Open Door Policy

 By Jeff Harder

ASSA ABLOY offers a forward-thinking approach to transparency in the marketplace.

If the name ASSA ABLOY doesn’t ring a bell, Amy Vigneux wouldn’t be upset. “I always refer to us as the $8 billion company that no one’s heard of,” says Vigneux, ASSA ABLOY’s director of Sustainable Building Solutions, with a laugh. And yet plenty of us have made our acquaintance with the company’s handiwork: We encounter it whenever we walk through Target’s sliding glass doors, or into the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona, or the Smilow Cancer Hospital in Connecticut.

Founded in 1994, the ASSA ABLOY Group has 200 brands—including 22 in North America like Securitron, Sargent, and Corbin Russwin—that design and manufacture doors, frames, mechanical locks and exit devices, decorative hardware, electronic access controls, and “basically anything that goes around a door opening,” Vigneux says. And because door openings have a big impact on the built environment, ASSA ABLOY has put a premium on transparency, going to great lengths to minimize its environmental impact throughout the supply chain and put itself at the forefront of sustainability in the building materials industry. “It’s amazing how a small part of a building project like doors and hardware can contribute in far more positive ways than any of us had ever imagined,” Vigneux says.

Amy Vigneux is ASSA ABLOY’s director of Sustainable Building Solutions.

ASSA ABLOY’s push for greater transparency starts at the top: With headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden—a hub for green buildings and broad consciousness of energy efficiency—the company’s leadership incorporates sustainable principles in every stage from product design and development to manufacturing practices to where it sources materials. Since 2010—the year when it became a USGBC Platinum-level member—the ASSA ABLOY Group has reduced its own energy consumption by 30 percent, reduced carbon emissions by 38 percent, improved water efficiency by 34 percent, reduced hazardous waste by 56 percent, reduced chlorinated organic solvents by 99 percent, and improved health and safety performance by 17 percent. GreenCircle Certified, a third-party organization that verifies companies’ environmental claims, backs up its products’ energy-reduction claims.

“As manufacturers, the benefit is that we understand down to 1,000 parts per million
what a product consists of.”

But over time, its customers—a constituency primarily operating in universities, government buildings, and commercial and institutional spaces in which doors open and close on unfathomable scales—came to expect even greater degrees of transparency. “We have architects and end users that have demanded we put our products under a microscope,” Vigneux says.

ASSA ABLOY’s commitment to promoting sustainability-related design criteria in product development reduces  life­-cycle costs and creates value for its customers.

ASSA ABLOY’s commitment to promoting sustainability-related design criteria in product development reduces life­-cycle costs and creates value for its customers.

A cornerstone of that push for greater transparency involved seeking environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs)—detailed, third-party-verified documentation of products’ environmental impacts and health hazards across their entire life cycles, effectively serving as ingredient labels for ASSA ABLOY’s door-opening products. In 2013, ASSA ABLOY sought its first EPD for a hollow metal door; within two years, the number of product-specific EPDs ballooned to a hundred, covering a spectrum of products. ASSA ABLOY develops EPDs based on criteria set by the International Organization for Standardization that apply to individual products, rather than industry wide, all-purpose EPDs that might apply to all wood doors. “Declare labels” often accompany ASSA ABLOY’s offerings as well.

“As manufacturers, the benefit is that we understand down to 1,000 parts per million what a product consists of,” Vigneux says. “We have the opportunity and responsibility to go back to our suppliers, our design teams, our engineers, and say, ‘Maybe we can choose an alternative ingredient that will make the product healthier for the building inhabitant.’”

Before reaching the marketplace, each ASSA ABLOY product goes through a five-stage development process, and sustainability remains a concern at every step. “It used to be that we would make a lock and that it would draw
whatever power it’s going to draw,” says David Corbin, a senior product manager who oversees ASSA ABLOY’s
Securitron brand. “Now, we have active steps that ask, ‘Do we need to draw that much power, or can we make do with a method that reduces our power consumption?’” The development process eschews using red-list chemicals and other unsound materials—no PVC in the wiring, no polystyrene foam in the packaging—while materials suppliers must abide by a code of conduct. Developers also track data about their products’ usage of raw materials and water, the use of recycled material, potential for contributing to global warming, and their potential for reuse, in addition to their cost. “The entire life cycle of the product is considered when it’s being developed so that it’s as sustainable as it can be when it launches,” Vigneux says. “That’s something that’s richly steeped in this culture: bringing it to market the right way, doing it sustainably and ethically.”

This heightened attention to detail enabled through EPDs and HPDs is inextricably linked to the rigor of LEED v4. “While many in our industry are griping about the stringent standards for LEED v4, we are embracing them,” Vigneux says. “The goal of the USGBC is to push us all out of our comfort zone, and push the envelope on what we consider to be a sustainable built environment. We used to consider a product’s impact during its use phase only. Now we know that the entire life cycle is relevant—understanding a product’s impact during extraction, transportation, manufacture, packaging, use and disposal—they are all significant.”

By embracing transparency as well as energy efficiency, ASSA ABLOY has been a boon to LEED credit seekers. Vigneux points to the Pennsylvania headquarters of Saint-Gobain, which used ASSA ABLOY’s products to help achieve LEED Platinum certification. “If you’re on the cusp of a new LEED certification level, look to doors and hardware and you’ll find points there that you might not consider otherwise.”

Beyond making the most of its niche in the world of building materials, ASSA ABLOY’s approach is an earnest effort at making products that truly minimize the impact on the environment across many dimensions. “It’s great if a product is energy efficient or has recycled content, but there’s a more holistic story,” Vigneux says. “We need to consider the entire life-cycle of the product, the people, the planet, all of the elements of sustainability, not just the profit.” It is also an eye-opening reminder of how deeply sustainability is woven into the built environment: Even the doorways you walk through are critically important.