Full Disclosure: Interview with Aaron Smith

Ahead of next week's Materials Transparency: LEED v4 panel, we're republishing a GreenSource interview between Joann Gonchar and speaker Aaron Smith of Assa Abloy. Join the discussion with Aaron and John Amatruda of Vidaris next Wednesday, January 13 at Arup.

Aaron Smith is the director of sustainable building solutions for Assa Abloy, a global door, door-hardware, and access-control-device company. He is the only representative of a manufacturer on the board of directors of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative. The new nonprofit organization has created the Health Product Declaration (HPD), an open standard for disclosing product ingredients to designers, owners, and green-building certifiers.

GreenSource: How did you get involved with the HPD project?

Aaron Smith: Bill Walsh, executive director of the advocacy group Healthy Building Network (one of the conveners of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative) told me about the vision for the HPD and building product transparency. I said, "Wow. We'd really be interested in doing that with you." It made absolute sense to us.

Some maintain that product-ingredient disclosure is more established in Europe. Assa Abloy's parent company is Swedish—did that play a role in winning the corporation's support for your participation in HPD's effort?

Our decision was actually made here in the Americas by the Americas management team. From my experience, in materials-ingredients reporting, the Americas are far ahead of the rest of the world. Much of the rest of the world is looking at transparency through a legislative lens and compliance with regulations like REACH and RoHS. But the U.S. is looking at the issue through the lens of the consumer. And the consumers are out in front of the legislation.

What would you say to other manufacturers that are hesitant about completing HPDs for their products?

I would tell them about my own experience. Prior to the HPD, everyday requests were coming across my desk for material-safety data sheets, an accounting of product ingredients, or for Red List information. The HPD is intended to be the one document that can supply that level of detail to the marketplace. It's no different from what you would see on the side of a cereal box. It is a common reporting mechanism.

How many products has Assa Abloy completed HPDs for?

We've completed HPDs for Graham Wood Doors, Maiman Doors, and three brands of hollow metal doors. Now we are working on electronic access-control hardware.

Did you learn things in the process that were surprising?

Yes. Manufacturers have always specified on the basis of durability, performance, and price. But we haven't always necessarily asked our suppliers, "What is in that subassembly?" In one case, we learned that the accelerant for a polyurethane foam we were using on our hollow metal doors had a higher global-warming potential than we would like. Based on what we learned from completing the HPD, we decided to make a change. We are now pursuing an alternative that will allow us to create a better product that performs just as well.

When you requested ingredient information from your suppliers as part of the HPD process, did they give you pushback?

Most of our suppliers were pretty good. We did have pushback from some regarding confidential business information. So, in order to get an understanding of what is in our products, we signed nondisclosure agreements. There's definitely concern about sharing such information. But I think, over time, suppliers will become more comfortable with that.

Some manufacturers and industry trade groups have created alternative ingredient-reporting formats. Are these efforts counterproductive?

I think it is amazing that manufacturers are having a conversation about product transparency. I don't know that we would have had this discussion two years ago. People will eventually come together over one system. The market will drive us toward a single format.

This article was originally published in GreenSource magazine.

Join the discussion next Wednesday, January 13 at Arup.

About the authors

Joann Gonchar
Joann is Senior Editor at Architectural Record, Contributing Editor at GreenSource Magazine, and a long-time member of Urban Green's Monthly Programs Committee.