With first class honours in Industrial Design, a PhD in user centred bathroom design for older people and more than 15 years’ experience in developing water efficient products, there are few more qualified to discuss sustainable bathroom design than Caroma’s Dr Peter Sweatman.
We managed to find time in Dr Sweatman’s hectic schedule to hear his thoughts on the key motivating factors behind sustainable design, how Caroma compares internationally and the latest user-driven bathroom trends.
Please can you tell us a bit about your experience and how you started working with Caroma?
I studied industrial design at Canberra University, where there was an opportunity to be involved on a research project with Dr Steve Cummins, the R&D manager at Caroma. I worked on that project as a research assistant, dogsbody and problem solver, looking at developing prototypes to test in the lab to reduce toilet flush volumes. There was a lot of flushing things down the toilet to make sure they performed properly with lower flush volumes. We did field trials, in collaboration with water authorities, which led to several new standards and the release of 3 litre flushing toilets – a huge jump from the existing 6.5 litre toilets.
Later, another opportunity came up to work on a research project with UNSW Built Environment, looking at the effect of bathroom design on the performance of daily tasks in older people. I was involved in was the development of the Liveability Lab, a space that used a variety of technologies, like 3D motion capture, pressure-sensing surfaces and 3D scanning – but also provided a mixed-method approach, such as interviews, talk-throughs and co-design workshops. We realised that a lot of the problems that existed in bathrooms for older people was the acceptance of supportive technology. We focused on individuals and giving them the ability to create an environment that suited them.
I’m currently a Designer and researcher on the Caroma design team, looking at strategic product development – how product ranges that we develop fit in with current trends, what people are expecting and future needs, as well as the visual elements and how we can [present that to the market.
Is it unusual for a bathroom supplier to invest so heavily in R&D and water conservation?
It’s just part of Caroma’s culture. We created the first successful dual flush toilet, which was a turning point for the company and resulted in us becoming the dominant bathroom supplier in the country. Having that strategic focus of always looking ahead, at what we can improve, has given us an edge in the market and against our competitors. Big concerns, such as an aging population, conserving water, globalisation – these are well-known issues that are only going to become more critical over time, so it makes sense to start addressing them now.
Where does that driving force come from? Is it more philanthropic or business focused?
I think those two incentives broadly align. As an individual working on these concepts, it’s certainly a great motivating factor to know that the work we’re doing has broader implications and will be beneficial for the environment and vulnerable people. But, ultimately, they’re aligned because solutions we can design today will become the standard for tomorrow. Sustainability is as much about being strategic as it is about trying to make a difference. We’ve already worked out, based on the success of the dual-flush toilet, that developing cutting-edge, sustainable products works for the business – so that’s what we’ll keep on doing. If you’re in touch with what’s happening in the real world, eventually that’ll translate to success in the business world.
How else do you practice sustainability?
Caroma’s business is based around finding superior solutions for water, so everything we do considers environmental, social, economic and compliance implications, including ensuring our suppliers meet those standards too. But an awareness of the latest sustainability standards – and the ability to meet them – is a good indication of how well a business is run, so it’s something we expect from all our suppliers.
How does Caroma compare to international brands, when it comes to sustainability?
We pioneered toilet flush volumes, so I’d say a lot of international brands have been following us on water conservation. Dual flush has found its way into Europe and the UK, as water supply has become a greater concern in those regions. We believe our CleanFlush rimless toilet design is the best in the world, but we definitely keep an eye on what’s happening in the rest of the world and stay aware of how our products stack up.
We recently acquired Methven, a New Zealand brand, which has a presence in the UK and other regions, so that’s growing our global presence. We’ve also been promoting our Smart Command technology internationally, which has given us a lot of attention in China and the UAE at a commercial level. We’re definitely looking to export the things that make Caroma different.
What upcoming trends are you seeing in bathroom design?
The best way to identify trends is to look at how people are using their bathrooms and how their needs are changing.
Bathrooms are the most personal space within the home and people design their bathrooms differently depending on who is using them. Guest bathrooms will often be where people show off their sense of style and taste; the family bathroom is all about usability, and then the en suite is even more private again, where you can really style it for yourself. At Caroma, we take this into consideration with our different product range stylings.
When we think about sustainability, it’s all about appreciating water and how we use it. Our products are the interface in how you use water and if you use it more conservatively, you’ll appreciate it more. Our products focus on giving people that added control over how they’re using water and getting the most from it.
Another, more practical, consideration is that bathrooms are a costly and difficult thing to install or change. There are layers of waterproofing, plumbing and tiling involved, so people don’t take decisions around colours and styles lightly. As a supplier, it’s our responsibility to help people feel informed and that they’re making the right decisions so they can choose their bathrooms with confidence and know they’ll still love it five to ten years from now.
For more information visit Caroma here.