Conscientious cruising with sustainable ship design

Anders Ørgård and Bente Medelbye Hansen explain how Steen Friis Design is using life cycle analysis

Conscientious cruising with sustainable ship design

Steen Friis Design

To support their conscientious design strategy and advisory, the SFD design team has spent the past couple of years building a large database of sustainable materials that can be used on passenger ships

By Rebecca Gibson |

United in its quest to protect the planet by achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the global passenger shipping industry is striving to create more sustainable vessels. However, there is one major hurdle – no one really knows what constitutes a sustainable ship.  

“There is no globally accepted set of standards for what makes something sustainable, so everyone has a different definition and it’s become a meaningless term,” says Bente Medelbye Hansen, design director and head of interior and accommodation at Danish design firm Steen Friis Design. “Many companies are marketing their products as sustainable, but they’ve never analysed the impact they have on the planet so how can they know?”  

Steen Friis Design, which was founded in 1998 and joined OSK Group in 2016, believes that one of the most meaningful and accurate ways to determine whether a ship or a product is sustainable is to calculate its cradle-to-grave carbon footprint.  

“Today, many shipowners are primarily focused on finding alternative fuels to minimise their scope one emissions, but they must take a holistic approach and minimise indirect emissions arising from the manufacturing, outfitting and end-of-life recycling processes if they want to become emission-free,” says Anders Ørgård, chief commercial officer of OSK Group. “To do this, they should calculate the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the entire life cycle of their ships.” 

Steen Friis Design and OSK Group have invested in a Danish start-up that has databases for calculating emissions to enable it to perform life cycle analyses on concept designs and help shipowners produce data-driven interior design and refurbishment strategies. 

“We’ve taken a unique approach in the industry by developing several concept cabin designs and calculating the base level of carbon emissions generated by the individual components within each one,” says Ørgård. “This has given us an accurate understanding of which materials are less harmful than others.” 

Some of the results have been surprising. “We thought wool would be sustainable as it’s a natural material, but we found that breeding sheep involves a lot of carbon emissions,” says Medelbye Hansen. “Similarly, we discovered that leather isn’t always a good sustainable choice after running a life cycle analysis on our concept cabin design, which featured a leather chair and bed headboard. We calculated that using the material for both would produce 157 kilos of CO2, equating to 10 per cent of the total emissions for the cabin.  

“These emissions would quickly mount up on a ship with 400 to 500 cabins, so leather would only be a sustainable choice if the shipowner plans to keep the chairs and headboards for most of the vessel’s working life. However, it would be a very wasteful choice if they intend to update them in five years. We wouldn’t have known this without doing a life cycle analysis.” 

Having accurate scientific data about the carbon emissions associated with different products and materials has transformed the design process. “We can factor environmental considerations into the initial phase of the design process in a way we’ve never done before,” says Ørgård. “Using the data, we can show clients the impact their initial design decisions will have on the overall carbon footprint of their ship throughout its life. We can help them choose how to spread the carbon emissions between components that will be used throughout the ship’s life, as well as elements that will be replaced regularly during refurbishments.  

“Plus, we can show them how to reduce emissions by switching some components for more sustainable alternatives, without significantly changing the appearance of the space. We’ve developed a library of products and materials, all of which are categorised and colour-coded according to their sustainability credentials to make this easier.”  

The Danish design studio hopes to expand this library in the future by collaborating closely with suppliers and other key stakeholders to accelerate the development of sustainable products and materials.  

“We are currently pushing a manufacturer that offers around 12 PVC-free foil laminates to remove the plastic from its entire range of foils,” says Medelbye Hansen. “We are also working with the Copenhagen Institute of Technology to research how the shipping industry can make use of Leap, a leather alternative made from apple waste that was developed by Denmark-based company Beyond Leather.” 

The firm is also trying to push suppliers to conduct life cycle assessments. “We ask all suppliers for certificates to prove the sustainability credentials of their products and if they can’t we go elsewhere,” says Ørgård. “We also invite the supplier to send us data about the raw materials and manufacturing processes so our start-up partner can perform a life cycle analysis on their behalf. We hope this will encourage more companies to take sustainability seriously.” 

To date, the supplier community has been receptive to Steen Friis Design’s efforts to advocate change across the supply chain. “Everyone knows they must improve, so we’re having productive conversations and our suppliers are really listening to us,” says Medelbye Hansen. “Progress will likely be hard and slow as there’s a huge amount of work to do and it’s challenging to develop sustainable products and materials in an industry where everything must also comply with strict International Maritime Organization, fire safety and other requirements. 

“Currently, sustainable products are more expensive to produce and buy, but the demand is there, and the more we promote life cycle analyses and grow suppliers’ understanding of the types of materials we’re specifying, the better the situation will become. We’re confident that with hardcore CO2 emission figures behind us, we can push the sustainability agenda forward.” 

While many shipowners are also embracing the move towards sustainability, some are concerned that choosing sustainable products and taking a data-driven approach to design may prevent them from creating innovative and inspiring interiors. Medelbye Hansen disagrees, saying: “If we had a client who only chose the most sustainable materials possible, we’d still be able to deliver an exciting and high-quality interior design that would be aesthetically appealing and functional for both guests and crew members.”  

Steen Friis Design shows shipowners the impact of their design decisions on the passenger experience via its virtual reality tool, which enables key stakeholders to walk through a 3D, life-like virtual model of the ship.  

“Walking through a 3D model gives clients a true sense of the depth and scale of each space, as well as a real insight into what it will look and feel like for passengers,” says Ørgård. “It’s much more effective and engaging than traditional drawings, particularly for those who do not have technical backgrounds. This allows us to have more meaningful and productive design discussions at a very early stage in the design process.” 

Crucially, Steen Friis Design can also seek feedback from crew members who will be operating the vessel and serving passengers too. “We invite targeted user groups to virtually test the layouts of spaces such as the bridge, galleys and engine rooms to ensure our designs will meet operational requirements before we begin the building and outfitting processes,” says Ørgård. “We’ve recently used it with both Stena Line and P&O Ferries to keep projects moving forward at a steady pace despite Covid restrictions.” 

The design studio’s flexible and technology-driven approach to design makes it a popular choice of partner with some of the world’s biggest cruise and ferry operators.  

“Our clients appreciate that we have the skills, knowledge and experience to develop high-quality designs that meet and exceed their expectations,” says Ørgård. “They also love that Steen Friis Design has tremendous synergy with OSK-ShipTech, which means they can come to us for naval architecture, marine engineering and interior design services all in one go. We always aim to offer a personalised service and build long-term relationships with our clients – more than eight of our partners have been working with us for over 25 years. 

“Despite disruption during the pandemic, we’ve continued serving our clients and are thrilled to have secured new projects from multiple customers that want our help to prepare for a greener future. We’ve still got a long way to go before we achieve true sustainability and zero-emission vessels, but we’re excited to work with shipowners and the supplier community to ensure we make this goal a reality over time.”

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

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