WEB EXCLUSIVE: Restrooms Present Opportunity For Sustainability, Savings

By Kris Alderson

In the U.S. facility management (FM) industry, sustainability has evolved from being a noteworthy differentiator to an expectation on the part of facility managers (fms), architects, and consumers. Consider the statistics below from the U.S. Green Building Council and the Institute of Environmental Entrepreneurship about the rise of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications over the last decade…web exclusive

In 2005, there were approximately 2,000 LEED certified buildings in the United States, and today there are more than 44,000 LEED certified or registered projects. The number of LEED certified federal building projects in the U.S. increased by 50% between 2011 and 2012. In 2005, 2% of all non-residential building starts were considered “green.” Today the figure is 41% and by 2015 it is projected to be 50%.

Despite the remarkable achievements of the green building movement and the heightened emphasis placed on sustainable design and construction, more can be done to reduce the environmental impact of washrooms, which too often remain hotbeds for resource waste. Two of the biggest opportunities for improvement are reducing water consumption and paper towel use. It’s expected that these issues, along with their associated cost implications, will become more pronounced over the near-term given the dynamics associated with growing demand for finite resources.

The Advocate AV-Series Lavatory System from Bradley incorporates soap, sink, and hand dryer in one fixture.
The Advocate AV-Series Lavatory System from Bradley incorporates soap, sink, and hand dryer in one fixture.

Water supply (or more specifically, water scarcity) is going to be one of the biggest factors impacting global dynamics in the 21st century. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 global water demand is predicted to increase to a level 40% above current supply. We can already see issues of water scarcity playing out in the Western U.S. as states fight over rights to the Colorado River.

At this moment, commercial buildings consume 88% of America’s potable water, and plumbing fixtures account for approximately 47% of that figure. All told, commercial plumbing fixtures account for nearly 40% of all potable water consumption in the United States. It’s easy to see where to look in order to conserve water and save money.

Fms should examine the flow rates of their plumbing fixtures to reduce their bottom lines and conserve water. For example, a standard low flow faucet uses half a gallon of water per minute, while many buildings are using outdated sinks that consume far more water than that. Bradley Corporation has been able to reduce the flow rate of its sinks to .38 gallons per minute, while still providing excellent water flow. That is more than a 24% improvement over other low flow sinks—and much more in the case of older sinks.

In addition to water conservation, paper towel use remains another opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of commercial washrooms. Next year, consumers and businesses will use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels at a cost of approximately $2.3 billion. Where will all those paper towels end up?

High efficiency hand dryers can completely eliminate paper towel waste and, unlike older generations of hand dryers, are a greener alternative than paper towels. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study in 2011 that demonstrated new hand dryer models produce 70% less carbon dioxide emissions than paper towels.

While the green design movement can count many victories over the past decade, the industry needs to do more to reduce environmental impact in the face of growing demand for limited and valuable resources around the globe. Commercial washrooms are a great place to start.

AldersonAlderson is the director of marketing at Bradley Corporation, a manufacturer of commercial plumbing fixtures and washroom accessories. She was part of the team that recently launched the company’s new Advocate AV-Series Lavatory System.


  1. Excellent article! Ms. Alderson succinctly sums up the benefits of making sustainability improvements, and suggests simple options for building owners to make those improvements.

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