The obsession with being "green" with all aspects of building products has been a positive and environmentally conscious thing to strive for. In regard to interior/exterior paint and coatings, it has become big business.
Being in the paint industry for more than 15 years, I have seen it evolve to become more and more environmentally conscious over time. Personally, I always considered the smell of a freshly painted room as a clean smell. The fact that so many individuals are bothered by the smell of paint is a legitimate concern.
The main issue talked about with paints and coatings has been with the amount of VOCs in the paint, which stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. Simply put, the VOCs are the gases emitted after paint is applied and as it dries. People with asthma or allergies can be more bothered by the VOCs emitted and the fumes that drying paint can have.
Most of the paint companies have developed low-VOC and zero-VOC products to become more "green friendly" to the environment and consumers. A larger group of consumers are adversely affected by paint fumes resulting in sore throats, watery eyes and trouble breathing. These symptoms can become more serious for women who are pregnant, infants, small children and the elderly, who may have weaker immune systems.
Many of the major paint companies that have continually made improvements to interior and exterior paint products have done so by using solely water-borne tints as well as the base paint. Do your research when choosing the best product for your home and make sure that the paint remains a zero-VOC product even after the tint is put in, because that ingredient has been the component that will encourage the VOCs to go up.
Choose a water-based polyurethane when possible; traditionally these products did not preform as well, but the processes have improved as this green movement will continue to get stronger. Good flooring re-finishers now offer both water-based and oil-based products.
Look for LEED certification, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, as the standard in building products to become even more popular in 2012 as the building and remodeling industry continues to improve.