Building more sustainable interiors for cruise ships

SMC Design’s Alan Stewart details some sustainability issues for cruise ship interior designers

Building more sustainable interiors for cruise ships
A designer’s choice of material has an impact on the sustainability of an interior, says Stewart

By Jon Ingleton |

Sustainable interior design is a broad church and without any official definition it’s easy to stumble at the first hurdle. “It’s the hardest goal to set because if you think about a truly sustainable product, it would have to be made from a natural material,” says Alan Stewart, director of SMC Design. “Yet in a maritime environment there are fire load limits that restrict how much natural material we can use and where we can use it. Consequently, we have to set goals for the level of sustainability that we want to achieve and aim to beat that with every product that we specify.”

Specifying sustainable products is a nuanced choice for loose items but it becomes much more complicated for fixed furnishings. “We must think more about how materials are joined together – for example, can we use screws rather than adhesives, or can we make products and whole interiors easier to repair, deconstruct, reuse and recycle?” asks Stewart. “What about a big stone bar top – how can we install to ensure that we could practically give it a second and third life, rather than sending it to a landfill site?” 

One significant challenge today is the shortage of sustainable materials. “We have a very limited range in our library, sustainable choices are so hard in some product categories and impossible in others,” says Stewart.

Few designers focus on products and materials in the early stages of a design. “I usually sketch with pencil first and that pencil creation then finds its way into a CAD model,” says Stewart. “I will look at the aesthetics first and then start to apply the materials and build the colours until the whole interior takes on a shape and form.”

It’s at this point that Stewart’s thoughts turn to sustainability, and like every designer, he must use every tool in his arsenal to achieve this goal. “Our parametric planning software helps us to be more sustainable in the design phase through minimising off-cut waste,” he says. 

There are compromises with every decision. Designers simply can’t specify a 100 per cent wool carpet because “it needs high nylon content to give it the durability performance that we have to achieve,” explains Stewart. “And if we limit ourselves to natural dyes, we have a very muted palette range to work with so the aesthetics of a sustainable interior would suffer.”

End-of-life plans for products and spaces is an area where designers can achieve significant improvements. “How to deconstruct an interior at the end of its life is something that we could put a lot more effort into,” says Stewart. “And nowadays we know the lifespan of a particular product and so should be able to plan for its refurbishment, reuse and recycling. 

“The way that ships are constructed at the moment makes it very difficult to thoroughly reuse or recycle old interiors,” he adds. “It’s less challenging for loose items which can be reupholstered, invisibly repaired or otherwise refreshed. But still too much becomes waste.”

Stewart says: “If the designer, owner and yard collaborated to create a sustainability report for each interior that would be a great step towards improved sustainability. The report could cover product lifespans, spare parts, cleaning instructions, deconstruction plans, waste planning, and much more.”

Collaboration is key. “Our responsibility tends to end with the visible surface – what lies behind the surface is the responsibility of the yard and outfitter,” says Stewart. “Hence, deconstruction plans within an interior report would need to be written in collaboration with everyone involved in a newbuild project.”

True sustainability in the built environment is impossible. “While we can’t build a perfectly sustainable ship, hotel or home, we do need to ask what is the most sustainable build that we can achieve today,” says Stewart. 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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