juniper berries and putting it through a process to extract the tea from that and coming up with a formula that uses the infusion as a natural preservative.
Juniper is a natural preservative. So, what we’ve done is we’ve added their waste to make a penetrating wood sealer called Infusion with Juniper. And we’re really excited about this product, not only because it’s non-toxic, it helps preserve wood and helps reduce mold and mildew and stabilizes the wood, it’s a joint effort of two, basically, byproducts of industries in Vermont to create this really wonderful, penetrating sealer.
We’re so excited about it. Not only that it works, but that the partnership and the collaboration with our neighbor, Caledonia Spirits.
DEBRA: This is just the way industries should be. It should just be like that. It’s sosimple like that, making products. We don’t need all this other huge industrialism.
I just wanted to ask you about a couple of things. I’m looking at your MSDS sheet because I want you to discuss about the term ‘low VOC’ because I think that people get confused about what that is. And also, I know something about how coatings are made. But I think that most people don’t.
So I think what’s going on here is that you’re using the whey as the coating part and then there are some VOCs in it. It’s not zero VOC and it’s not 100% natural, correct?
ANDREW MEYER: Right! Yes.
DEBRA: So my question is, to explain to people that if they go and look at your material safety datasheet, if they’re going to look and they’re going to say, “Oh, there’s hazardous compound in those,” but what happens to those hazardous components.
We’re going to have to get the answer after we take our break, which is only in 10 seconds. So you can’t start talking yet.
ANDREW MEYER: Great. There’s a lot to it.
DEBRA: So think about that over the break. And we’ll be back and get your answer in just a few minutes. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. We’re talking with Andrew Meyer from Vermont Natural Coatings.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. I’m here today with my guest, Andrew Meyer, founder and president of Vermont Natural Coatings at VermontNaturalCoatings.com.
We’re about to talk about what goes into a coating and what’s “low VOC” and this more technical aspects of this so that you can understand the different component parts and what goes into a wood finish. Go ahead, Andrew.
ANDREW MEYER: Thanks, Debra. There’s a lot of market awareness of low VOCs, which are the volatile organic compounds or the organic chemicals that make up the vapor of what comes off of a chemical in a formula such as wood finish. It’s important that those VOCs are as low as possible. There are national standards for those. There are green standards for those. There are state standards for those.
Our products come in below all of them. And that’s an important piece of our mission, to have a very low VOC product.
The other thing that’s really important to be aware of as a consumer, which is very difficult to find sometimes is that a low VOC is an important element, but even more important is a finish that doesn’t have carcinogens or mutagens in as ingredients.
DEBRA: Good point!
ANDREW MEYER: And those can come in very, very long, complicated words that can also have different descriptions of those words.
So not many people who are going to the paint store are pulling down the MSDS sheet, which is the material datasheet that tells about the specific ingredients in a wood finish.
And then if you do pull it down, it’s very hard to understand.
So it’s important, especially, if you look at schools, where our kids are and where we spend our time, there’s a lot of push out there to have clean, safe cleaning products and finish products that are low VOC.
But one thing, if you’ve got a child in a school or if you work in an office or you’re indoor more than you are out (which is probably the case for most of us) make sure that that finish does not have carcinogens and mutagens as ingredients.
DEBRA: Let me ask you a question. So VOCs, I know, is a [barge] classification that contains many different chemicals in it. And they would be, of course, of varying toxicity, yes? Is that correct?
ANDREW MEYER: Yes.
DEBRA: So you could have at one end of the spectrum of VOC and it would cause cancer or birth defects. But on the other end of the spectrum, you could have a VOC that would be much less toxic. That’s what you’re saying, right?
ANDREW MEYER: Right, and there’s a lot of different elements and ingredients that make up these formulas.
We’re very fortunate at Vermont Natural Coatings to have an ingredient that displaces a lot of the chemicals that are used to make the products strong. Those types of ingredients typically have more VOCs.
In California, they have Proposition 65 which requires a company to list those ingredients that are considered carcinogens or mutagens. So here in California, they don’t say you can’t use it. They say, if you use it, you have to list it, which gives a consumer more awareness.
But so many of these things seem to be so mainstream now. All chemicals (and even when you look in our house), it’s more and more difficult to figure out what is safe and what isn’t. I think that’s a good reason to spend as much as you can learning about the products that you use in your home. And we’re finding such an incredible interest in schools around the country who face similar indoor air quality issues.
