Comment: Transformation through sustainable design and construction

Hospitality consultancy expert Filippo Sona runs through the sustainable design methods hoteliers should consider

Filippo Sona
Filippo Sona

The idea of implementing sustainable design and construction in the real estate sector is nothing new. It’s something developers and investors across all industry verticals know they should be doing. Sustainable design makes economic sense — it makes properties more energy-efficient and user friendly; it future-proofs developments, and it satisfies an eco-aware consumer base.  

When it comes to the regional hospitality industry, however, there is still very little progress being made in this area. This is why the topic has been tabled for discussion as part of AHIC 2020, which aims this year to inspire hoteliers to transform their businesses for tomorrow through all aspects, from investment and design to operations and people

In our role as a consultant and project manager, we find that the lack of sustainable design and construction is linked to the fact that many investors, developers and contractors are just not aware of the technology and innovation now available to make sustainable buildings a reality. The common perception is that such approaches require more investment than traditional building methods, but this is not necessarily true.

Here, I will briefly address a few concepts that are worth exploration for those interested in the notion of sustainable construction: the cradle to cradle approach; modular design and intelligent buildings.

Cradle to cradle
A cradle to cradle, or C2C, approach to construction, involves continuous cycles that avoid any waste in the traditional sense. Essentially, non-durable goods are biodegradable and return to the natural nutrient cycle. Durable consumer goods are broken down into separate raw materials after use and returned to a technical cycle. Co-developed by German chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough, C2C is the basis of a circular economy, an industrial system that is regenerative by design.

We believe such systems can bring significant benefits to all levels of the hospitality development chain — from investors to suppliers to users. Investors can cut construction costs through leasing of raw materials and performance. Freedom from pollutants, recyclability and facilitated disassembly give the property a higher market value, not to mention additional revenue streams from dissembled raw materials. Manufacturers can secure raw materials for the future and open up new markets, while end-users, in this case, hotel guests, benefit from high quality, healthy environments at competitive prices.

Modular design
Anyone implementing Cradle to Cradle principles, or using modular design and construction, is already ahead of the curve when it comes to working towards a more sustainable future.

Modular design involves the building of hotels via prefabricated sections, built remotely and then delivered to the construction site. It has suffered from being stereotyped as quick and lower quality, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Modular building is innovative, cost-effective and incredibly time efficient. The controlled plant conditions used for construction off-site mean results can be achieved in half the time of conventional methods. If cradle to cradle principles are also implemented in these prefabricated sections, the benefits multiply.

Intelligent buildings
Whether conventional or modular construction processes are followed, the opportunities for smart building design, or digitisation, in the hotel industry, are numerous. We believe that old business models will become obsolete, as truly smart, sustainable buildings provide data that can be used to ensure hotels are energy-efficient, adaptable and future-proof.

There are a host of smart technology solutions already available, from 3D laser scanning and digital modular fabrication to intelligent construction equipment and BIM models, not to mention the use of IoT systems and robotics. Smart systems learn patterns and behaviour; allowing operations to quickly react to a failing model or shift efforts as required.

They provide data, which saves time and increases operational efficiency, which in a hotel, makes the guest experience more seamless, more comfortable and more enjoyable.

For the hotel owner, the financial benefits of intelligent, sustainable buildings are considerable. According to McKinsey & Company, adopting digital solutions throughout every phase of the construction process could increase market productivity by as much as 15% and reduce project costs by up to 45%.

Now, these digital solutions do cost more to implement; we estimate the extra costs incurred to be about 2% to 3% of the total investment if a building owner implements a thorough digitisation strategy before the design phase begins. That said, intelligent buildings require little additional upfront capital expenditure and can pay for themselves within the first couple of years due to operational efficiencies and energy savings.

On the flip side, for those that wait, the incorporation of digital solutions post-construction phase can cost a building owner up to 25% of their initial investment, while projected ROI targets may only be fulfilled within a minimum of 10 years.

Our advice is to future-proof your assets now. The increasingly competitive environment will result in more demand for quality products, driving the transformation to sustainable design and construction across the hospitality industry. The systems and technology are there and it’s your opportunity to be at the forefront of change.

About the author: Filippo Sona is a recognised name in the global hospitality consultancy community, having carried out work in more than 28 countries over the past 25 years. He is among the speakers at AHIC 2020, being held from 14 to 16 April at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. Visit: and for more.

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