Building a more sustainable future
by John Harding, Partner and Anna Hanson, Senior Architect
The threat posed by climate change and biodiversity loss is impossible to ignore. The construction process and buildings impact our natural habitats and account for a significant amount of energy-related carbon dioxide.
Everyone working in the sector has a responsibility to look for more sustainable ways to build and manage our built environment.
Architects’ involvement in the earliest stages of commissioning and design means we have a vital role to play. At Studio Moren we have been looking at how we can be more sustainable, both within our own practice, and also when working with clients. As a sign of our commitmentto change we are signatories to the UK Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency initiative. This collective seeks to harness research and technology in a combined effort to have a more positive impact on the world.
The hospitality sector is arguably behind when it comes to sustainability. Many projects are BREEAM accredited as a matter of course, usually through planning conditions. This process is effectively driven by regulation and is only going to increase in the future for all buildings, including hotels, by gradual ramping up of the Building Regulation suite of documents. There is a danger however, that sustainable design becomes a tick-box exercise.
Compliance with BREEAM is now fairly standard for hotels, but we believe it can be too easily achieved and needs pushing to a higher level to have a real impact.
There are some great examples that show change is starting. We welcome the news that IHG and Marriott will be omitting mini plastic toiletry bottles from their guestrooms and believe this will be an ongoing trend.
The green roof meadow garden which Studio Moren installed at Hilton Bankside was designed to supplement the loss of flower habitats to encourage wildlife into the urban environment. This has since been used by Hilton Bankside to install four beehives which have been harvesting honeysince 2016. The productive use of their open spaces is part of the hotel’s campaign to help maintain a sustainable London.
Our client for Vintry & Mercer is a member of the Considerate Group, a specialist company that helps businesses incorporate more sustainable solutions and responsible business practices into their operations. The hotel runs on renewable energy with advanced heat pump technology in the air conditioning system and solar panels. Other features include low energy LED lighting on PIR systems and glass bottles which can be re-used rather than disposed of.
However, we believe to have a real impact, change needs to go further and be embedded at each stage of the design and construction process. We are approaching it as a quality assurance exercise introducing sustainability check points from the very earliest stages of a project. These regular reviews will extend all the way through a project, from inception to completion and beyond, looking at everything from the amount of embodied energy in buildings, to energy use on site, from the sourcing of materials to carbon offsetting. We already do a lot of this, but we aspire to place it at the heart of everything we do.
Material sourcing is a key element. Circular design and cutting waste were big themes at Salone del Mobile this year and this will be a growing trend in the hotel industry. At Studio Moren we are cataloguing suppliers of materials and finishes which have green credentials and encouraging our designers to specify sustainable products. It’s also about using locally sourced materials to cut down on transportation energy. In this way we are returning to a form of vernacular architecture seen in the past when through necessity building materials had to be sourced at the location of the building.
It’s not just our clients who need to do this. In our office we are promoting paperless working and making a commitment not to print documents unnecessarily, checking drawings on computers using mark-up software and monitoring the number of prints we do. We are also using less plastic and encouraging recycling. Using laptops to take to meetings cuts down on the need to take printed documents and allows remote working reducing journeys and emissions. We have also started using Microsoft team software to hold meetings with consultants and others reducing the need to travel.
Designers, developers, owners, operators and construction companies all need to work together to ensure sustainability isn’t just a tick box exercise. We need to invest more time and effort in ensuring we have the right materials and practices, not just to build efficient hotels, but also to run them. Real change needs more than just tinkering around the edges, it needs to be integral to everything we do. Clients who are ahead of the curve recognise there are also financial benefits from being greener. As well as bringing cost savings and efficiencies, guests are wanting to see those credentials now so it will increasingly become a key marketing feature. As more in the sector realise it’s not just a nice to have but a must have, we have a real opportunity to play our part in building a more sustainable future.