A typical school re-finishes their gym, which is probably the biggest surface in the school every single year. And that’s a lot of VOC that is introduced and maintains and stays within that school system through the course of the year.
That’s why we’ve developed a formula using our whey protein technology to create a sport floor finish that is durable enough for that type of surface which takes the wear and tear. In Vermont, we have anything from dances to reunions to town meetings to basketball seasons that occur over the course of the year. So it gets a really big workout. But it’s an example of the low VOC products are important. But more important are the toxins that can make up those VOCs.
DEBRA: So I’m looking at your MSDS sheet for PolyWhey floor finish semi-gloss. During the break, I looked at a few of them. It seems like the ones that I looked at all have the same for VOCs listed. And so I think the point that I want to make to my listeners is if you look at the MSDS sheet, what you’re looking at here is the list of VOCs. And when the VOCs evaporate, then what’s left is basically the coating that’s made from whey protein, correct? Am I right?
ANDREW MEYER: Right.
DEBRA: So it’s not like these VOCs are hanging around forever. It’s in there. They need to be there. You can’t really make a wood finish without something that liquefies the coating so that you can apply it. But then what happens is that whatever you [inaudible 00:44:47] evaporates and what’s left is just the natural coating.
ANDREW MEYER: Right! And there are many different formulas in there. There have been regulations since the Clean Air Act that have focused on improving these formulas. But we have the technology.
For example, the Southern California Air District, there was a suit down there that said that you couldn’t impose air quality regulations because the technology wasn’t available to build products that could meet those new regulations. The Coatings Association was very much against this, saying that they would be put out of an industry if they weren’t able to sell their product in that area because the technology is not there.
Now, we’re a little company in little ole’ Vermont using a local agricultural byproducts to create a product that not only meets, but exceeds those limitations and we have the technology that can make products. So if a small company like us has the technology, has the innovation to be able to build products that are safer, then what’s out there in the larger industry? We feel good about that but we also recognize that a lot more can be done from other companies. And a lot more should be demanded of the consumer. We hope that the consumer takes more time to really recognize the products that are available and seek out safer products like Vermont Natural Coatings.
DEBRA: I’m doing my best to let them know about them. And I can do even more. Actually, I am doing my best. But there is so much more.
I’ve been doing this for 30 years, but it’s still only a fraction of the population that is even aware. But I’m very encouraged because I see more and more people becoming interested in things that are not toxic. There are so many who are becoming aware that there are toxic things in the world and they’re starting to look for non-toxic products like yours.
I think it inches up on both ends that there needs to be more non-toxic products and there needs to be more consumers buying them. It gets greater and greater, both going back and forth.
I think that we have reached not a critical mass, but we’ve certainly reached a new height of awareness now. And I think that it’s really going to take off. I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of interest. And where we’re going to be going with this, I’m very optimistic that we are going to have a toxic-free world.
And it’s people like you who are being pioneers and pushing the envelope and saying, “We really can do this” and showing other people that it can be done and what’s possible that is making it happen. Without people like you making these products, I can’t tell people about them.
I just like to call on you, in every area. I would like people to just jump and say, “This is my area of interest. I’d like to do something that’s less toxic and do it” because it can be done and it’s what’s needed.
We have a few seconds. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
ANDREW MEYER: Vermont Natural Coatings, we recognize that we become a part of people’s homes and their lives. And we, very much, want to become part of a healthier lifestyle for people.
It’s so important for consumers to really think about how your product was made, why it was made, where it was made and who made it.
And if you start putting those things together, we’re confident that people are going to start to recognize the benefits and seek out companies like Vermont Natural Coatings.
I look forward to the next survey that shows maybe 95% of the women survey would rather have a safe wood finish and using Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey than having a nicer wardrobe.
And it’s coming. The awareness is there and we appreciate you engaging in a conversation like this to make companies like Vermont Natural Coatings known. We would be pleased and we welcome and enjoy learning about people’s experience with Vermont Natural Coatings. If we can share information, especially to the chemically-sensitive community, we’ve had incredible success. It’s a great network out there that shares information. So we’d love to be a part of that.
So I hope everyone who is listening can engage somehow. Let us know and give us feedback. Thanks, Debra.
DEBRA: You’re welcome. Thanks for being this with us. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com to find out more. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. We’ve been with Andrew Meyer, president of Vermont Natural Coatings, VermontNaturalCoatings.com. I’ll be back tomorrow with more about how we can thrive in a toxic world.