Environmental standards redefining luxury in cruise ship interior design

Mounting pressure from maritime regulators and environmentally conscious passengers is transforming the concept of luxury in cruise ship interior design, with new materials marrying form, function and sustainability, says YSA Design’s Fabiana Vale Dornelas

Environmental standards redefining luxury in cruise ship interior design

YSA Design

Fabiana Vale Dornelas, senior interior architect at YSA Design, advocates the use of sustainable materials onboard passenger ships

Achieving environmental sustainability in the design and operations of any vessel is a crucial and complex undertaking, but the scale of the task is particularly apparent for cruise ships. With guests becoming increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of cruising, passenger ships must achieve and demonstrate sustainability not only in their construction, but also in their interior design – from decking to furniture to decorative elements.

“Almost everyone is aware that shipping does not have a positive impact on the environment, but most vessels are not in the public eye like cruise ships are,” says Fabiana Vale Dornelas, senior interior architect at YSA Design. “Cruise guests interact with the materials onboard the vessels, see them up close, and live among them for days, weeks, or even months at a time. More and more, they want to know how these materials affect the environment.”

Such is the modern cruise guest’s interest in environmental standards that the consumer power of guests has come to act as a type of regulation, pushing operators to offer a more sustainable cruise experience – or risk losing out to the competition.

“The pressure on cruise operators is immense and coming from multiple angles,” says Dornelas. “Tightening regulations are clearly an important factor, but guest expectations are equally significant – so much so that environmental performance is now a major selling point. In modern cruising, the words ‘luxury’ and ‘sustainability’ are intertwined like never before.”

As a cruise ship interior designer, YSA Design has a responsibility to support owners and operators in ensuring their vessels meet regulations and guest expectations. The company therefore engages with suppliers to ascertain the origin of products and verify their sustainability credentials.

“Form and function have always been fundamental elements of architecture and design, but we should now consider sustainability to be of equal importance,” says Dornelas. “A product may be attractive and fit for purpose, but where does it come from? How is it made? Where will it end up? These are the questions we have to ask our suppliers.”

More often than not, Dornelas and her colleagues are satisfied with the answers they receive to these questions, suggesting that positive change is already under way. In recent years, YSA Design has worked with a number of innovative and environmentally conscious suppliers.

One example is Mater, a Danish design brand whose Ocean Collection of tables and chairs challenges the furniture sector’s overdependence on virgin materials. Rather than further exploiting natural resources, Mater’s sustainable collection uses waste plastic and fishing nets retrieved from the ocean to create stylish furniture that can be disassembled and repurposed at the end of its useful life.

Another Danish brand, Kvadrat, followed a similar approach when designing its Reflect and Really textile solutions. To support a circular economy, Kvadrat makes its Reflect twill-weave upholstery from recycled polyester, resulting in a material that is both sustainable and soft to the touch. For its Really line of hard-wearing tabletops, the company upcycles waste cotton and wool.

However, in addition to the development, application, and repurposing of materials, sustainability in manufacturing is also a consideration, says Dornelas. “While the product itself might tick all the boxes in terms of sustainability, if the manufacturing process is highly dependent on fossil fuels or other pollutants, it still has a negative impact on the environment,” she explains. “As designers, we can help by sourcing eco-friendly materials, but the onus is ultimately on the yard to know who is working with them and how they are working.”

Like Mater and Kvadrat, UK-based flooring systems specialist Forbo Flooring Systems is a supplier that places great emphasis on ecological design. Its Flotex FR flocked floor covering combines the durability and cleanability of resilient flooring with the non-slip and acoustic properties of textiles. Crucially, in manufacturing Flotex, Forbo uses only electricity from renewable sources, while the colouring process relies on water-based dyes and inks instead of harsh, polluting chemicals.

The importance of selecting the right products and suppliers cannot be understated, but there are other ways that design can help to minimise the environmental impact of cruising. According to Dornelas, simply using lighter colours and reflective materials to decorate cabins and public spaces can save energy by reducing the need for artificial lighting. Carpets can also minimise energy use by increasing a room’s heat retention by up to 10 per cent.

As a final example, Dutch manufacturer Bolidt demonstrates that sustainability in the supply sector is not a new concept. Its Bolideck Future Teak was developed over 15 years ago, amidst environmental concerns that teak forests were being decimated and that wood was not always legally sourced. Since then, this realistic resin-based alternative to traditional teak decking has been widely adopted by the cruise sector.

Cruising still has a long way to go to be considered a sustainable form of tourism, but with regulators and guests driving environmental standards, and owners, yards, suppliers and designers working together to meet requirements, Dornelas says the sector is heading in the right direction.

“It is great for the industry and the environment that luxury operators are treating sustainability as a competitive differentiator,” she says. “Hopefully, sustainable interiors will soon be seen as a necessity for all cruise ships, and environmentally friendly, recyclable materials will be the norm.”

Share this story

Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
10 June 2022

Theme picker