• Environmentally Sustainable Design
01/05/2023 Sean Nino

An interview with Maitri Fischer for Disegno Journal

A story devoted to environmentally sustainable design and its impact on the world

Date Published: May 1st, 2023

Written by: Maitri Fischer, edited by Sean Nino Lotze

  • How do you work with Potato Head, and how did the collaboration come to be?
Our collaboration with Potato Head started in 2017 after Sean Nino (Eco Mantra Co-Founder) met Ronald on the beach after a surf session. A conversation about environmental sustainability and Bali’s degrading environment led to a proposal and we started working with Potato Head Beach Club.
At the time we had already been successful in helping resorts save up to 50% on their water and energy consumption. PTTHD management was interested in a transition to becoming more resource efficient and was planning to expand the hospitality brand and build more venues.
We completed our first energy, water, and waste audits by the end of 2017 and we set targets for 19% energy savings, 45% water savings, and 80% reduction of waste to landfill. I remember though that Ronald wanted to be more ambitious on the waste targets and he asked us to aim for Zero Waste to landfill. This was a big challenge and it required a paradigm shift within the entire organization. We knew it would take years but Potato Head started by opening Ijen, the first zero-waste restaurant on the island. This became our test bed and allowed us to perfect the concept of material management inside Potato Head.
By 2018 we had achieved our water-saving targets and had achieved about 50% of our energy targets and by the end of the year, the responsible material management systems we implemented reduced waste to landfill down to 24% from about 50% at the beginning of the year. By 2019, waste to landfill was reduced to 9% and today potato head is below 5% waste to landfill.
Drop of water bouncing and splashing on the water
We work with Potato Head in various capacities including efficiency audits and implementing technical solutions to find energy and water savings, implementing environmental property management systems, training their green team and capacity development, carbon footprint assessments, and green building design, or what we call Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) for the development of new properties.
  • How do you work with designers and architects? At what stage of a project would you become involved and to what extent are you able to influence the decisions made during the process?
Mantra is an environmental engineering consultancy. We work with visionary leaders and developers to create eco-friendly destinations and experiences by integrating sustainable design principles into the development of one-of-a-kind properties. Generally, we begin with awareness and help property owners like Ronald Akhili discover how much is possible when there is a real commitment and a clear road map and codes of conduct that then influences the entire organization. We help align the leader’s vision with the latest science and help develop impactful and ethical goals so that the designers and architects receive a design brief that demands environmental sustainability.
We use what’s called an integrated design process for sustainable design which involves all stakeholders (including designers and architects) on a project and we prefer to be included in the pre-concept design stage in any new project. We believe that good design is integrative, sustainable, intuitive, beautiful, and functional and therefore it requires early collaboration.
Infographic on the integrated design approach value chain
We begin by developing a reverse-design brief with the client and architects, informed by an environmental site assessment and an understanding of local climate, culture, and materials. Understanding local environmental boundaries and the direct and indirect environmental impacts of the proposed project is critical in developing the appropriate sustainability strategy. We assess if there are any potential rebound effects and future ecological, cultural, and business risks, and depending on what type of decision levels are relevant we actually custom design a framework to guide the entire team through a decision-making process through the design phases. To underline our approach we develop higher-level sustainability goals and we get the board of directors to sign an environmental pledge and commitment.
Impact of a drop of water on a liquid surface
Environmental Sustainability in buildings and properties is very dependent on local environmental data and relies on understanding spatial and temporal indicators that represent the environment. We use measures of biodiversity, flora, and fauna, look at rainfall and sun hours, humidity and moisture, and many other factors that all should influence the entire design process and its decision-making.
The earlier that we are involved in a project, the more impact we can have without creating costly and time-consuming design changes – as you can see from the graph below.
Infographic about integrated design approach
In the concept design stage, we develop the appropriate sustainability strategy and propose the best measures to improve architecture design and reduce environmental impact. We assist architects with passive design studies to optimize the building envelope design, shoding, and wind flow and highlight risks and challenges associated with the environment the project is in which we must consider in the design that is ultimately developed.
In the design development stage, we carry out building energy simulations, model resource consumption and develop integrative systems designs that ultimately lead to well-engineered, efficient, and healthy buildings. This is the most important collaborative phase where we work hard with all stakeholders and designers to integrate sustainability into engineering, architecture, landscape, lighting, etc designs. We also measure the impact of the proposed sustainable design features and carry out complete life cycle cost analysis to help our clients and architects understand the environmental and financial benefits of sustainable design. This really empowers our clients to make decisions as they also know how much it will cost and when the savings will break even – the ROI.
We continue our services into tender and construction phases to offer a very holistic and robust service from design to opening for all our clients.
Infographic about water, energy and waste management systems for the Rituals Boutique Resort by Alaya project
  • Establishing the environmental impact of processes and developments is notoriously difficult, with disagreements over what elements should be included in the calculations. How do you work to calculate environmental impact and what challenges do you face?

