During my nine-to-five days in industry, I remember frequenting the company bathroom several times a day. Sometimes to stretch, sometimes to take a walk, and sometimes because I actually needed to go. During these contemplative visits, I would think about serious issues like world peace, the eradication of polio from developing countries, how to obtain a superhero cape, and of course, the sustainability of bathroom design -particularly, automatic-flush toilets. Hear me out:
First, I’m sorry, but have you used these things? Quite often, the sensors are either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. Sometimes you are just reaching for the toilet paper, and the toilet flushes. Sometimes you are sitting absolutely still and the toilet flushes. Sometimes the toilet has already flushed, and you are just getting your jacket off the clothes hanger and it flushes again. Its worse for a woman because you must train yourself to lift your butt off the seat every time a flush occurs to avoid unpleasant sprays. And, if you are like me, and like to stretch in the bathroom stall (so you don’t feel self-conscious stretching at your cubicle), such unruly behaviours will inevitably cause several more flushes. For those with medical problems (or if you ate too many beets the night before and are suddenly alarmed at your red pee), keeping an eye on your business becomes somewhat of a challenge. Auto-flush toilets take away your data and chance for analysis before you’ve even reacted to whats happened. Finally, even if you are using a somewhat newer toilet model, if every flush uses 2.5 gallons (9.45 litres), you have now involuntarily used 7.5 or 12.5 gallons (28.35 or 47 litres) for just one visit! For that amount of water, I can flush my own damn toilet.
On the other hand, when your auto-flush toilet is not sensitive enough, you risk disobeying cultural norms of cleanliness and hygiene. Now that you have trained yourself not to flush, you may find yourself sitting back at your desk when you suddenly realize that an unresponsive toilet led you to leave an unintended present (to be discovered in the near future by your same-sex coworkers).
With this, here are my thoughts on sustainable bathroom design:
- Get rid of auto-flush toilets. Their level of sensitivity is never quite right, and wastes a whole crapload of water for the tiny benefit of avoiding toilet handle germs.
- If you must have auto-flush toilets, offer company stretching rooms. Here, employees can freely move about and stretch without feeling self-conscious, removing the need to stretch privately in a bathroom stall.
- Play music in company bathrooms. In a situation where bathroom attendees are likely familiar colleagues, deathly still silence in the bathroom may result in manual flush attempts to cover up awkward sounds or embarrassing moments.
- Build walking paths, allowing employees to get away from their computers and desks, without resorting to the bathroom as a popular walking destination.