Hoteliers have often been front-runners in the pursuit of sustainability, but can they be doing more? Jeremy Sumeray of Armstrong Building Products looks at where the hotel sector can be greener, and how design can work in tandem with environmental ambitions.
No longer just an afterthought, sustainability is considered from the moment new hotels are conceived. Hoteliers have embraced green thinking to such an extent that it is now a crucial part of the built environment in most buildings. Quick to adopt more efficient technologies, dual-flush toilets, low-flow showers and waterless urinals now help hotel chains in slashing utility bills and reducing environmental impact. Radically reducing energy and water consumption has been a resounding success for most, but the focus is now shifting towards other areas of inefficiency.
Tackling inner-city air pollution is now a priority for the public and private sector. Paris recently trialled an alternating car ban to reduce toxicity levels, and China's largest travel agency has engineered the concept of "smog insurance" to compensate those affected by it. The hotel sector has been quick to join the battle, and there have been numerous measures implemented to improve air quality and the indoor environment.
"Nobody wants to be breathing in foul air, and we know that there is a growing desire to improve its purity - especially in developed economies," says Jeremy Sumeray, senior segment manager for sustainability at Armstrong Building Products.
"Air quality, and your thermal and acoustical comfort are all part of the indoor environment. It holds so much more significance now, following the example set by schools and hospitals. They recognised the impact these have on interior ambiance, and it's trickled into hotel design."
Armstrong Building Products founder Tom Armstrong set up the company in 1806; his first delivery was a batch of hand-carved corks, taken to his customers by wheelbarrow. Now, Armstrong specialises in manufacturing floors and ceilings, and boasts of a significant foothold in the hotel industry, as well as an understanding of how architectural style has changed throughout the sector.
"Design over the last few years has been much more ambitious and imaginative, particularly in the reception and common areas," says Sumeray. "We're being commissioned to produce different palettes of materials, more adventurous colour, varied shapes and new modes of lighting. Interiors are much more energised compared with those of several years ago."
Pining for more artistic designs has seen a lurch away from the traditional suspended ceilings, the style choice of offices. Canopies in varying shapes are now a common fixture for hotels, with their ability to absorb sound and reflect light as much a benefit as their aesthetic presence.
"There's a much greater understanding of acoustics now. Hotels used to opt for the conventional white walls, high ceilings, cut-back interiors and marble floors; it looks good, but the acoustics are dreadful," says Sumeray. "More attention is being paid to re-addressing the balance between design and its impact on the interior environment."
The architectural design of the reception areas and restaurants will always be geared towards astounding guests and making an impression; it is in the kitchens, bedrooms and corridors where energy and water consumption is more rigorously monitored.
"It's not dissimilar to what you see in offices; the ground floor reception is fantastic marble with atmospheric lighting and stark furniture, but the upper floors are just conventional workplaces," says Sumeray. "We accept that not every element in a building can be the most sustainable part available. You have to get the balance right."
Sustainability and design do not have to be diametric - an idea Sumeray has been exploring in hotel communal areas. Manipulating reflective surfaces makes it possible to increase the amount of natural light pouring into rooms, improving the ambiance and reducing the number of artificial units required. Intelligent use of lighting and reflectors can help reduce upfront investment and long-term energy costs.
While most hotels are primed for sustainable performance throughout their lifetime, considerations about what happens during renovation cycles are starting to take more precedence.
"Hotels are getting away from this idea of 'take, make, dispose'," claims Sumeray. "Hotel interiors have to be ripped out every five to ten years. Previously, materials were just sent to a dump, now hoteliers recognise that they have value, and more careful analysis during procurement and construction is required."
While an all-encompassing collaborative approach towards sustainability is still in its infancy with the hotel chains, Sumeray believes the close working relationship between manufacturers, architects and designers is fuelling the drive towards environmental considerations. So long as successful business cases for sustainable solutions can be developed for hoteliers, the construction of ever-greener hotels will continue.