When we started our company we began with a deep desire to understand what kind of impact development was having on Bali’s environment. We sought to study how properties and tourism as a whole were degrading Bali’s ecosystems.  We wanted to measure, quantity, explain and reduce the impact of development on our island home. The natural environment has a carrying capacity, an ability to support life sustainably considering the resources available in the ecosystem in which they reside.  We define zones of influence that people have on different ecological habitats and physical environments as “ecosystem boundaries”.

Violet and pink balinese night landscape with quarter moon, cloud, temple and coconut treeFoto Credit: Willem Loots

Development and tourism often exert a negative influence on natural habitats and have a profound impact on local cultures and socioeconomic systems. Ecosystems are connected through flows of energy, water, material, and organisms across ecosystem boundaries. These flows can exert strong influences on the fertility, productivity, and hence the carrying capacity of ecosystems.

Our company CTO has a background in Earth Sciences, hence we focus on understanding relevant environmental systems to develop properties with low ecological impact that are well integrated into the natural environment. In our initial start-up phase, we identified energy, carbon, water, waste, and biodiversity as the five most important topics to focus on in sustainable development and restoring nature.

Energy is related to burning fuel and consuming electricity which in turn impacts the environment through (most notoriously) air pollution and carbon dioxide and therefore contributes to climate change. Atmospheric circulation of carbon emissions is about 11 days so carbon is a global issue no matter where it’s emitted.

So, in our work, we quantify carbon emissions as part of the complete life cycle cost assessments we do for building designs. We follow the established GHG (Green House Gas) protocol. We can quantify the carbon footprint to build a building and to operate it. We also use the same methods in implementing the corporate SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative).

The tourism industry consumes about 65% of our water resources. An average tourist consumes 1,200 L per guest night and a local consumes less than 200 L per day. Bali gets 17 mln tourists a year and has 4 mln residents. Our in-house hydrologist at Mantra understands that the water we consume comes from groundwater and that our natural environmental boundaries are defined by the watershed area or catchment.

We communicate that Bali is facing a water crisis and we see that we have a dwindling groundwater water supply and declining water tables and water quality issues (groundwater pollution and/or saltwater intrusion).

efficient water systems design


As with development in all cities, development leads to increased paved areas and decreased infiltration areas, and this results in a reduced amount of natural recharge and an increase in the probability of stormwater (overland flow-driven) floods. Bali is facing a water shortage and a water quality crisis. In the design phase, we can model and predict the water consumption of a property using our methodology and research. We always show our clients how much water will be consumed and we model and quantify the effects of sustainable solutions, often demonstrating how we can reduce the water footprint of the project by 50 or 60%. As a general guiding design principle, we design our properties as zero runoff developments, where all rainwater and treated wastewater is re-infiltrated on-site to fill the first (shallow/phreatic) aquifers. All wastewater is treated on-site with quality wastewater treatment technology to ensure we are not polluting groundwater.


Bali generates up to 1.6 million tons of waste per year and over 50% of our waste in Bali, is not disposed of properly – finding its way into unofficial dumps, rivers, mangroves, and ultimately, the sea.


Composting at Potato Head

Only 11% of our island’s waste is recycled. Marine plastics, methane emissions, habitat damage, and wasted resources are just some of the impacts of poor waste management. With landfills and official facilities overcapacity, solutions must be implemented at the source. One guest averages 2 – 3 kg of waste per day and 1 kg of waste generates about 1 kg of methane which has a 28 x higher GWP than CO2.


3 vertical images. On the left, a man is holding a fish in each hand. In the middle, a man is standing up in front of a coloured wall. On the right, a man is cooking fish suspended over embers.Foto Credit: Now Bali – Ijen Zero Waste Restaurant

We measure waste for our clients like Potato Head and develop entire sustainable supply chain concepts as part of our design impact. We developed and implemented the Ijen – Zero Waste Concept for Potato Head and have developed and built material management facilities for hotels, resorts, villages, and now even regencies “Kabupatens”.

