No Surprise Guests: Using Nature to Curb Contagions in Hotels
In our previous entry, we talked about the pervasiveness of harmful chemicals in our environments, and how the practices of Green Chemistry are leading to creative, healthier solutions. In this entry, we’ll be sharing how another sustainable design movement, Biomimicry, can reduce the transmission of viruses and harmful bacteria in high-turnover spaces such as the hotel guestroom. Be sure to check out Part 1!
In these days of global pandemic, the focus in our work has become how to keep our environments clean and safe from viral contaminants.
And as designers, we regularly ask, “What if we had the opportunity to create a healthier guestroom on the whole? A guestroom that used natural elements and processes as the guideposts for making the guestroom experience safer?”
Often when manufacturers talk about creating such an environment, the idea of an antimicrobial coating seems like a no-brainer. Antimicrobials are most often found in personal care products like hand soaps and body washes, but are also added to textiles, countertops and many cleaning products used in guestrooms. Unfortunately, these chemicals can be introduced into bodies through skin contact and ingestion, and are linked to developmental, hormonal and reproductive problems. They can also have adverse effects on beneficial microorganisms.
So how do we create surfaces that are antimicrobial without all the chemical additives? Biomimicry is spawning exciting new ideas!
The Biomimicry Institute explains biomimicry as “a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to help solve human design challenges.” It is understood that nature, as a rule, sets up systems that are supportable and maintainable because they must be inherently nontoxic to work in concert with other living systems.
We believe in aligning our environments with this symbiotic approach. This often involves finding inspiration in the natural world, examining structures and processes with positive results, and incorporating those processes into our designs.
So how can biomimicry impact the prevalence of antimicrobials, while keeping us healthy?
One approach reported in the publication Langmuir found that by replicating the structure of the water-repelling hairs commonly found on spiders and other organisms, we can create non-stick surfaces without chemicals. This approach could help prevent droplets from adhering to surfaces, and transferring viruses from one guest to another. Another innovation, developed by Filligent in Hong Kong, is a targeted-filtration technology, which uses a molecular structure mimicking the sites on human cells to which microbes normally attach. Once attached, the technology disrupts the surface of the virus, or the cell walls in the case of bacteria. Filligent uses this technology for their BioFriend masks, which has potential to be used in fabrics found in guestrooms, like bedding and upholstery, or the filters in the HVAC system!
Cleaning products too could benefit from a Biomimicry/Green Chemistry approach. The molecule, AGG01, discovered in the mother’s milk of tammar wallabies, is a natural antimicrobial that’s 100-times more effective against bacteria than penicillin. Allicin and related chemical compounds found in garlic, have also been studied for their antibacterial and antiviral capabilities.
If scientists can utilize these naturally occurring compounds, they could create non-toxic cleaning solutions with the same effectiveness as traditional, toxic antibacterial products.
And while these are just a few promising innovations, they’re also testament to many unexplored possibilities.
We know more than ever what products and practices lead to unhealthy environments. And we’re fortunate as designers to influence the future of our spaces using the practices and tools of Biomimicry and Green Chemistry. There is no time better than now, during the current pandemic, to band with brands, hoteliers, and guests to demand non-toxic, sustainable solutions. Solutions that do not compromise either people or planet, and that will lead to a vibrant, healthier future!
We love to talk about health and well-being through design. Have a resource you’d recommend? Share with us in the comments.
If you’re inspired to learn more about healthier, safer products and services, check out the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. And learn about working with the environment – naturally – with Ask Nature.