Talking Point: Does the circular economy work in the bathroom?

Hoteliers measuring and managing water see big savings

Can circular economy methods apply in bathrooms?

Hoteliers need to be examining ways they can embrace the circular economy but that can particularly be an issue in the bathroom. Martin Charter MBA FRSA, Founding Director of The Centre for Sustainable Design at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) and current Professor of Innovation & Sustainability at UCA has brought his expertise to describe some ways even bathrooms can be circular.

The principles behind a circular economy are to put in place processes, products and new business models that contribute to a resource efficient, low-carbon economy but, in the absence of legislation, the bathroom products industry has been slow to engage - potentially leaving their customers, including hoteliers, at risk of being seen as apathetic to the issue. However, with the launch of BS 8001 - the first national standard on implementing Circular Economy (CE) principles - the time has now come for the bathroom industry to get involved.

So, what is BS 8001? Developed by the British Standards Institution (BSI), BS 8001 is a guidance standard rather than a certification, to help companies integrate and introduce CE into their business, enabling them to take action to realise business benefits and help protect the environment. After two years in development, it is the first of its kind anywhere in the world and the hope is that it will become the basis of an international standard.

The standard itself has been developed with businesses at its heart, with many of the clauses being piloted by businesses, including the likes of M&S and Kingfisher, as part of the process. Various organisations tested the content and structure of BS 8001's core clauses - particularly those relating to the principles of CE and putting those principles into practice - through a series of pilot sessions.

Representing the bathroom industry was global shower manufacturer Methven, who looked at the issue of wastage in the hotel and social housing industries, where best practice and legionella policies advise that shower handsets and hoses should be replaced annually. Methven is now piloting a cleaning and replacement scheme to tackle this issue, which so far has reduced waste, reduced cost by 42% and ensured compliance with legionella regulations.

How can hoteliers best utilise BS 8001 in their bathrooms?

Opportunities for the industry to consider include moving from buying to leasing models, and looking to install products that are more circular, for example, products that are designed to be upgradable through modular design. The design phase is vitally important here because it is where 80% of the environmental impact comes into consideration. Therefore, it is the responsibility of hoteliers to ensure they are working with bathroom manufacturers that have designed products with repair, maintenance, remanufacture and upgrading in mind, as well as looking at how individual parts could potentially be harvested.

The biggest environmental impact hoteliers need to be aware of with regards bathroom products is, and will continue to be, water and energy consumption, rather than the materials themselves. In the future, the ErP Directive - which aims to help the EU achieve its target of reducing energy usage by 20% by 2020 - will start to have more prominence and the scope will cover showers and taps, again requiring hoteliers to ensure they are installing products that have been manufactured to allow upgrade, repair and re-use of energy related products.

Water scarcity is another issue that will not be going away and, as regulation is tightened, water metering expands across the UK and the price of water increases, it will be become even more of a driver for consumers and also for hoteliers.

All of these issues feed into CE but, aside from the energy and water efficiencies, one of the biggest challenges for the bathroom industry is product circularity. While a full bathroom replacement is not a regular occurrence in most hotels, there are a number of products and components that are replaced more regularly - such as showers, hoses and taps - and currently these are largely disposed of. So what the hotel bathroom industry needs to tackle are the business opportunities around repair, refurbishment and materials recycling by putting protocols and services in place that allow for, for example, repair and recycling to take place.

Despite this currently being a British standard, hoteliers worldwide must be prepared to face similar standards and legislations in future as they strive to achieve sustainable credentials. There is no doubt that CE thinking is already moving forwards apace and it will become ever more impossible to ignore.

Martin Charter is working with Methven on a consultancy basis.

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