Sustainable Restroom Operations

When creating green restrooms, examine opportunities related to surfaces, air quality, and conservation.

green restrooms
Green restrooms can be defined as facility spaces that are resource efficient, feature products with minimal negative impact on the environment, and help to promote occupant and facility staff health and wellness. (Photo:

By Anne Cosgrove
From the November/December 2016 Issue

Whether managing numerous restrooms across multiple facilities or overseeing a handful of these spaces, facility executives understand the impact of these facility areas is at an all-time high. Discussions around hygiene, wellness, and the role buildings can play in occupant health are part of the daily discussion for many, even in mainstream media. Green building programs and certifications, whether focused on the whole building or specific products and processes, continue to evolve. And facility management professionals should evaluate their current green restroom practices to ensure they are operating with the best options available for their situation.

The employees, students, customers, and visitors who utilize a facility’s restrooms come away with an impression of the organization overall, for better or worse. Meanwhile, operations and maintenance for the facilities department are affected daily by the equipment installed in these spaces. And as has been the case for a number of years, the environmental friendliness of restrooms are also at the forefront. Equipment choices coupled with maintenance practices go a long way to provide restrooms that are comfortable for the end-user while also easing maintenance and reducing related costs for the facility.

One way for facility management leaders to evaluate the efficiency of restroom maintenance is by taking a look at how current practices address: surfaces; air quality; and environmental impact. By taking these three aspects into account, this can lead to decision that improve the occupant experience, while also saving time and money.

Beyond Keeping Up Appearances

When it comes to restroom maintenance, there is cleaning for appearance and cleaning for health. Maintaining a visibly clean restroom is important for influencing the perception of those who visit these spaces; meanwhile, general awareness of bacteria and viruses that can be present in restrooms—and associated with outbreaks of illness—is on the rise.

Choosing effective cleaning products that do not negatively impact human health or environmental conditions is aided by checking for green certifications/designations such as Green Seal, GREENGUARD, or U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE).

Meanwhile, improved hygiene is highlighted by the installation of touch-free restroom fixtures. Today, facility executives can choose touchless soap dispensers, faucets, toilets, and hand dryers to help promote healthy restrooms. There are even systems to eliminate having to touch door handles upon leaving the restroom. For the facility management point of view, these touch-free option also drive reductions in water usage, energy usage, and the amount of soap used by occupants.

William Gagnon, vice president of marketing and key accounts, for Excel Dryer based in East Longmeadow, MA, says, “There has been the trend in facility management toward no-touch fixtures, so facility executives may want to reduce touch points. This helps restroom visitors enter and exit without having to touch surfaces unnecessarily. For instance, electric hand dryers designed for no-touch operation help to create a more hygienic restroom environment.”

In 2001, Gagnon’s company introduced its patented XLERATOR technology that created the high-speed, energy efficient hand dryer category. The conventional hand dryer was introduced in 1948, and Gagnon explains that Excel Dryer sought to improve on this decades-old technology by pursuing the creation of a more efficient dryer. “Since then,” he says, “the industry has grown exponentially because of others creating their own high-speed, energy efficient version. And there have been improvements, including HEPA filtration, noise reduction nozzles, and adjustable heat.”

Hand dryers as a hygienic, energy efficient choice also is noted by Ed Culley, global managing director with Dyson Professional, a designer of high efficiency hand dryers based in Chicago, IL. He says, “We hear resounding concerns around noise, hygiene, and speed—not only for facility customers, but also for restroom users. These factors are top of mind when Dyson engineers work to create new and improved existing Dyson Airblade™ hand dryer technologies.”

Reducing Environmental Impacts, With Materials Waste, Water Use, And More

Related to the increased interest in reducing materials waste in restrooms is the possibility of composting paper towels. Carrie Schuster, marketing manager of sustainability and hygiene at Tork, a global brand of SCA, is focusing on the possibilities of this waste management practice for facilities.

One of Tork’s focuses is to provide paper products for restrooms that not only satisfy the facility occupant, but also meet the needs of facility management in terms of both maintenance and environmental goals. For instances, Tork Coreless High Capacity Bath Tissue is designed in a way that eliminates unnecessary packaging, while providing more tissue per roll. For this product, the company eliminated corrugated packaging, traditional cores, and inner wrappers.

Meanwhile, composting programs for restroom paper products are slowly making inroads at organizations around the U.S. For instance, in 2013, the facilities department at the University of Washington (UW) piloted a restroom paper towel program in three of its buildings. The goal was to divert paper towels from the landfill, and these particular areas were chosen due to their high traffic locations.

