The importance of materials

By Mary Holt

The hospitality sector puts many demands on the environment, especially given the average hotel receives a renovation every five to seven years to keep the interior current. Analogous to other industries, interior designers often focus on an aesthetic at a budget to meet today’s needs while ignoring lifecycle costs. This is why many hotels are home to massive amounts of materials such as PVC, which is toxic and virtually non-recyclable.

One of the best ways to mitigate environmental damage is responsible material selection that considers lifecycle impact. There are many ways material selection can make an impact, like clean manufacturing processes, evaluation of carbon footprint and specifying products that can reduce energy demands within the space. When selecting new materials for a new space, there are a few things to consider.

How to avoid greenwashing
“Sustainable” products aren’t created equally. As the public increasingly demands accountability from corporations, many make misleading or unsubstantiated claims about their green initiatives and products (“greenwashing”). A greenwashing screening of corporate websites found reason to believe that up to 42% of the cases had unsubstantiated claims. Unfortunately, greenwashing is prevalent in the textile industry, and 78% of people aren’t aware of the phenomenon.

Transparency and third-party certification can bridge the gap between artificial and genuine claims about the environmental attribute of a product. Choosing materials associated with independent companies and labs that test, audit, measure and optimize products and manufacturing processes is a surefire way for designers to make responsible choices. Third-party certifications such as Declare and Cradle to Cradle support LEED, WELL and Living Building Challenge projects, and are excellent indicators of responsibly-made materials.

The importance of PVC-free
Polyvinyl chloride (“PVC”) is a common component in furniture, textiles and wallcoverings. The “C” in “PVC” indicates the chlorine content, which negatively impacts the environment and human health during production, use, and disposal. The popularly used vinyl wallcoverings derive from a vinyl chloride monomer, which the EPA recognizes as a known human carcinogen.

By the mid-2000s, it was well-recognized that chlorine-based products are an environmental burden and dangerous to humans. However, vinyl wallcoverings are still ubiquitous in hospitality and building interiors because of their relatively low cost and ease of cleaning.

Thankfully, many architects and designers understand the problems with this material and are beginning to avoid them. When looking for materials for a hospitality setting, it’s crucial to turn to brands that not only say they are PVC-free but have a deep commitment to sustainable innovation. Reliable manufacturers should have their PVC alternatives clearly listed on their websites.

Promoting cleanability through material selection
The pandemic has transformed the views of sanitation and cleanliness, especially in hospitality settings. Each hospitality experience should be memorable and authentic, but guests should also have peace of mind that they are in a clean environment. Because hospitality settings are high-traffic, walls, upholstery and other surfaces require regular maintenance and vigorous cleaning protocols. This is why it’s crucial to choose materials that withstand the harshest conditions and stand up to heavy use without degrading.

Not only does cleanability boost the health and wellness of guests, but it also prolongs the life of a material, a vital tenet of sustainable design.

The crux of hospitality design is to weave story and brand throughout a space to create memorable guest experiences. Still, now more than ever, design teams need to incorporate sustainability and lifecycle analysis into their materials selection process.

Holt is the chief design strategist at Carnegie Fabrics. As a product designer with more than 30 years of experience, Holt is passionate about solution-driven design and ethical and sustainable product development. Bringing a unique design perspective to the leadership team at Carnegie, Holt has helped guide product strategy at the firm with a commitment to continuous innovation and meet evolving market needs. Since 1999, Holt has enjoyed collaborating with designers worldwide, working on hospitality, healthcare and corporate interiors. She’s received several recognitions, including Best of NeoCon, MetropolisLikes and Interior Design’s HiP awards.

This is a contributed piece to InspireDesign, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.

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