If you are not part of the problem, nothing you do differently will make you part of the solution. As far as finishing materials are concerned, most of you are not part of the problem. Most hobby woodworkers go through less than 10 gallons of finish per year. At that rate, switching to water-based finish from solvent or oil-based would be akin to someone who drives only one mile per week trading in his or her car for a hybrid. It’s silly and arguably counterproductive as well.
The reality of the situation is that, compared to the big ozone producing generators, which include our cars, the electricity we use and the agriculture that provides our food, finishing amounts to small potatoes indeed. Some years ago, I was at a meeting of finish chemists being addressed by an EPA representative on the subject of limiting ozone generation from VOCs in coatings. Upon being challenged, the representative admitted that the solvents in clear wood coatings account for less than one percent of the country’s total ozone generation problem. In other words, if all wood finishing stopped tomorrow completely, the improvement would barely be measurable and might fall well within a normal margin of error.
With that in mind, it makes little sense for most of us to buy fancy equipment or go through a long learning curve just for the sake of using lower VOC materials. We’re far better off adopting green finishing techniques than switching to greener finishes. That strategy not only prevents waste, thus helping our carbon footprint, but saves us money to boot — and in this economy, that’s nothing to sneeze at.