When envisioning a state-of-the-art net-zero building, doors and locks probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps it’s a living machine to filter wastewater, or a parking lot shade structure made of photovoltaic panels. But such features represent the tip of the iceberg of what it takes to achieve net-zero, or to reach the stringent standards of the Living Building Challenge. Beyond those big items are a long list of tiny details that add up to a truly sustainable project. Not least on that list are entryways and their associated hardware.
“The building envelope is where roughly 40 percent of energy loss occurs in a building,” explains Stacey Callahan, vice president of marketing and innovation for the door and frame division at ASSA ABLOY, the Swedish door and lock company. “So we are taking something very traditional in nature like doors and frames, power supplies, accessories, and locking devices, and figuring out how to refashion them in alignment with sustainable building practices.”
One instance of their ingenuity is found in the EcoFlex line of mortise locks. Peter Boriskin, vice president of commercial product management for the Americas division at ASSA ABLOY, points out that conventional electrified mortise locks, such as those used for emergency exits, are always energized when in the closed position; power ceases to flow to the device only in the relatively infrequent moments that it is open. EcoFlex locks reverse that scenario with a motorized actuator, resulting in 96 percent less power consumption.
“If you’ve ever touched the handle of a lock in the fire stairwell of a building, you’ve probably noticed it is warm to the touch—it’s like running the car in your garage all the time,” Boriskin says, noting the significant energy costs that accrue from that traditional design when it comes to a large commercial or institutional facility that may have thousands of such doors. “We need those locks to behave in a certain way for good fire code practice, but it’s possible to achieve that without energizing them at all times.” ASSA ABLOY has done the R&D to enable this more energy-efficient approach to designing secure entryways, and they’ve done it without bumping up the per-unit price. “Our locks cost the same as their predecessors, but now they have drastically lower power consumption,” says Boriskin. “It’s part of a major push toward new product development with a focus on sustainability.”
The development of this lock fueled the development of energy efficiency solutions across other ASSA ABLOY divisions, including Securitron in Phoenix, AZ. The masterminds inside this LEED Silver certified facility have developed a power supply that reduces the standby energy consumption of the power supply from 6W or more down to 8.5mW. The combination of the EcoFlex lock and EcoPower power supply decreases a door’s power use by 99 percent, as certified by GreenCircle.
The results of this initiative are found in an impressive number of net-zero, LEED Platinum, and Living Building Challenge certified projects that have been built over the last several years. Visit the Class of 1966 Environmental Center at Williams College in Massachusetts, a Living Building Challenge certified retrofit of a 1790s structure, and you will find components from at least seven different ASSA ABLOY brands, like Ceco doors and Corbin Russwin key systems. At the Santiago Calatrava-designed Innovation, Science and Technology Building at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, sleek stylish Harmony locks—a line made by Sargent, an ASSA ALBOY Group brand known for its refined hardware and state-of-the-art access controls—have been fitted throughout the open concept structure, providing a technologically integrated security system that meshes with the iconic architectural design of the building.
Similarly, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) South Table Mountain Campus in Golden, Colorado employs an array of ASSA ABLOY products to meet its complex access control needs in the context of advanced energy-efficient building design. Two of the eight buildings on campus are LEED Platinum and one is net-zero. The campus acts as a demonstration site for the NREL’s Campus of the Future initiative, showing the attention to detail that it takes to source every component of a building with an eye towards achieving an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly result.
The ASSA ABLOY products found in buildings like these go far beyond energy efficient locks. They include products with exceptionally high-recycled metal content and doors that incorporate sustainably grown agrifiber—essentially making use of agricultural waste products. The company offers improved weather stripping design to further tighten the building envelope, and doors and door frames with a “thermally broken” interior for enhanced insulating capacity. “The thermally broken frames make it so the inside of the building doesn’t convect heat or cold to the outside and vice versa,” explains Callahan. “It’s like an air barrier inside both the door and the frame.”
The company has all its ducks in a row with LEED documentation, EPDs, HPDs, GREENGUARD Gold certification, and Declare labels for many of its products, making them the go-to source for access control solutions among the world’s most forward-thinking designers. Perhaps Greg Mella, vice president at SmithGroupJJR and design architect for the Living Building Challenge certified Brock Environmental Center on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, said it best when ruminating on the thousand-plus products in the building, which each required documentation and an “ingredient list” in order to achieve certification: “It’s a complicated process because most products contain subcomponents sourced from all over the world. We know that ASSA ABLOY has a shared commitment to the product declarations so if there was an ASSA ABLOY product we could use, we gave preferences to those.”
This Is What REAL Sustainability Looks like at a Corporate Giant
With nearly $8 billion in annual revenue and 46,000 employees worldwide, ASSA ABLOY is the largest door and lock company in the world. Since its formation in 1994, ASSA ABLOY has made more than 200 corporate acquisitions, and now has 100 brands globally. So when it comes to influencing design, sourcing and manufacturing processes in the industry, the company has immense sway. It also means that operationalizing sustainability objectives is extremely complex.
