Bathroom product feature: Cleaner living

Sustainability is a driving force for today’s bathroom sector. To celebrate Earth Day, Lara Sargent discovers how the industry is cleaning up its act, and why retailers can get a cleaner conscience by getting on board with eco-friendly bathroom design.

Not so very long ago, sustainable bathrooms might have been considered a design fad. Going green was often tagged alongside a trendy paint shade or a fashionable tile shape for instance.

Times have certainly changed. “We are in an age where more and more people are aware of the choices they make, especially given that supply chains span the world and changes in the climate are impacting us all,” declares Paul Illingworth, design manager at Abode. “We know that businesses and consumers alike want to make a difference. So, making sustainable choices in the bathroom is a great way for the customer to shop with a conscience and make the right choices not only for their well-being, but also for the planet.”

For the bathroom, our collective pledge for a ‘greener’ lifestyle is key, not least because our bathrooms account for over two-thirds of daily household water use. 

All of Kaldewei’s steel enamel products are 100% recyclable.

“Sustainability and conscious consumption have been steadily growing for several years now,” says Lewis Neathey, leader, product management at Lixil Grohe UK. “Ignited by the introduction of smart water meters and the continued conversation around our impact on the environment, homeowners are more aware of their consumption than ever.”

It’s a premise that’s shared by leading bathroom manufacturers and designers across the globe. Reducing water and energy use, ditching plastics, cutting back on waste, and lowering carbon footprints are some of the critical elements of sustainable bathroom design. By developing products and refining manufacturing processes that are in line with these greener initiatives, retailers can pass on the sustainable plus points to the consumer.

“We strongly believe that everyone has a responsibility to promote sustainability within our sector and we see plenty of evidence that our retailers are having constructive conversations with consumers on the subject,” says Helen Clark, head of marketing at Utopia. “Our own research with our network of independent retailers revealed that 72% were interested or very interested in our commitment to environmental and sustainability issues.” 

Evolving innovations

So what’s on offer today for the sustainable bathroom – and what important developments can the market expect next? Cutting water consumption by swapping to efficient and resource-saving showers and taps is key, say the experts.

“Research from WWF shows that if water consumption continues at the current rate, by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages,” declares Emma Freeman, brand and communications manager at Hansgrohe UK. “Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the water they are using, so it stands to reason that, as energy bills remain at an all-time high, the demand for more sustainable bathroom options is increasing.”

Due to be launched this year, Everstream is Grohe’s first water-recycling shower.

Recent innovations include cold-start technology, which allows only cold water flow when a basin mixer is set to the middle position. “On most basin mixers the hot water system will start up when the tap is in the middle position, when hot water isn’t necessarily required,” adds Freeman. “A four-person household that heats water with gas could save £52 every year by using a CoolStart tap.”

Then there are water-saving eco modes for showering which save up to 60% of water using less litres per minute and air-infused sprays. 

Grohe is set to take water-saving and circularity one step further with its Everstream water-recycling shower concept launching this year. The innovative technology recirculates and cleanses the same four litres of water via heaters, filters, and UV light to provide a resource-saving solution. Then there is Hansgrohe’s Green Vision concept, which reimagines the bathroom using 90% less water, less energy and less CO2 emissions and Triton’s first ClimatePartner certified Envi shower.

“Electric showers cost nearly a third less than their mixer counterparts, while saving up to 52,000 litres of water, each year,” explains Karen Wise, head of product management at Triton Showers. “Envi’s eco-mode takes this one step further by encouraging users to reduce their shower time by one minute. If just 1% of UK households did this, we could save over 673 million litres of water, equivalent to 270 Olympic swimming pools. It could also save nearly 6,700 tonnes of CO2, which would be the same as removing 3,950 cars from the UK’s roads.”

It’s fair to say that water-saving innovations are constantly evolving, but one way retailers can educate consumers is with the Unified Water Label. Established in 2020, and with over 160 brands and around 17,000 products on board, the Unified Water Label Association (UWLA) empowers the consumer to make responsible, water-efficient choices. There is also a retailer guide in the pipeline. 

The handle of Hansgrohe’s Pulsify Planet Edition hand shower is made from recycled plastic.

