Getting the measure of sustainability

Interior products are often informally assigned with a sustainability rating during the selection process for newbuild and refurbishment projects. Jon Ingleton polled supporters of the SMI Declaration to establish which criteria should be prioritised 

Getting the measure of sustainability

By Jon Ingleton |

Specifiers of interior products for passenger ships are all mindful of sustainability performance. But few judge it by the same criteria. Manufacturers find themselves having to provide different data for each prospective client and can be urged to follow several different certification pathways. This inconsistency creates confusion and cost, and it’s stalling the industry’s ability to consistently deliver more sustainable interiors. 

Cruise & Ferry Review asked supporters of the Sustainable Maritime Interiors Declaration what they considered to be the most important criteria for product sustainability. Responses were ranked and grouped into top fives for each of four lifecycle phases: design, manufacturing, product use and end of life (see table). 

Sustainable design 

Circular design was the criteria most frequently suggested. It embodies all the criteria discussed here and must be considered in any sustainable product determination. Design can change the world. Resource depletion, waste and pollution are consciously designed choices. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation summarises it neatly: “Circular design is about designing interventions at different levels of the system. It is about unlocking value at every stage of the process by maintaining the materials already in use, increasing the number of users for every product, and using practices that have regenerative outcomes for nature.”  

The easiest, and perhaps most conclusive, way for a buyer to verify circular design is through trusted certification programmes, such as Cradle to Cradle, EU Ecolabel or Nordic Swan Ecolabel (see table). 

The principles of ‘rethink’ and ‘reduce’ are fundamental to circular design and both rely on imagination and innovation. “Our company is continuing to push boundaries through design and innovation for future sustainable efforts,” says Willie Trager, interior design manager at Holland America Group. Led by director of interior design My Nguyen, the group inspires product and material designers to rethink, reduce and otherwise innovate – rewarding leaders with encouragement, support, pilot projects and sales.  

Social and ethical considerations are designed into products by choice or left out through neglect. Manufacturers must consider the social impact of the products they take to market or risk significant brand contempt. “This includes fair labour practices, ethical sourcing of materials and adherence to human rights standards,” says John Drake, sales director at Skopos Fabrics. “Prioritise fair wages, safe working conditions and support for local communities.” 

While less relevant for land-based interiors, weight is a factor for ships. “It affects emissions throughout the ship’s lifetime,” says Tapani Wendelin, vice president of Almaco. “By reducing weight, the ship will consume less energy for propulsion.” According to René Dupont, senior director of Ege Carpets, there may be opportunities for manufacturers to offer weight saving options – by sacrificing unnecessary functionality, features or otherwise. 

Design for value tends to favour reducing material volumes and manufacturing complexity, which should lead to reduced costs. But, as Dansk Wilton marketing manager Lone Ditmer highlights: “The requirements for increased documentation and sustainability leads to greater costs. There is great price pressure and the cost ends up furthest down the value chain with the weakest links.” If sustainable design isn’t rewarded it will stagnate. The measure for the design for value criteria might be a product price range that’s deemed fair by buyers and suppliers. 

Sustainable manufacturing 

Demand for sustainable products is growing fast. “Manufacturers of physical products find themselves on the front lines of sustainability. In part, that’s because their customers demand cleaner, lower-carbon products right now,” says McKinsey & Company, in the 2022 article titled ‘Building sustainability into operations’. 

“All suppliers should be transparent and document the carbon footprint of its products,” says Philip Korsholm Bjerg, head of cruise and transport at Kvadrat, a point echoed by numerous respondents. Adding carbon footprint criteria into purchasing decision-making, through the Carbon Trust or a similar body, demonstrates that the manufacturer is working to reduce a product’s carbon footprint – perhaps the purest measure of sustainability intent. 

Mathieu Petiteau, the newbuilding and R&D director at Ponant, is among a group of buyers championing the use of recycled materials. “Incorporate materials from a recycling channel into your product,” he urges. “The aim is that the final product should eventually be made from 100 per cent recycled materials.” Odigitria Ventouri, the head of marketing at Innovation Lounges, agrees and encourages adding more renewable materials into the product material mix. An environmental product declaration will verify the volume of recycled and renewable material used and is an easy measure for buyers. 

Industry stalwart Hans Lagerweij, emphasises the need to ensure that products are healthy. “Opt for products free of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds or flame retardants that can pollute indoor air and harm human health,” he says. “Look for certifications like Greenguard or Oeko-Tex Standard 100.” 

Respondents were unanimous that problems with packaging could be resolved through the use of recycled and recyclable packaging materials. Regulatory change in many geographies is forcing a new approach that will variously ban single-use plastics and require 100 per cent of packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable. 

Sustainable product use 

Designing products to last yields multi-dimensional benefits, according to Dansk Wilton’s Ditmer. She says: “Choose a high-quality product that has a long life span and keep the product in the first lifecycle for as long as possible. This is also better than changing the product after a short lifecycle just because it can be recycled.” She also points out that lifespan isn’t just about material quality: “Lighter colours are more sensitive to wear and tear so even though a product per definition has a long lifespan this might be compromised by other factors.” 

Magicman chief executive Mark Henderson knows a thing or two about repairing products: “We used microfiche in the Royal Navy that showed a diagrammatic breakdown of each item and part numbers so you didn’t have to replace a whole chair, for instance, but could simply order two worn out replaceable armrests.” Supply chain managers should explore how component parts can be used. Modular construction means easily replaceable parts and, although maybe initially expensive, the lifetime of an item is extended. 

