CID talks to regional experts about the current green trends and the challenges of balancing sustainability, aesthetics and functionality.
In recent years, the integration of sustainable interior design has been the fastest-growing segment in the design industry worldwide and the Middle East is no exception.
From the use of reclaimed and energy-efficient construction materials to using furniture and products from suppliers that promote eco-friendly manufacturing processes, innovation is vital when it comes to designing healthy indoor environments.
However, leaving spaces with open eaves, exposed services and unfinished wood-based panels is not necessarily sustainable design, according to Colette Van Jaarsveld, managing partner of Arcology International, a Dubai-based interior design firm providing sustainable solutions.
“Sustainable design does not necessarily look different, it ticks those invisible boxes in terms of meeting and exceeding LEED guidelines and requirements, running costs, flexibility and innovation solutions to clients’ needs over the lifetime of the building or space without any adverse effects to the environment,” says Van Jaarsveld.
“Sustainable design is more appropriately termed invisible design, not in terms of minimalist design but more related to the human experience and interaction with a space as well as the ability for a space to be modified in line with user-requirement over time.”
One of the key issues impacting on the success of sustainable design is transparency, according to Louise D’Costa Emanuelsen, marketing manager at Interface, manufacturer of modular carpets. She explains that without clear and honest information or standardised data, it can be a challenge for a business to find partners capable of supporting environmental targets.
“In 1994, recognising that the way the carpet industry worked was fundamentally unsustainable, Interface took the decision to eliminate its environmental footprint and, ultimately, become restorative in all places it has an impact,” says Emanuelsen. “To achieve this goal, Interface established product development targets to be met by 2020 – its Mission Zero pledge.”
Over the course of the company’s Mission Zero journey, it has developed ways to reduce waste and cut carbon emissions, from glue-free installation to bio-based yarn and was the first North American carpet manufacturer to publish a third party verified Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).
“These documents provide a standardised, independent verification of a product’s environmental impact, helping environmentally conscious businesses find others who are likeminded,” explains Emanuelsen.
“EPDs were radical when Interface implemented them, but today they are becoming an industry standard.”
Sustainability drives business
Understanding what sustainability is and how it relates to building design is one of the key issues according to Andrew Jackson, marketing director at Shaw Contract Group EMEA, a leading commercial carpet provider.
He says: “Some certifications are now defining in more detail what is required from sustainable design which assists the market to understand that it is commercially viable and in demand from building owners and users.
“Sustainability drives our business. By manufacturing our own yarn we are in greater control of our production process and service to the market. This also ensures we can manage our product take-back scheme, which means that we will take back any Shaw product for free and recycle it, ensuring there are no costs of disposal for end-users or contractors. Since 2006 we have recycled more than 320.000 tonnes of carpet globally.”
Jackson also says that most companies will always be led by commercial demand, but sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor.
He says: “Structured third party building certifications, such as LEED, have transformed the development of environmental performing buildings. The more buildings that are designed and accredited in this way means that the client demand should grow.”
Charles Constantin, managing director of Geze Middle East, a company which creates customised solutions for door, window and safety technology, shares similar views, explaining that more consumer demand is required to accelerate progress on sustainability.
“Brands are highly influenced by demand and more specifically consumer’s expectations. The ability of the consumer demand to drive the agenda forward is very important, however, awareness remains an important fundamental in this context,” explains Constantin. “In order to create the demand, standards should apply and environmental awareness should be promoted all over the region.”
Sustainability and CSR
Van Jaarsveld further explains that innovative and sustainable design should not be mutually exclusive or optional — but rather the standard.
She says: “It is incredibly interesting when we are involved with clients on projects where one realises how tightly our role as architects and designers influences, informs and works with their own CSR polices and intentions.
“Medad Print and Packaging, a large subsidiary of the Al Batha Group, is one such client with whom we work across a multitude of projects and also assisting them to reach their own industry standards in the most sustainable and economical way possible. The Medad Design Centre in JLT was completed in 2015 serving as a Dubai-based meeting, workshop and showcase for the long established Sharjah headquarters.”
Van Jaarsveld notices that larger corporations and companies have embraced sustainability to a large extent within their own individual procurement and CSR policies. However, she believes there is still much education and understanding needed regarding the role that sustainability has across the various industries and procurement streams.
Facts versus myths
Van Jaarsveld points out that there is a misconception in the industry that sustainable immediately implies more expensive or added cost.
She says: “With regards to building services, this is often the case, however, the argument exists for quicker return on investment.
Sustainable design and sustainable materials often run this risk of being placed in a ‘design style’, a passing phase, something fashionable or what one needs to be seen to be doing.”
Constantin adds that other misconceptions include that there are not enough sustainable materials and that nobody is interested in green design.
“At Geze, sustainability is an important factor in our day-to-day actions. The company has set itself the task of continuously improving the ecology of its products and manufacturing facilities as well as using natural resources responsibly,” says Constantin, adding that its door closer series TS 4000 and TS 5000 were awarded the German Sustainable Building Council Navigator Label.
Improving water efficiency
Despite common misconceptions, Louise Pitt, marketing manager at Geberit, confirms that the demand for system solutions for green building is continually growing.
She says: “European and international standards are defining the framework conditions and new standards are setting out the basic rules for environmental declarations for individual products and systems in buildings. This is opening up a future market with major potential in which Geberit is present with water-saving, energy-saving, low-noise and durable products, and one in which Geberit specifically positions itself as a provider for green building.”
Pitt further explains that a broad range of Geberit products can help with the implementation of green building concepts and standards such as LEED, BREEAM, DGNB and Minergie.
“A recent product launch is the Geberit Urinal. On the urinal systems, all components are designed with minimal water consumption in mind and coordinated with each other down to the finest detail,” she says. “Thanks to the low-resource consumption and the possibility of supplying the control unit with power from a self-sustaining energy source that is independent from mains power and batteries, the urinals meet the most stringent requirements for green building.”
Jane Jacobsen, marketing executive at Sanit, also sees water scarcity as one of the key environmental aspects in the region.
“The water consumption here, in comparison to other parts in the world, is outstandingly high. The concept of sustainable design for Sanit is therefore to provide efficient water-saving technologies and designs to decrease water consumption in the region,” says Jacobsen. “Sanit is striving to provide different types of environmental certification to provide its customers with suitable water-saving standards to achieve the LEED certificate for their future projects.
“Sanit’s dual flush concealed cistern allows easy adjustments to regulate the small flush to a minimum of only two litres. This results in a great saving of water and the possibility to be ahead of sustainable design.”
She also says that the Middle East is making great improvements and showing high engagement to become a more environmentally friendly region.
“The UAE in particular is working on several initiatives that are in line with energy-efficient building codes to become one of the top sustainable regions by 2020. Water saving possibilities are therefore key to matching environmental goals. Sanit’s water saving flushing mechanism is the beginning of an ongoing project as governmental organisations such as Emirates Green Building Council and Estidama strive to update their standards.”