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It’s the simple things that constitute the dream of a “green” bathroom: walking barefoot over the dewy, mossy lawn that awaits you behind the double glass doors on a fine morning; catching the water that falls softly into your cupped hands from the cascade spout; a shower like summer rain; wooden floorboards that have been worn smooth with use and still smell faintly of pine forest. 

The desire to reconcile nature and civilisation has been a recurring theme ever since the Romantic period and its new-found relevance is certainly no coincidence. A new furnishing culture that attaches great importance to sustainability, enduring design and healthy living is establishing itself as the antithesis to our fast-moving, performance-obsessed and efficiency-minded society with its changing fashions and perfect, fully air-conditioned living environments. For a long time, whenever the subject came up, the talk was almost exclusively of furniture (most of it wooden), low-emission paints and varnishes or a healthy indoor climate. The fact that the bathroom, as the height of modern relaxation and regeneration culture, has rarely been considered from the perspective of “Green Living” may well be because it is neither regarded as ecologically dubious nor seems particularly organic – at least not in the once sterile atmosphere of classic bathroom design. But all that has changed. Today’s modern bathroom comes across as a cosy room featuring a wide range of different materials and shapes, and attention is increasingly focusing on its potential for environmentally neutral construction and resource conservation. We want to be kind to the environment, save energy and feel “naturally” at ease – even (or especially) in the bathroom. 

Designing a “Green Bathroom” isn’t quite as easy

At the same time, we realise that designing a “Green Bathroom” isn’t quite as easy as our romantic ideas about a natural, wholesome lifestyle would seem to suggest. On the contrary: the way to a sustainable bathroom is paved with highly complex products and technologies. The Green Bathroom is a concept for the future that strives for the optimal combination of water and energy-saving products, eco-compatible industrial production, a sustainable use of materials and enduring design. 

 

The trend towards a green bathroom is being driven by two very different aspects: firstly by a general longing for near-natural experiences, and secondly because it is a rational necessity. For some time now, far more has been at stake than merely reducing costs by using water-saving aerators. Concerns about CO2-induced climate change, rising energy costs and the slowly growing realisation that our fossil energy resources are running out have penetrated people’s consciousness. The bathroom industry is responding not only with sustainable corporate philosophies but with concrete product offerings for the consumer.  

 

Sustainable product concepts are mainly aimed at reducing the amount of water used because, in the bathroom, water consumption often means using additional energy to heat the water as well. Thanks to flow restrictors, aerators, shower shut-off valves and modern showerhead technology that encloses tiny air bubbles within the drops of water to create a particularly soft, luxuriant showering sensation, the water requirement can be greatly reduced without forfeiting comfort or convenience. In addition, single-lever mixers and thermostatic fittings help minimise the wastage incurred when adjusting the temperature. As an agreeable “side effect”, individually programmable thermostatic fittings also make showering and bathing considerably more convenient and are easy to use. And for the washbasin, modern fittings like Kludi’s new single-lever Logo Neo series with integrated eco-aerator promise water savings of up to 40 percent.  

 

But even if the industry and its designers are coming up with plenty of ideas – at the end of the day it’s the consumer who decides how much convenience he wants and how much energy and water he’s willing to use to get it. It starts with pushing the economy flush button on the cistern and ends with a question that only one’s conscience can answer: a bath or a shower? Fortunately, there are now cleverly designed bathtubs with ergonomic inner contours that can be filled to a high level with much less water. Even so, showering is still far more economical: on average, a full bath uses 3 to 4 times more water and energy than a hot shower. But then again, a full bath is a very special luxury – not only in terms of environmental aspects.  

But there’s more to a Green Bathroom than saving water.

Water means vitality and sensuousness as well – especially in modern bathroom culture. The popularity of beautifully shaped fittings that stage the water in a sensuous and natural way indicates just how important contact with the life-giving element is to people. Cascade fittings, which are now available in economical versions as well, and fittings that dispense unpressurised water, such as those in Dornbracht’s Performing Shower range, make us forget the elaborate inner workings and remind us that water is an immensely valuable resource.  

 

For drinking water is not available in infinite quantities – whilst UNO predicts that the world’s population will grow to 9.3 billion people by 2050, the volume of drinking water on the face of the planet will remain unchanged at 12,000 km³. In the future, water is thus set to become a scarce and possibly even contested resource. It is no coincidence that, in summer 2010, the United Nations added the right to clean water to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even if the importance of the resolution is still largely symbolic right now, it nevertheless points to the responsibility facing industrial nations. Although Germany, for instance, has no need to fear an acute water shortage – despite the drop in the groundwater level as a result of soil sealing – the German sanitary industry has nevertheless pledged to play a “leading international role” when it comes to the development and production of progressive water technology systems, explained Jens J. Wischmann, managing director of the German Sanitary Industry Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft, VDS), on the occasion of “World Water Day” in March 2010. 

Loam, baked wood and crushed stone

When it comes to planning a sustainable bathroom, the question of materials is a totally different but highly important aspect. For as nice as a soft mossy carpet and wooden floorboards might be, tiles, stone or concrete are far more practical and less water-sensitive. Nowadays suitable bathroom furniture with a snug design is available from a number of providers and in a wide range of variants. Those who don’t want to go without solid wood in the bathroom should choose furniture made of certified timber. And for finishing, thermally modified wood from domestic sources – timber that has been “baked” to make it less sensitive – is a good alternative to humidity-resistant tropical wood. Incidentally: loam walls or modern loam plaster make for a particularly natural indoor climate. As long as they are used outside the immediate splash zone, these materials are definitely suitable for humid rooms because they bind moisture and have a climate-regulating effect, which can also help prevent mould. And for those who like things to be not just natural but exclusive too, tadelakt is a must. The lime plaster originates from the Orient and is waterproofed by polishing it with olive oil soap to create a distinctive patina. 

 

Green Bathroom devotees have it comparatively easy when it comes to choosing the material for their sanitaryware: it is hard to think of any other material that is as innocuous to produce, as safe for the occupants of the house and of such enduring quality as sanitary ceramic. At the most, the steel enamel bathtub or shower tray might be even more hard-wearing and durable. The fact that some manufacturers guarantee their products for up to 30 years makes even the energy-intensive process required to produce steel enamel appear in a more acceptable light. All of which goes to show just how important timeless design and top-quality products are in the bathroom – for the most sustainable bathroom of all is one that will last a long time and stay just as attractive as the day it was installed. 

 

The “natural” properties of ceramic – hygienic, easy to clean, long-lasting – can be further enhanced by the high-tech burnt-in glazes available from various brand-name manufacturers. Even such an elemental-looking washbasin as Duravit’s Bacino model can be equipped with a WonderGliss finish. Its dirt-repellent effect, inspired by the lotus flower, minimises the cleaning effort required and thus also the amount of water and cleaning products used – a bonus for both the bathroom user and the environment.  

 

But eventually even the most beautiful washbasin is decommissioned. And what then? Not to worry: ceramic is totally recyclable. Similarly to the way glass is manufactured, shards of old material are re-used to produce new ceramic; the rest ends up as building rubble and is used as a filler. For ceramic largely consists of quartz, feldspar, clay and kaolin (a weathering product of feldspar, also known as china clay). Feldspar and quartz are considered the most important rock-forming minerals in the earth’s crust. In the end, all that’s left of the ceramic ware is a handful of crushed stone. 

 

Text: Frank A. Reinhardt