The team converted 63 restrooms in the libraries to paper towel composting. Large existing garbage receptacles were relined with compostable bags instead of plastic ones and were labeled for “paper towels only.” Additionally, a smaller container was added to each restroom for garbage (labeled “landfill”) since only paper towels can be composted. A major component of the conversion was developing and posting adequate signage to educate users.

In total, nearly eight tons of paper towels were diverted from the landfill when the pilot concluded after 11 weeks.

Due to the pilot’s success, restroom paper towel composting continued in portions of the UW campus, and the facility management department continues to expand it into more buildings on campus. This initiative is helping UW reach a goal of 70% waste diversion by 2020.

And as water conservation grows increasingly important, facility executives look at the possibilities during restroom upgrades. These installations often produce significant bottom line savings, always an important issue for facilities departments.

Most manufacturers say 0.5 gallon-per-minute aerators can drastically reduce water use, bringing both environmental and bottom-line benefits. The same is true for many other restroom plumbing options.

Electronic faucets are available with features such as locking spray heads, below-deck electronics and armored cabling, for strength and vandal resistance. In-wall sensors offer another way to reduce the potential of vandalism.

Advances in technology offer facility managers an increasingly wide range of toilet and urinal choices, which range from standard toilet and urinal models to dual-flush technologies. High-efficiency toilets (HET), which use no more than 1.28 gallons of water per flush (gpf), and high-efficiency urinals (HEU), which use a maximum of 0.5 gpf, are becoming more popular.

So are zero-water-consumption urinals. Some of these urinals rely on a cartridge that acts as a drain trap. The sealant liquid provides an airtight barrier between the drain and the restroom to prevent odors from escaping. The sealant lasts for the life of the cartridge.

These zero-water-consumption urinals help reduce sources of bio-aerosols and surface bacteria by eliminating the flush plume generated by water flushing urinals and toilets. This helps reduce airborne bacteria spreading and landing on restroom surfaces.

In terms of water conservation, Zurn, maker of a variety of plumbing products, highlights the 87% water savings that can be achieved with the Zurn EcoVantage® 0.125 paired-performance flush valve and urinal when compared with the industry standard 1.0 flush valves. This engineered-together solution does not sacrifice performance, and is just one initiative that is helping Zurn reach its goal to save 114 billion gallons of water over the next 10 years.

In March 2016, World Water Day, the Obama Administration hosted the first-ever White House Water Summit to shine a spotlight on the importance of cross-cutting, creative solutions to solving the water problems of today, as well as to highlight the innovative strategies that will catalyze change across the ways in which we use, conserve, protect, and think about water in the years to come.

As part of the Summit, the Administration called on institutions and organizations from all sectors to make new commitments to build a sustainable water future in the United States. In response, institutions and organizations made the following commitments, as reported and described by respondents.

For its part, Zurn Industries LLC will provide water-efficiency training to 1,000 municipal agencies and utilities as well as 10,000 building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors. The training will be focused on reducing water use through water-efficient products and practices with the goal of saving 114 billion gallons of water over the next decade.

Putting It All Together

Waterless Co., Inc. President Klaus Reichardt offers the following suggestions to help make commercial restrooms greener and more sustainable:

  • Lighting. Restroom lighting is often on constantly. Install motion sensors to turn off lights when the restroom is not used.
  • Lightbulbs. Replace conventional light bulbs with energy-efficient lighting in restroom areas.
  • Cleaning. Virtually all products used for cleaning restrooms now have certified green equivalents; consider using only green cleaning chemicals and products.
  • Water faucets. Install sensors. Studies indicate sensors that turn water on only when needed can reduce water consumption by as much as 70%.
  • Fixtures. Install fixtures that surpass current government mandates. Some new toilets use 1.28 gallons of water per flush, and no-water urinals save thousands of gallons of water per year per urinal.
  • Recyclables. Station recycling bins in restrooms. Many paper products used in restrooms can be recycled.
  • Leaks. Search for leaks and fix them as soon as possible. Just one faucet dripping intermittently can waste three gallons of water per day—or up to 1,095 gallons per year.

All minimize the impact of cleaning on the health of janitors, building occupants, and visitors, while protecting the environment as a whole. Green restrooms are resource efficient, use products that do not impact human health, and contain resource efficiency. By examining how product and process choices impact each of those areas, and all holistically, facility management leaders will improve restroom operations through out facilities. This will improve the bottom line, occupant satisfaction, and long-term operations.

green restroomsCosgrove is Editor-in-Chief of Facility Executive, and she can be reached via e-mail at

Do you have a comment? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


  1. I’m so happy that there is a positive step in reducing water consumption. For to long now the old mentally of use more water is out the window. We must continue to look into methods to save our valuable waterways.

Comments are closed.