Sustainability: A balancing act for washroom designers

Armitage Shanks Offices Washrooms

As a society, we’re becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of our own decisions, as well as those of our employers and the brands we engage with. Sustainability is therefore one of the biggest concerns for the construction industry and will only grow in importance over the coming years as cities across Europe continue to adopt more ‘green’ policies.

It should therefore come as no surprise that sustainability was one of the key themes that arose in our latest study, Creating Better Washrooms. In fact, the study found that 84% of design professionals consider sustainability to be an extremely or very important consideration when specifying commercial washrooms. Not only that, but it’s expected to be the second most influential factor to govern washroom design over the next five years, behind wellbeing.


However, what our study also found is that in order for sustainability measures to be effective, designers must strike the right balance between what is environmentally beneficial and what is actually feasible in practice.


The current picture

Sustainability continues to be of major importance to professional washroom designers – not just in terms of the methods and materials used in product manufacture, but also the eco-friendly performance of products and the logistics surrounding their maintenance and eventual disposal.


For example, our study found that the features most specified by designers to improve sustainability ratings are low-water-usage toilets, urinals and fittings, as well as low-energy-usage lighting. And, while there is still some work to do in other areas – such as material tracking, green planting and the use of recyclable parts – designers are in a strong position to lead the way in encouraging the development of ‘greener’ technology and the uptake of more sustainable products and procedures.


How much do end users care about sustainability?

In our survey, two-thirds of end users rated sustainability as extremely or very important and almost half said that they would like to find significantly more sustainable functionality in workplace washrooms in the future. However, sustainability did not feature in their top 10 considerations, which included more practical factors such as cleanliness, hygiene and ventilation.


What this suggests is that people do want sustainable washrooms, but only if the features don’t compromise their washroom experience. For example, low-water-usage toilets and urinals may not be acceptable to end users if it meant more smells and stains, and they may even result in more water being wasted due to multiple flushes, defeating the purpose. Similarly, water or energy saving sensors may not be welcomed if they caused difficulties in flushing, washing hands or operating hand dryers.


On that note, it’s important to point out that most sustainability efforts are not always evident to end users. Instead, they’re often behind the scenes, meaning people use them every day without recognising their environmental importance or impact on workplace quality.


An opportunity for designers

It’s clear that when it comes to sustainability, the implications for professional designers go beyond decisions about which water or energy saving devices to specify; relevance to end users is paramount. An interesting hypothesis is that the solution may lie in increased signposting of environmentally friendly technology in washrooms. Given the current gravity of the green agenda, being made aware that a certain product is contributing to a more sustainable world may encourage people to use it as intended – a theory definitely worth further investigation.


Meanwhile, what we can be confident in predicting is that professional designers, as well as those people across the entire manufacturing process, will be integral in tackling climate change and resource management, by helping to increase use of ethically sourced materials, manage waste, and reduce energy and water usage. Not only will such efforts have a positive environmental impact, but they will also help to bring down the total cost of ownership and financially benefit the project in the long term.


As well as examining sustainability within commercial washroom design, our Creating Better Washrooms report also includes useful findings on current perceptions around factors such as wellbeing, gender and smart technology. The conclusion? That sustained collaboration with stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain, as well as end users, is the key to delivering washrooms that go beyond mere function and truly benefit society. It’s something we’re committed to at Armitage Shanks: working with partners and the wider industry to implement evidence-based design so that commercial washrooms not only play a central role in improving profitability, but ask genuinely enhance the lives of those who use them.


Get more insights and exclusive findings by downloading the full Creating Better Washrooms report.

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