There’s a subtle difference between repair and refurbish and the two are often conducted together. Design for repair makes used products easy to fix using existing materials whereas design for refurbishment makes used products easy to renew with additional materials. Both are important approaches to improving the sustainability of products, and both were high priorities in our poll. 

There’s a surprisingly high environmental cost to thorough product maintenance. Karine Bouttier, product manager at Gerflor, explains: “When looking at the lifecycle analysis of a vinyl flooring, most of the carbon footprint comes from the raw materials (51 per cent) and maintenance (27 per cent) stages. Sustainable practices must first focus on these two key items.” Good maintenance guidance provided by suppliers can dramatically reduce environmental costs, particularly if it eliminates the necessity for chemical cleaning and reduces water use. 

Reuse is considered to be one of the medium loop, or life extension, strategies within the 9R Framework of the circular economy. It can represent extension of a product’s lifespan for either the same purpose, or an entirely different function, through reusing a product’s components to create a new product. 

Perhaps we can also find a way to be more accepting of product flaws that come from use. Liz Schneider, owner of Liz Schneider Interiors, says: “I believe the evolution of design and its relationship to the earth relies on us to approach interior design as an experience. Meaning, we create and execute more timeless interior concepts and rely on experience such as interactions, entertainment, meals and overall guest experience to evolve and change with time. I see furniture design being more authentic in the blemishes we often reject.” 

Sustainable end of life 

Lifecycle responsibility may be the answer to controlling, reducing and eliminating waste. Ton Van Middelkoop, business development manager at Bureau Veritas, says: “I believe all stakeholders in the industry have an obligation to ensure products are not only sustainably sourced and produced but should also be fully recyclable/reuseable [such] that a product manufacturer takes responsibility for the entire life cycle of a product rather than to leave it for our next generation to deal with the consequences.” 

While recycling is one of the longest loops (focused on creative material application) of the R strategies, requiring equipment, material and energy to create new value, it has become an imperative attribute for interior products. Manufacturers and buyers alike can no longer ignore end-of-life planning. “[We should] consider the ease of recycling or upcycling the product at the end of its life,” says Dimokritos Zervakis, project manager of Decon, who embraces “circular design principles to minimise waste and promote recycling.” The products that are most easily separated into homogenous materials have the best metrics for recycling. 

Recycling considerations go far beyond just a product level. “One of the key arguments that should be brought forward is the general legislation in the various countries in which ships are being produced,” says Sascha Gill, vice president of sustainability at Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). “The European Union has recently launched a legal framework (ship recycling) that clearly determines how a ship produced in Europe must be recycled. With this in mind, it becomes very clear what materials you can use in order to build a vessel.”  

Design for disassembly has multiple benefits and has become an important feature of sustainable products. “Interior items should be easily disassembled for recycling to alternative use,” says Jason West, managing director of WDC Creative. He calls for “not using too many materials and keeping designs minimal and functional.” Very few products take this approach as far as it can go today, leaving an open opportunity for innovative manufacturers to take the lead in many product categories. 

Product buyers are increasingly eager to ensure a productive second life for products when they are taken off a ship. Francesca Panatta, interior manager at Holland America Group, was one of many respondents asking “is there a leasing or a take-back scheme in place?” While maritime examples are currently rare, product leasing is expected to grow considerably in the coming years.  

Remanufacturing is similarly underutilised as a product sustainability approach, for now. While product designers are starting to adopt design virtues that better enable remanufacturing (such as modularity, standardisation and ease of disassembly), the product path back to the factory currently has too many hurdles, economic rather that desire.  

Sum of all the parts 

Collectively, the poll’s top five criteria in the four groups (see table) provide a fairly robust framework for measuring the sustainability of any interior product. Turning this set of criteria and measures into a workable process to rate interior products will require further investigation. It would then be possible to generate a weighted score for each measured criteria to give products an overall sustainability rating. The simplicity of it is very appealing.  

It isn’t surprising to note that this model draws significantly from the 9R Framework – an approach that has earned widespread favour in the industry, including with Tillberg Design of Sweden. 

Similarities can also be found through pursuing an approach based on SDG Compass guidance. YSA Design is on this pathway: “We have recently initiated the implementation of SDG Compass in order to structure our sustainability measures,” says CEO Anne Mari Gullikstad. “This is making a framework for our sustainability plan and will help in following up the results. Our intention is to regularly evaluate our plan and measures and make sure that we utilise any opportunity to achieve the SDGs.” 

The model developed from the responses of SMI Declaration supporters may require refinement, but it does demonstrate that stakeholders can come together to create a workable system that can be used across the industry. As Ditmer says: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” In this instance, the pursuit of perfection could stall the urgent need to take a good first step. 

Of course, buyers must be sufficiently motivated to make good choices. “It is important to be able to demonstrate the value of more sustainable passenger ship interiors to the decision-makers at the top of the corporations. The perception remains that sustainable interiors are more expensive so we need to be able to demonstrate the finances in a more tangible way,” says Karen Argue business development manager at The Deluxe Group. 

Petra Ryberg, owner of Design Studio Berg+, says: “I believe there is need for regulations. Make sustainability measurable and put data to it. Make it mandatory, similar to other IMO standards.” Mandatory or otherwise, a common accord is non-negotiable. Paul Pringle, managing director of Solarglide, says it is necessary “that both supplier and customer are working off the same hymn sheet. If one isn’t, the effort of the other is wasted.” 

If sustainable maritime interiors is not within IMO’s purview then we must look to others to take the lead. Perhaps CLIA or Interferry could step into this realm? 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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