Our work has demonstrated that through responsible sourcing practices, separation at source, recycling, and composting businesses like Potato Head can achieve up to 95% recycling rates, vastly reducing their impact on the environment.


Environemntal reporting at viceroy

The biggest challenge we have is a lack of data and scientific understanding of our ecosystem boundaries and the different impacts of common and collective activities. So for example, we can not quantify the socioeconomic costs of water pollution in Seminyak because this research does not exist. We have no baseline as a society, that describes the limit and our collective boundary. We cannot conclude and decide on what is the right way forward and collectively fail at driving positive impact.
So where we can not quantify all environmental impact and indicators, we focus on what we can and we focus on reducing as much impact as possible, targeting established benchmarks, and making industry leaders like Potato Head and Waterbom become advocates of change.
  • What systems have you created for Potato Head? How do these operate?
In 2017/2018 we created an environmental property management system to track environmental KPIs and their impact across energy, water, and waste indicators and measure progress in achieving sustainability targets like reducing water and energy consumption. We were tracking indicators like CO2 per guest night, liters of water consumption per guest night, or waste to landfill per dish.
In 2018 we developed the material and waste management framework and management system for PTTHD.
In 2022 we scaled this system to encompass the entire desa, now including the new Potato Head Studios Hotel. We have documented this work in the waste blueprint which you may have seen for the Nothing is Possible exhibit in Singapore.
Infographic about Desa Potato Head Waste Breackdown
Through 2018, 2019, and 2020 we worked with Ronald and Ade on Environmentally Sustainable Design for their new hotel developments. Essentially coming on as green building consultants and working on developing a custom green building design strategy for Bali and Singapore.
Starting in 2018 we have been assessing their operational carbon footprint (Scope 1, 2, and 3) following the GHG protocol, enabling them to go carbon neutral through purchasing offsets. I’m currently advocating for them to switch to Net Zero strategies following SBTi which is much more current, robust, and ethical from a scientific perspective.
  • What do you see as the main environmental issues facing Bali? How do you feel these can be addressed through design, architecture, and engineering?
The tropics in general, 23 degrees south and north of the equator, will face quite dramatic weather changes and we need to understand how that will change the local environment.
Bali in general has forgotten what its real natural and resilient state was and we have lost most of our coastline due to beach erosion and building too close to the oceans. Groundwater levels are dropping even though there is plenty of rain. It is not reaching the aquifers and we need more monitoring of our local water levels. Plastic consumption has grown from 20 Kg/ Person/ Year to over 40 Kg/ Person / Year and most of the single-use packaging is still not being properly disposed of. Our energy grid is still 80% dependent on Oil and Coal and cooling buildings is done very poorly. We are wasting millions of tons of coal and oil every day just because of our current poor building design codes. The general public, investors, developers, and even the HNWI High
Nett Worth Individuals and powerful influencers are ignorant of how URGENT the situation actually is.
Impact of a drop of water on a liquid surface
On a property-to-property basis, we can mitigate and reduce, in some cases even eliminate the impact of some properties on the local environment.
  1. Designing buildings to be used without air conditioning, and if they must, then maximizing the time they can be used passively. designing for cross ventilation, and fans, and only when absolutely necessary, the building can be closed off and air-conditioned. In some commercial buildings, we use sensors to ensure AC is not on with windows open.
  2. Designing for healthy buildings in the tropics means we have to maximize shading, reducing direct heat gain of slabs, and walls. We need to insulate roofs to reduce most of the building’s heat gain.

The above 2 principles can easily reduce building energy consumption by 30%. Couple this with efficient HVAC systems and you easily get to a 50% reduced energy footprint.

