Designing Restrooms for Sustainable Operation

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Sponsored by Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc.
By Alan Gettelman

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify the health and wellness benefits associated with sustainable restroom operation.
  2. Review common sources of costly, nonsustainable restroom operation and related solutions that can improve operational efficiency and long-term durability.
  3. Describe the relationship between sustainable operation and the preservation of the designer’s aesthetic vision.
  4. Discuss ways to educate clients about specifications to ensure the creation of restrooms that support the physical well-being of occupants and help protect building maintenance personnel.


AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
As an IACET Accredited Provider, BNP Media offers IACET CEUs for its learning events that comply with the ANSI/IACET Continuing Education and Training Standard.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia
This test is no longer available for credit

Designing restrooms for sustainable operation requires unique strategies beyond those typically associated with green building. Sustainable operation is closely associated with economical operation, providing architects with opportunities to support their clients’ long-term business goals.

Photo courtesy of Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc.

Through thoughtful product selection that takes into consideration energy costs, battery usage, waste, and usage of consumables, commercial restrooms will not only operate sustainably and cost-effectively, but they will also retain the integrity of the architect’s aesthetic vision, as nonsustainable replacement products may be chosen by the owner at his or her discretion.

This course reviews strategies through which architects can support their overall sustainability goals with an authentically green approach to building operation. It focuses on operational approaches to sustainable restroom design and will not go into detail with LEED certification or environmentally responsible materials and related documentation, such as environmental or health product declarations.

The Benefits of Sustainable Operation

For the first learning objective, we will identify the health and wellness benefits associated with sustainable operation.

Thinking Beyond LEED

In modern commercial architecture, LEED certification and green design are increasingly important and often expected by building owners. When striving for green design, some primary contributors typically come to mind; for example, using environmentally responsible materials on the building envelope, interior products made from recycled content, or leveraging the Regional Materials credit by utilizing materials that require minimal transportation resources.

Although strategies like these may include the richest sources of LEED credits and associated documentation, more operational design strategies for the interior of the building can also contribute toward the overall sustainable intent. In fact, when striving for green design, being “authentically sustainable”—that is, ensuring long-term sustainability in ways that may not be recognized by the most prominent green design standards—will require a forward-looking approach to reducing impact on the environment and minimizing operational costs for the building owner.

Financial Benefits for Facilities

By designing restrooms with future operations in mind, facilities can make the most of their upfront investments in building products and reduce long-term operational costs, such as usage of consumables, including soap and paper towels; energy costs; water usage and management costs; waste and waste management costs; maintenance costs, as many sustainable products generally require less labor hours to maintain and improve worker productivity; and potential tax incentives.

In addition, a sustainable approach to restroom operation can optimize the life cycle of the building, thereby increasing its property value. On top of the many financial benefits, this approach also can result in positive public relations for companies, improved morale for employees or tenants in the building, and LEED certification for the building or other green building accolades or certifications.

Tenant Satisfaction

Efficient restrooms can also make an environment more pleasant to work in, leading to increased tenant satisfaction. This translates to lower tenant turnover and subsequent more reliable revenue streams for the building owner. In fact, according to a 2015 study conducted by DTZ Research, there is a statistical link between tenant satisfaction and sustainability efforts involving cost savings from energy, water, and other forms of conservation.

The study showed tenant satisfaction scores to be seven points higher in buildings with at least one sustainability certification. In addition, buildings that achieve LEED’s Existing Buildings (EB) certification for Operations and Maintenance scored 10 points higher than buildings that did not. ENERGY STAR buildings also scored 30 points higher in satisfaction compared to those without that certification.

Younger Demographics

As the proportion of Millennials in the workforce increases and more Baby Boomers retire, it is essential for design professionals to understand the needs and preferences of this critical constituency that places high value on sustainability on the parts of their employers.

A study conducted by research firm Lightspeed in 2017 revealed that nearly one in 10 millennials would quit their jobs if they found out their current employer was not sustainable. Other findings included that nine in 10 millennials say it is important to work for a sustainable company (compared to 84 percent of Gen Xers and 77 percent of Baby Boomers), and more than 80 percent of Millennials believe employers have a responsibility to encourage recycling in the workplace.

In addition, the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey concluded that millennials actively seek employers whose environmental values align with theirs. These findings underscore the role that sustainable operation can play in helping buildings satisfy their tenants, improve retention, and support their overall business goals.

Benefits for Design Professionals

For architects and designers, an authentically green approach also can deliver a range of benefits beyond just LEED certification, including improved client relationships and a positive reputation in the market; endurance of their original design visions, as sustainable products are less likely to be replaced with less-aesthetic products by the building owner; and satisfied tenants, leading to satisfied building owners.

Sources of Waste and Sustainable Solutions

For the second learning objective, we will review common sources of costly, nonsustainable restroom operation and related solutions.

To enable sustainable operation, it is critical to give thoughtful consideration to the products being specified. Consider products that save money and resources, including products that reduce waste, energy consumption, and usage of consumables and water, as well as products that do not use batteries. Products that are time saving and easy to refill and maintain are also important.

Reducing Excess Waste

Specifying inappropriate solutions can result in excess waste, from consumable packaging to the consumables themselves, which can be a primary contributor to the nonsustainable operation of restrooms.

Paper Towel Stub Rolls

Specifying an inappropriate towel system can cause excess waste, as some paper towel systems can be more wasteful than others. For example, many roll paper towel systems leave what is known as a “stub roll” at the end of each roll. The stub roll will comprise a portion of unused paper towels that must be discarded, resulting in excess waste.


Especially as no-touch accessories gain in popularity, battery usage also can be a consideration. Used batteries are waste that must be disposed of and/or recycled. However, alternative power sources are available. Batteries that are discarded as trash and not appropriately recycled typically end up in landfills.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in November 2019