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Soapbox: How businesses can fill the gap left by underfunded public toilet facilities
Matt Anderson, director of Velair, writes...
The British Toilet Association (BTA), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of toilet hygiene, has recently reacted critically to news that Westminster is urging councils to reopen public toilets - but failing to provide the necessary funding.
As the BTA points out, there is evidently a great deal of confusion around this point, as there is "no legal requirement in place to force local authorities to provide or run public toilets" despite ministers' insistence on toilet reopening around the country.
Urgent steps need to be taken to address this confusion. Since the start of the pandemic, it's been widely reported that the lack of available public toilets has caused a great deal of distress and discomfort, especially for those with medical conditions that require quick and easy access to such facilities.
One Guardian investigation undertaken last Summer revealed that the pandemic-era closure of public toilets resulted in people dehydrating themselves or relieving themselves in public spaces - neither option being good for individual or public health.
In the absence of any firm moves on behalf of Westminster or local authorities to reinstate public toilets, it falls to businesses - especially large, multi-purpose, high footfall businesses like shopping centres - to ensure that their washrooms are fit for purpose.
Such businesses can fill the gap left by limited public toilet funding. Investing sensibly in high-quality sanitation technology will not only attract and retain consumers - especially those that cannot find facilities elsewhere - but will also demonstrate the cost-effectiveness and better environmental impacts of the latest facilities.
The value that good washoom facilities add to a business can be substantial. Leaving aside the cost-effectiveness of newer devices for a moment, it's worth remembering that investment in strong facilities correlates with customer satisfaction.
In a Finnish study of 455 respondents, it was found that 66% of customers will recommend a shopping venue provided its cleanliness levels meet a sufficiently high standard, with 30% of respondents adding that clean bathroom facilities matter in a shopping centre setting.
It would be a mistake to imagine that upgraded bathrooms are solely for the benefit of the customer. However - in fact, utilising the latest sanitation technology is the definition of a win-win situation.
Touchless taps and waterless urinals, for example, are both becoming more prominent. In a pandemic scenario, the lack of touch points associated with touchless technology is very welcome, of course, but both pieces of technology also reduce water costs by limiting the amount of wasted water.
A similar story can be told of the self-cleaning toilet: a relatively new innovation that not only reduces water wastage but also ensures a consistent level of cleanliness without additional expenditure on human cleaners.
Today's hand dryers, meanwhile, can be exceptionally cheap to run, with some of the best costing as little as £6 in energy usage per year.
Clearly, the time is ripe for businesses to invest in the latest sanitation technology. At a stroke, companies can increase their attractiveness to consumers while lowering their running costs in terms of water, power, and human labour. Of course, given the current climate, there are more reasons to upgrade bathroom facilities than money alone.
The current climate is, in fact, on the public's mind in a very literal sense. Climate change is becoming more and more difficult to ignore, with the UN recently declaring a 'code red for emergency' - a stark warning of environmental catastrophe.
According to a poll from YouGov, 68% of British adults aren't confident that the Government is able to meet its emissions targets by 2035 - implying that consumers are conscious of organisations that do embrace environmentally sound decisions.
As such, water reduction from touchless taps and the use of hand dryers with a yearly carbon emission as low as 52Kg will not go unnoticed by a public increasingly aware of environmental impact.
Similarly, it's difficult for anyone not to be reminded of the ongoing pandemic. Recent papers from SAGE, the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, suggest that a vaccine-evading variant is a "realistic possibility".
As such, customers will inevitably feel a heightened awareness of hygiene standards - they will expect, for example, hand dryers equipped with HEPA filters and antimicrobial technologies as opposed to bins overflowing with paper towels.
It's clear that the BTA is absolutely right to call for funding and support for public toilets. However, in lieu of Government support for these facilities, businesses like shopping centres can absolutely fill that gap, allowing for an inclusive day out for people with certain health conditions while providing an experience that is Covid-safe, environmentally conscious, and cost-effective.
14th October 2021