Infographic about water, energy and waste management systems for the Batavia PIK project

  1. For water, we focus on what’s called integrated water management and systems design. We prioritize rainwater (30% groundwater footprint reduction). We use efficient water fixtures (20% groundwater footprint reduction), we recycle wastewater for irrigation (10% – 50% groundwater footprint reduction depending on the size of the garden)and we develop whole-house drinking water systems to reduce bottled water and plastic. we easily get to a 50 – 60 % groundwater footprint reduction.
  2. Zero runoff principle is super important to reduce the impact of groundwater abstraction and if you use shallow groundwater wells you can actually close the loop within your own catchment and be net zero water.
  3. Good waste management through infrastructure design and responsible operations will reduce water to landfill and waste to the environment by 80% (easily) and up to 95% (with great effort).
  4. We can design low embodied carbon buildings which have a 50% lower carbon footprint already, today, now through appropriate material selection. For Indonesia, this means a footprint of 400 kg per SQM of gross floor area.
  5. We can design net zero buildings (operation), now, today. this is easily done with diligent planning and integrative design from the pre-concept stage to ensure we have renewable energy properly integrated into building design. and it must be coupled with a super low-energy building design.
  6. We can easily develop projects to be regenerative of soil carbon, biodiversity, and culture. Regenerative design is not complicated but it must be a genuine project goal from the very beginning and the client must choose the right site to accommodate this.

  • What level of interest in your work and services do you see within Indonesia? Has interest increased and, if so, what do you feel has driven this?
Interest has definitely increased over the past years and our company has experienced a doubling in size every year. We definitely see the more high-end tourism market completely switching to a more purpose-driven and environmentally friendly brand narrative. Only a few developers are really doing the work and consecutively improving their performance every year and working against an internal baseline with a clear structure and framework in place.
It is very unfortunate that the majority of developers have no idea how to establish an environmental baseline and how to build a framework of performance indicators that guides them toward becoming regenerative and environmentally sustainable properties.
We get a lot of inquiries but only will work with developers and owners that genuinely want to improve and who are willing to go the long distance and walk the talk.
  • How do you feel Potato Head is perceived by other resorts and destinations? Do the sustainability initiatives of one organization have a ripple effect within the wider industry?
We have a lot of potential clients asking us for what Potato Head has or what Waterbom has. Without even understanding why and how environmental sustainability works, developers and business owners are experiencing the shift in the market and understand consumers are changing.
We understand the work at Potatohead has a big ripple effect and we want to find more partners like them that can act as a showcase for the tourism industry. Leaders that will inspire and pioneer sustainable and regenerative travel, tourism, and development as a whole.
  • To what extent can tourism and associated development ever be sustainable given the demands it places on resources, water use, and the carbon costs (etc) of travel? Even with efforts to reduce waste and so forth, does the industry not place considerable strain on the environment?
For tourism to be sustainable given the demands it places on resources, water use, and the carbon costs (etc) of travel we must only attempt development with sustainable design principles as a must and a strong understanding of ecosystem boundaries and of the local ecological carrying capacity within those boundaries. Another hotel developed in Seminyak, Bali, will never be sustainable from an ecological perspective. That environment has exceeded its carrying capacity and is highly degraded any additional pressure on the environment brings it closer to collapse.
Bali as a whole is a mass tourism destination. There is nothing sustainable about mass tourism. It destroys the environment and local culture. This mass tourism is concentrated in the south.
But developing a new hotel in a truly remote area of Bali or a remote location in Indonesia (island or forest), where the environment still can support more people, where the environment is not polluted, where resources are not over-used and scarce, can absolutely still be sustainable. The concept of eco-lodges in remote areas with low tourism pressure is a good reference.
At the end of the day, the environment is what supports us. The environment is able to sustain life. natural systems provide natural services which drive energy and resource flows. In a healthy environment, human waste (organic) is processed by the environment, broken down, turned into nutrients, and used to build more biomass. The soil and ground filter our wastewater and so our groundwater is clean. The organic matter in healthy soils acts as a sponge. soaking up rain, slowly releasing water, and preventing floods.
It is only when we produce more waste than the ecosystem can not process that we begin to poison the environment – so it degrades and dies off and we humans will be left if a pile of our own excrement.
Locally (without a healthy ecosystem), and on the right scale, tourism can be sustainable. The question now is, have we polluted and degraded so much of this planet, so many of the ecosystems and natural spheres that the whole planet is breaking down? Have we crossed the point of no return?

Some further interesting links:

Stockholm Resilience Center
Wuppertal Institut
Future Cities Laboratory

#Archicture #Urbanplanning #Indonesia #Building #Developers #Futurecities #Industry #Greenbuilding #Passivedesign #Regenerative #Netzero #Energy #Regenerative
#Eco-Mantra #ESD #Environmentalengineering #Environmentallysustainable #Design



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