Much is made in this day and age of the importance of sustainability, and nowhere is that conversation more prominent than in the hospitality sector.
Excess plastic in the form of miniature toiletries, the amount of water used in laundry services, and even menu choices - all are areas coming under inspection as the industry moves towards a more sustainable future.
But, whilst hoteliers are increasingly jumping on board with sustainability initiatives, both to bolster their own PR and to invest in a sustainable future, there is much more to the conversation than simply achieving a decrease in emissions.
Whilst carboNZero certification is worth striving for, the hallmark of a truly sustainable business is arguably closer to a circular economic model than a zero-emissions one.
The QO Hotel in Amsterdam opened its doors in 2018. Designed by architecture firms Mulderblauw, Paul de Ruiter, and Arup, the hotel was developed with the goal of achieving the highest sustainability indexes possible.
An internal greywater system helps bolster an aquaponic rooftop greenhouse, which provides the bar and restaurant with herbs, vegetables, edible flowers, and even fish. Meanwhile, 1,638 responsive thermal panels on the building's façade autonomously react to the outside climate, providing just the right amount of insulation, depending on the weather, whilst floor-to-ceiling windows account for 80 percent of the hotel's lighting, minimize the need for powered lights during the day.
QO is built on the principle of the circular economy. Indeed, the hotels' very name is an aesthetic nod to the concept of closed-loop recycling. The building's materials were almost entirely locally sourced, with 33 percent of the concrete coming from a demolished skyscraper in Amsterdam. Even the carpets are made from 100 percent recycled yarn from fishing nets, a not to Amsterdam's marine heritage.
"The materials used in both construction and interior design have been chosen for their circularity credentials, provenenance, and relevance to the QO's story and vision," said general manager Inge van Weert. "We want the QO to be as free of materials with toxic emissions as possible therefore we have checked elements from the wood to the wallpaper against this marker."
Whilst the QO was designed to model a gold standard for sustainability, without sacrificing luxury, its practices are implementable on a case-by-case basis, and its success is a testament to the power of lateral thinking when it comes to developing sustainable solutions.
Closer to home, Envision Hands is developing a novel solution to the problem of plastic. The company manufactures 3D-printed bespoke artificial hands for children in need, but with a sustainable twist. Via their 'Lids for Kids' campaign, Envision Hands sources all of the plastic needed to manufacture the hands from recycled bottle tops.
The innovative artificial hands, designed to operate with a simple arm movement, allow children born without a hand, or who have otherwise lost one, to regain a great deal of independence.
Rather than opting for a lifelike appearance, the hands are available in bright colours and are designed to be attractive to children. They are entirely mechanical and require no motors, sensors, or electronics to operate. They are also cheap to manufacture, meaning children need not be concerned about outgrowing them.
"The most important part, apart from being an environmental and humanitarian project, is that we're really getting schoolchildren involved in a process that's going to help children overseas," explained Envision Hand's director and founder Sean Teer. "So it's children helping children."
Sofitel Melbourne On Collins recently announced that 100 percent of the hotel's bottle tops will be donated to Envision Hands, providing a massive boost for the humanitarian start-up.
"We are so happy to participate in this project and we hope to see more businesses become a part of it," said Johanna Bouniol, Sofitel's risk, quality, and environment officer. "Not only will guests reduce their waste going to landfill, but also they will be part of a beautiful project."
To find out more about Envision Hands, visit envision.org.au/envision-hands