"This is where my brain turns to mush," joked Brian McGuinness, "or I start to wander in my answers. You'll have to bear with me."
The senior vice president of Specialty Select Brands for Starwood was speaking to a journalist roundtable in one of Element Suzhou Science and Technology Town's meeting rooms. The New England native looks after hospitality brands such as Aloft, Four Points by Sheraton and Element — of which the latter's recent opening in June had the Asia Pacific market pretty excited. Journalists from China, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong were present to welcome Element's first entry to the region, and by the time Buro 24/7 Singapore had our turn to speak to McGuinness, he had already dispensed his fair share of buzzwords.
Not before we squeezed a few home design tips from him first. When we first arrived through the reception, it didn't take long to notice the building's considerate use of space — its open concept and nature-accented mood board took away the industrial grime surrounding the rapidly growing area. While it's located a 30-minute drive away from the ancient gardens and canals of Suzhou, the space still managed to inject a calming and lush narrative with roof gardens, rock formations and water features.
All this has been executed with sustainability in their conscience. If you're not familiar with Element, they're a part hotel, part service apartment space — and one that places utmost importance on whole living. An average Element property saves a million gallons of water per year. The Chinese are taking up this responsibility: Element plans to add three more properties in Zhangjiakou, Sanya and Tianjin respectively.
After four days of living responsibly, we realised it's not that difficult to be eco-friendly. While we can't necessarily mount art on a base made of recycled tires — something Element Suzhou does — there are a few pointers (not compromises) we've picked up from McGuinness.
On questioning what it means to be really green:
"They (guests) have a recycle bin. They put plastic bottles in that, but then they drive a Range Rover. They leave the lights and television on when they leave the house. And you ask, "well why do you do that?" and they say, "I want the burglar to think that someone is home." You know, sometimes I hang my suit coat in the shower and put the water in really hot to steam it. That's not particularly green."
On saving plastic in the bathroom.
"Use a dispenser for shampoo, conditioner and body wash. I was a firm believer that the consumer would not like that, but it's a 95% homerun. People don't mind it all. They've sent us notes trying to buy the dispensers for their house. You save on plastic bottles, and it looks neater in the shower."
On keeping walls eco-friendly:
"Why anyone would use paints today with volatile organic compound (VOC) in them is beyond my comprehension. I mean, it's not any more (money) to buy low VOC paints."
On saving water:
"We use low-flow fixtures, but thing is, you can't tell the difference that it's low-flow, and that's important. When you stay here and take a shower, you realise it's actually a great shower with a rainfall showerhead. But it's actually saving."
For more information on Element Suzhou Science and Technology Town, click here.