04 March 2019

The balancing act of sustainable design

A subject which is becoming more and more of a focus within the hotel sector, is sustainability. What does this mean for design? What are the challenges? Which of our suppliers and operators are doing it well? After all, all major hotel operators will have specific requirements when it comes to green code. Requirements that also vary from country to country and site to site.

Who’s doing it well?

Design BY QU surround ourselves with clients and operators who want to ensure the state of our earth is taken seriously. Resort and Spa operator Six Senses, as one of the front runners in the sustainability game, commit to 80% of the materials used within their properties being natural or sustainably sourced.

Our recently awarded project – the Crowne Plaza at Sydney Olympic Park is, with the government’s commitment, set to become a world leading 6-star green community, with planning including new parklands, increased use of public transport, provision for a light rail corridor, use of sustainable building materials and implementation of sustainable living helping it to mature into a dynamic destination town centre for work, rest and play. We are also working with Luxury Indian hotel brand ITC who are actively committed to the environment by what they call ‘Responsible Luxury: Luxury without compromising the earth and sustainability, without compromising luxury.’

Internationally, there are a lot of materials that work towards an eco-movement. Just to touch on a couple; Bolon is a flooring brand founded through sustainable innovation, using vinyl waste to create rag rugs. They recycle all of their flooring and can be found designing and producing in Ulricehamn, Sweden.

Bute – a fabric mill on a Scottish island – is another example, using natural fibers exclusively and was founded on the sole purpose of providing employment opportunities for service people returning home from the Second World War. To this day, they continue to do as much as they can to support their local community.

Australia houses its fair share of material and furniture studios contributing to sustaining both our local environment and the global environment long-term. While it can be hard to source materials entirely from the island continent,  as long as there’s  a majority focus on the longevity of the product we are reducing the impact on the environment in the long term.

Locally – we love Halcyon Lake, a rug design & import studio in Melbourne who have a similar ethos to us as Design BY QU in terms of balancing the import and the local support. They travel often to connect with their international makers and manufacturers, some of whom they have worked alongside since the 1970s. They share their histories, traditions and artistry and build long lasting relationships which sustain not only their local workers here in Australia but also the communities  overseas who strive to keep their techniques and traditions alive. Their motto is simple – buy once, buy well.

Jardan are another Australian manufacturer who believe that a high quality piece of furniture should be ‘made with local materials and last a lifetime.’ One of the massive benefits we have in Australia is quality of craftsmanship, which really does allow this principal to stand strong.


What are the challenges and what does this mean for design?

Something which development and design teams often fall short on is providing opportunity for open discussion with seemingly unattainable local and overseas manufacturers, local boutiques and specialist product designers, post specification. There are notoriously sustainable (and durable!) brands available, but it is often assumed that project budgets cannot reach or their timelines will be too long.

Of course budget is always a concern, however in our experience, an open discussion can result in a negotiation on cost and time which not only fits the budget and schedule, but also results in something truly unique to our project’s location. We must also remember to do something once and do it well. A great quality product will come with a long lasting guarantee and will not need to be quickly replaced. This is especially important when working in the hotel sector, where traffic is heavy and usage is constant. We want our hotels to look as good in 10 years’ time as on the day they opened.

As our previous article looks at, due to less competitive labour costs in Australia, we would be unable to sustain an ethos where we are designing and producing using only local materials, local skills and local labour, thus reducing our carbon footprint almost entirely. But that’s not to say we can’t do our part and consider a balancing of actions which would lead to sustainability within design with a global effect.

Of course the use of natural materials also brings up the discussion of maintenance in a hotel environment, where fabrics and materials often face a heavy usage from guests and it is essential that maintenance and cleaning staff can easily machine wash upholstery and wipe down hard finishes with often quite harsh cleaning products. Certain natural materials such as cotton, linen and silk have very high tensile strengths and with the right environmentally conscious fire resistance and stain repellent coating, they can age well in the right application. There are natural materials such as leather, which often get better with time, and that progression of character within materials is something which we love to embrace at Design BY QU. For outdoor applications we will generally go synthetic as they tend to be more colourfast with much longer warranties. A lot of outdoor fabric companies although not natural in fibre, have great sustainability notions in place in terms of community support.

At Design BY QU, we want to ensure that the interiors play their part in reaching sustainability goals for our clients. We take responsibility for balancing the notions of natural materials, local sustainability, global sustainability and longevity of design. Regardless of a product being manufactured in Australia or overseas, we aim for longevity of products. If that product stands the test of time, this will reduce the carbon footprint of that Hotel in the long term.

We look to companies who support and engage their local community be it in Australia, or overseas. If you dig a little deeper into the world of material suppliers, you will find that many contribute to their community and overseas communities within education, employment, and consideration of social impact of the choices they make when it comes to design and production.

By making critical decisions about our designs based on sustainability, we can improve, heal, and empower a community. If we can support and encourage this ethos from conception through to completion whilst educating our teams, we believe we will have a profound and positive impact not just here in Australia, but across the world. It is our responsibility as designers to encourage the balance of good quality imports, and these local sustainability considerations, in order to deliver hotels on budget, of high quality, and which will stand the test of time, whilst taking care of the Earth.


More articles

Receive quarterly updates

Design BY QU are behind some of the most anticipated hotel openings globally. Read about our industry insights, upcoming projects, and what makes us tick as designers.