“KBB retailers have the opportunity to embrace consumer interest in sustainability and help their customers understand the benefits of using water wisely,” explains UWLA MD Yvonne Orgill. “There are a wide range of products available across different price points, with water and energy usage information clearly displayed on the label for each.”

Manufacturing products using sustainable materials like ceramic, brass, steel and FSC-certified timber is another key element. Newcomers include VitrA’s recycled washbasin made from discarded ceramic. Also, set to launch this summer, Sustonable is an ethical and recyclable wall panelling made from a mix of natural stone and recycled PET plastic.

Forward thinking

Eco-credentials don’t stop there – brands are also taking big steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their production processes. While Kaldewei has been making recyclable steel enamel products for over 100 years, it is also pledging positive changes for the environmental impact of a product’s lifecycle.

“The company has had to make significant changes,” says Adam Teal, head of sales at Kaldewei UK, which also supports the WWF’s ocean conservation programme. “The products are mainly made of steel, and as such, they require fossil fuels to produce, so they are responsible for high levels of CO2 emissions in primary production.”

Using CO2-free and neutral steel has been a key sustainability driver in addition to smaller company-wide changes: harnessing its own renewable energy, better insulation, switching to LED lamps, using filtered well water and swapping Styrofoam packaging for recyclable wooden pallets.

VitrA’s 100% recycled ceramic washbasin is manufactured from discarded ceramic.

“There seems to be a desire to buy better in a more considered way,” says Sven Rensinghoff, Bette’s head of marketing and product design. “By using green steel, Bette has been able to reduce its CO2 emissions by ten percent in 2021 and 40 percent in 2022. By the end of 2024, Bette wants to manufacture half of its products from green steel.”

Likewise, all Hansgrohe’s worldwide locations have been climate neutral since the end of 2022, and by 2023, all its production sites were running on green energy. By 2025, the brand aims to have switched to completely plastic-free packaging and by 2030 to have water or energy saving technology integrated into all of its taps, showers and toilets.

“Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do,” adds Clark at Utopia, whose initiatives include cardboard packaging cut to exact size and a biomass boiler powered by waste. “Raw materials are sourced as close as possible to the point of assembly and every product is constructed with longevity and reliability in mind.”

Manufacturers are keen to stress that while water and energy saving products can make a big environmental impact, they shouldn’t sacrifice on design or functionality. 

“Consumers may also experience improved well-being when they prioritise products that have been manufactured using non-toxic, natural, and sustainable materials over those that incorporate volatile organic compounds, which can cause respiratory problems and contribute to indoor air pollution,” says Sam Cooke, head of independent bathroom retail at VitrA.

But with lots of news of ‘greenwashing’ in the media, what industry guidelines or measures are in place to guarantee a bathroom product’s eco-pledges? 

Bette’s BetteSuno bath is made of recyclable steel containing no plastic.

According to Kaldewei, an EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) is an invaluable tool as it provides a standardised, independently verified report that gives transparent and reliable information on the environmental impact of a product. 

“Consumers want to do their part and use brands that are transparent about their impact on the planet and committed to improving it,” agrees Jonathan Stanley, vice-president of marketing at Caesarstone. “That is why Caesarstone’s EPD, ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Report and lifetime warranty are key milestones for us.”

Finally, investing in quality products that last also contributes significantly to the sustainability points of a bathroom. That’s also not forgetting the importance of future-proofing the bathroom as the shift to multigenerational living grows.

“The use of recycled materials, sustainable sourcing, improved water efficiency and durability are all important for a sustainable bathroom, but so are products that support an inclusive approach,” declares Karen Fardell founding director of Future Proof My Home. “If bathrooms can adapt and support the needs of family members of all ages and abilities, it would prevent unnecessary accidents and the need to rip out and start again.” 

“Sustainability is a topic that isn’t going away,” concludes Cooke at VitrA. “Just look at Instagram – there are currently over nine million posts tagged with #sustainableliving. Consumers are actively seeking to improve their lifestyle and retailers can help to support and facilitate this.”

Home > Indepth > Bathroom product feature: Cleaner living