Richard Hafersat, who as director of strategic initiatives for ASSA ABLOY’s Americas division oversees progress on sustainability indices for the 36 brands in the North, South, and Central American markets, describes the company’s sustainability auditing process is something akin to a scavenger hunt. No stone is left unturned: “With each of the 36 companies I deal with I discuss with them at least every quarter what improvements they are making to sustainability within their organization. From there we roll it out to what our vendors are doing, and we go through our whole list of manufacturing plants to make sure they are following their sustainability plan. I’m the one following up with them on their timetable to execute certain improvements and hold them accountable to those dates.”
ASSA ABLOY was founded on a vision to be the most innovative company of its kind, but its sustainability journey began in earnest in the late 2000s with a directive from the CEO. In 2010, company-wide sustainability goals were set and a comprehensive reporting system was established. With over 10,000 suppliers at the time (this has since been consolidated to around 8,000), the auditing and reporting process was complex to say the least—the bureaucratic infrastructure required rivals that of a small city. As a company built primarily on acquisitions, ASSA ABLOY’s sustainability officers were forced to travel the globe looking into the affairs of every entity within the corporate family. Occasionally suppliers were blacklisted when it was found that they did not meet the company’s minimum standards of compliance with social and environmental policy, while others are classified as “new business hold,” meaning they would not be eligible for new business from any ASSA ABLOY entity until they came into compliance.
The five-year targets of the company’s 2010 sustainability plan were achieved by the end of last year, and new targets have been set for 2020. Globally, between 2010 and 2015, ASSA ABLOY reduced energy use by 23 percent; carbon emissions by 21 percent; and hazardous wastes by 56 percent. Water use efficiency improved by 21 percent, and health and safety indices were up by 13 percent. Hafersat says one of the biggest pushes was to start eliminating the use of toxic materials in all of their products.
The diversity and depth of solutions to the conundrums of a manufacturing industry built on not-so-sustainable practices is astonishing. In one instance Hafersat reports that an ASSA ABLOY company in Mexico has started treating the rinse water from their metal plating room and is using it to flush toilets as part of their effort to meet the company’s stringent standards. Talk about a deep dive! But the effort is starting to pay off with major recognition in the green building industry: ASSA ABLOY was just awarded the 2016 Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Award from the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, as well as the Manufacturer’s Visionary Award for their work in transparency from the International Living Future Institute.
Not What You Might Expect, but Better
As with most companies that have a green agenda, ASSA ABLOY has done tons of work auditing their suppliers, and have looked for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of each product, and of their operations more broadly. Using tools like the Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) has generated significant savings in energy use, as well as the streamlining of operations that can come through such a deep auditing process.
These steps alone have created a good return for their investment in sustainability, but at ASSA ABLOY, “the business case for sustainability is not what you might think,” says Amy Vigneux, director of sustainable building solutions for the company’s Americas division. Door hardware makes up only about two percent of the typical project budget for a new building, so savings that result from sustainability initiatives don’t move the needle much in that regard, says Vigneux. “However, we’ve found sustainability to be a significant business differentiator for us.”
Architect Greg Mella was certainly aware of that difference when he specified ASSA ABLOY products for the Brock Environmental Center. Dave Moncure of ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions Chesapeake, who assisted in developing a custom door and lock system for the project, echoes that sentiment. “We were able to bid and win this project in large part because we are transparent about where our products are made, how they are made and what we do during the manufacturing process. We are not just selling a door or a hinge, but our transparency and ability to communicate sustainable solutions.”
Vigneux offers a striking statistic that highlights the reality of the door and hardware industry from a sustainability perspective: ASSA ABLOY Americas currently has 65 environmental product declarations on the books (globally, the company has 250); earlier this year their closest competitor came out with their first set of nine EPDs. In other words, when specifying hardware for a Living Building Challenge project, there are not many options to choose from, especially if you’re not willing to take on the exhaustive legwork of verifying the supply chain of every manufacturer you work with. By leading the way in sustainable sourcing, the bar is raised for the industry as a whole.Through the process of restructuring their supply chain in alignment with sustainability principles, the company has created a special type of brand recognition for itself in the marketplace. Naturally, that recognition also extends to the pool of prospective employees, helping the company to attract and retain creative, future-thinking talent—a positive feedback loop that reinforces the goals of any leading-edge company. In this way sustainability, and a culture of innovation more generally, has become part of the bedrock of ASSA ABLOY’s corporate identity.
One might expect that sort of corporate culture in a tech startup, for example, but Vigneux is quick to point out that this is not the norm in the door and lock industry. “This industry can be a little dated,” she says. “It is very much steeped in history, with lots of family-owned companies that have been around for generations—which is all very important—but we’re trying to look at how to make the industry more progressive. So sustainability has been a very important storytelling piece in that regard.”
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