Making Technology Accessible - Industry responds to demand for sustainable access control products and technologies

Making Technology Accessible

Industry responds to demand for sustainable access control products and technologies

When I’m asked what role access control devices and technologies play in a structure’s overall sustainability, my thoughts usually wander first to LED lighting. Here’s why: It wasn’t that many years ago that those coiled bulbs were intriguing. They saved dramatic amounts of energy, we were told. They supposedly lasted forever.

But they were almost impossible to find, not to mention expensive. Today, they’re not just more affordable—they’re more accessible. LED lighting can be easily found alongside all the other lighting accoutrements in a clearly marked aisle at most grocery and hardware stores.

Access control isn’t anywhere near that popular yet, but we’re well on our way. And, one of the main drivers of that progress is demand. As far as architects, builders and the eventual occupants of the spaces being developed are concerned, inefficient consumption of energy is no longer an option. Millennials and members of “Generation Z” have learned about all things green in high school or, at the latest, in college. For them, it’s important to go to schools that embrace sustainability and, after graduation, to live in cities and work for companies that do the same. Even the Pope has great faith in sustainability.


As the playing field of environmentally responsible access control products becomes more crowded—and more competitive—I think it’s important to understand what exactly constitutes sustainability.

Establishing and confirming degrees of sustainability is an endeavor that’s laden with acronyms. Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA, is a good starting point. At the highest level, LCA is a tool for the systematic evaluation of the environmental aspects and impacts of a product or service system.

LCA has been deployed in an amazing range of industries. Levi Strauss, for example, used LCA to gauge the environmental ramifications of the manufacturing and distribution of its apparel.

Not surprisingly, LCA has been widely used across the building industry. In fact, the increase in demand for an LCA from the architects and builders who both specify and purchase products sold by ASSA ABLOY was a big part of what motivated us to conduct further analysis and evaluation of our own.

To start, we completed eight Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs, across a rather complex and diverse portfolio. Recognized by the International Standards Organization (ISO), EPDs provide a transparent declaration of the environmental impact a product has throughout its life cycle.


What we learned while doing our due diligence for those EPDs illustrates a larger trend within the industry. For each of the eight products on which we were conducting the EPD, we believed that the process would demonstrate that the most significant environmental impact stemmed from areas such as transportation or manufacturing.

In all of the eight instances, the thorough analyses of each product revealed that the most significant area in which we have an environmental impact is energy use. That was news to us, but I think it’s also news to our industry, which like all industries perhaps, continues to incorporate technological advancements and innovations.

I’ll use one product as an example. It serves the same purpose as a brand new battery pack that can be solar charged, like the Tesla Powerwall. The second really interesting thing about this product is that it provides smart management and distribution of power. When it’s fully charged it disconnects from the grid and operates in standby mode, which consumes considerably less power. In fact, while our previous product drew five watts of power whether it was needed or not, the new product takes that consumption rate down to 8.5 milliwatts.

If that sounds minor, multiply it times the thousands of these devices that would be included in a typical office building being built today in any central city district across the country and the energy being saved adds up very quickly.


That one product has laid a firm foundation for what I believe is quickly becoming an entire ecosystem of products developed with sustainability very high on the list of priorities. To get back to my original metaphor, I feel as if 2015 is the year we’re finally offering products whose affordability and accessibility make them the LED lightbulb of the access control world.

The electromechanical lock is a great example. It’s a product that’s offered at the same price point—or better—as its competitors, but it uses much less energy. And since it consumes 96 percent less power than its traditional counterpart, it generates only a fraction of the heat, which increases overall efficiency of the building. Again, at the individual device level this may not seem significant. When it’s multiplied throughout a building and then across a city, the reduction in energy consumption becomes quite considerable.


Another step my company took in response to increased demand from across the industry was to pursue not only EPDs but also the closely related Health Product Declarations, or HPDs. While EPDs measure a product’s environmental impact, the HPDs provide a full disclosure of the potentially hazardous chemicals in a product by comparing the product’s ingredients to a wide array of “hazard lists” published by both government authorities and scientific associations. In Europe, much as its title suggests, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS, restricts the use of specific hazardous materials commonly found in electrical and electronic products.

An equally popular way of designating the environmental friendliness of a product is known simply as Declare. Billing itself as the ingredients label for building products, Declare provides a materials guide for product specifications for Living Building Challenge teams. The Living Building Challenge, currently in its third iteration, bills itself as a building certification program, a tool for advocacy and a philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability possible in the built environment.

The steadily increasing prevalence of EPDs, HPDs, and RoHS, as well as numerous other standards and certifications, demonstrate a definite shift in our industry. Our customers—whether they’re builders or architects or the people who will live and work in the spaces we’re developing—demand transparency and full disclosure. Those of us who plan to be thriving 10 years from now and beyond need to provide both.


While privately held companies have been responsive to the shift in consumer demand and preference over the past few years, the public sector has been anything but silent on the matter.

At the federal level, Executive Order 13693, issued in March 2015, sets forth the importance of sustainability over the course of the new decade. What’s noteworthy about 13693 is that it breaks with government tradition of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder and instead mandates that the government invest in sustainable products. For the first time, environmental responsibility trumps lowest cost.

At the state level, California, which is often a harbinger of things to come, is taking an equally quantitative approach. Rather than making suggestions or providing general guidelines, California Green Building Standards Code, or CALGreen, mandates that by 2025 state agencies achieve zero net energy for 50 percent of the square footage of existing state-owned buildings. The code further stipulates that all new residential buildings in the state be zero net energy by 2020—that’s five years from now—and all new commercial buildings attain the same degree of sustainability by 2030. With companies like Google and Apple already on board, bringing the vision behind CALGreen to fruition is a process that’s well underway.

The goals set forth by the new codes in California and elsewhere are certainly ambitious, but I don’t think they’re unreasonable, or unattainable. Like so many other long-range achievements that seem daunting, this will simply require a lot of small victories along the way. For example, specifying and installing more sustainable access control products. That’s something that may on the surface seem minor until you consider the number of openings with access control that require power. Multiply it by the number of buildings being constructed, and it becomes clear that it’s anything but minor.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Security Today.

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