Sustainable design in the bathroom

There is no Planet B. That’s why it’s important to prioritise sustainable design whenever and wherever possible – and the bathroom is no exception. Of course, sustainability means different things to different people. There is no one overarching definition. But broadly speaking, sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment. To put it another way, sustainable design is strongly linked to responsibility. It’s about making choices – about materials, processes and packaging – that avoid the depletion or degradation of our natural resources. So it’s crystal clear that the choices we make (as designers and clients) can have a huge effect on how environmentally friendly our bathrooms can become.

The role of sustainable design

It is perfectly possible for your bathroom to look fabulous, and feature a range of sustainable design concepts, at the same time. As designers, we have the power to make a difference. We can educate people about how to tackle the climate emergency with energy-saving and water-saving behaviour. We can also encourage the use of materials that can be recycled, made from recyclable sources, or made by sustainable sources.

Understanding the terminology

The terms ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Eco-friendly products are renewable, recyclable and do not harm the environment when we use them. This includes development/manufacturing, as well as their end-use.

Sustainable materials can be used in large quantities over a long period of time, with planning and development. Common examples within interiors are bamboo, glass, steel and stone. However, it’s important to realise that a sustainable material isn’t necessarily eco-friendly or ‘green’.

Saving water

Sustainable design in the bathroom usually revolves around saving water and energy. Water is a precious resource, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. According to the Word Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, one in three people globally do not have access to safe drinking water. We should all be taking steps to use water more responsibly.

One of the easiest fixes to reduce water consumption in the bathroom is to replace high-flowing taps, toilets and showerheads with more sustainable plumbing fixtures and fittings.

Let’s talk toilets

Toilets can waste a lot of water, especially if you have an old, high-gallon-per flush model. Replacing one of these with a low-flow toilet can save up to six litres of water every time you flush. Another easy, effective sustainable design tip is choose a toilet that offers two different flushing options. This means that you won’t ever use more water than is needed.

Other toilet specifications to consider include MaP (Maximum Performance) ratings and WaterSense certification. A good performer has a 350+ gram MaP rating; it’s 600+ grams MaP for stand-out performers. WaterSense is a certification, endorsed by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which demonstrates rigorous water efficiency. The EPA estimates that households with WaterSense-certified toilets can save up to 13,000 gallons of water per year.


Maximising natural light, space and storage was a key element of the design brief for this West London family home. We kept clutter to a minimum, and prioritised sustainable materials for the fixtures and furniture in this bathroom

Baths v showers

Most of us know that showers waste less water than baths. Or do they? As always, the devil is in the detail. A medium-sized bath uses around 150 litres of water. But so does a ten-minute, high-performance power shower. One solution is to replace your existing shower head with an environmentally friendly, low-flow model. An eco shower head can be a great addition to a mixer and power shower. It gives the feeling of higher pressure without actually using more water – meaning you can turn the dial down and save water. These types of shower heads control the flow and spray pattern of the water. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, and can measurably reduce water consumption.


This beautiful bathroom features wooden flooring, a glass shower screen and ceramic wall tiles – and demonstrates perfectly how sustainable design choices don’t mean compromising on style

Eco-friendly tap tips

Another fast, effective way to save water in the bathroom is to turn off the taps when you brush your teeth. It sounds so obvious, yet so many people still don’t do it! In terms of sustainable design (as opposed to common sense) replacing your regular taps with automatic/sensor taps is another easy win. Motion-sensing taps only turn on when you need them, and they often have a lower flow rate that minimises water usage, too.

But whatever type of bathroom tap you have, if it’s dripping, fix it (and the same goes for your shower). Over time, even small drips add up to a lot of needless water waste – over 5,000 litres per tap per year.

Marble and glass were the natural materials of choice for this stunning penthouse project in High Street Kensington

Remodel with natural materials

The materials you choose for your bathroom play a key role within sustainable design. Where possible select glass, bamboo, cork, porcelain, clay ceramic and stone for furniture, fittings, and flooring. These natural materials not only look fantastic, but are environmentally friendly too. Furthermore, these materials tend to last a long time too – saving you money, as well as protecting the planet. And when the time does come to replace them, they can be reused.

Timeless marble and wood – within a soft grey and white palette – are key elements of this elegant yet practical bathroom

Veto VOCs

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases that are emitted into the air by certain products and processes. They are found in many items we use to build, maintain and decorate our homes. Overexposure to VOCs can lead to a range of health problems, and can even contribute towards lung damage. They can be emitted by paint, varnishes, finishes, caulks, sealants, adhesives, flooring, cleaning products and disinfectants – so it’s important to scrutinise exactly what’s in your bathroom (and indeed, every other room in your home).

I often recommend bamboo as an eco-friendly option for shower curtains, as it’s known for its low VOC emissions. It’s also sustainable, widely available, realistically priced – and a great way to embrace biophilic design.

Paint is another element to pay close attention to. Look out for low- or no-VOC options, such as ECOS Paints, Benjamin Moore and Graphenstone.

The minimalist wet room of this luxury Nine Elms London flat showcases contemporary style with a hint of the 1970s, as per the client’s design project brief

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