Sustainability Leader: Sandra Ruiz de Azua, Director at Zebra

Design Insider is pleased to share an interview with Sandra Ruiz De Azua, Director at Zebra Projects, the global design and architecture consultancy renowned for creating consumer-focused experiences in retail and hospitality.

With over 15 years of experience in commercial interiors and a dedication to sustainable design, Sandra leads Zebra’s sustainability strategies, striving to minimize their environmental footprint while maximizing social impact.

In this interview, Sandra shares insights into Zebra’s journey towards sustainability, their goals and targets for creating environmentally responsible and community-focused spaces, and the innovative ways they integrate sustainability into every design project without compromising on quality or increasing costs.

Sandra Ruiz De Azua, Director at Zebra Projects

Please can you introduce us to your company and your role?

Zebra is a global design and architecture consultancy founded in London over 25 years ago, specializing in consumer-focused experiences in areas such as retail and hospitality.

We  prioritize creating a balanced, welcoming, and open workplace for our employees (we call ourselves “zebras”) and aim to contribute to a better world for them and their families. We  value teamwork, emphasizing the importance of collective talent, shared commitment, and a sense of responsibility among our employees.

I have been part of zebra for almost half of those 25 years, and I am proud to have worked at various roles. I have designed and developed projects at a global scale, building and managing design teams, as well as cultivating strong relationships with clients. In the last few years I have been given the opportunity to lead sustainability strategy in zebra, focusing on addressing our impacts at a social and environmental level.

When did you first begin to address sustainability?

As a business, our commitment to sustainability began with an examination of our internal operations, extending into our passion for social responsibility. This led us to actively find ways to assist our clients in creating environments with reduced environmental footprints while also scrutinizing our own business’s environmental and social impacts.

At a personal level, thinking of how my work could positively impact the broader society led me to investigate about ESG policies, green certifications in the design and construction industry, and non financial reporting in business.

Sustainability is a key focus across your business, can you tell us about your goals and targets?

We have two pillars that group how we can address our impacts, and that shape our strategy. On one side we are focusing on managing and improving our own internal operations, and on the other, we are looking into ways of incorporating initiatives to mitigate environmental impact through the services we provide to our clients.

One other big focus is to create a positive impact in the communities we work in, firstly of course, by taking care of zebras (as we call each employee) and also by encouraging volunteering. By looking at the wellbeing of our communities, we ensure we can all keep our activity in the long term.  

How do you ensure sustainability through design?

I think most of us think about complying with international global green building accreditations. While this is the ultimate ideal, not every client is ready for that. We believe we can include initiatives in each and every project, even if as a whole we are not pursuing an accreditation. In order to facilitate this we have put together a guide for all our designers to use as a reference, that is structured following the principles that rule these general accreditations, but simplified and translated into very specific action points that don’t necessarily add cost or time to implement in a project. Simple conscious decisions , for example how natural lighting is managed to help save energy, as well as help customers/users wellbeing, are things that as designers we should have a clear understanding of.

What is your next step?

To improve our global offices energy use, track and monitor our design efforts and how we use our internal guide to implement the initiatives into projects.

We are also looking for strategic partnerships, to continue to explore ways in which we could support clients and the retail and hospitality industry  to achieve positive impacts both at an environmental and social level.

Finding a project where we could apply for an international green building accreditation would also be a big achievement next year.


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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