The humble office toilet could hold the key to cutting companies’ water bills, lightening the load on municipalities’ strained water infrastructure and reducing demand for water in water-scarce South Africa…

The 30th driest country in the world, 98% of South Africa’s water resources are already allocated, and lower than average rainfall together with increasing demand has placed the country in a serious water crisis.

Office buildings consume almost half the municipal water supply, although they make up just 10% of customers, with office bathrooms responsible for up to 90% of a commercial building’s consumption and also the greatest source of leaks and inefficient water use.

Water costs can be cut by addressing simple issues

A study at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) found that in one office building alone in Gauteng, yearly water consumption – and associated costs – was cut by 87% simply by addressing a major leak, introducing efficient toilet flushing mechanisms, and installing smart metering to monitor and manage consumption.

USB MBA graduate Gerrie Brink investigated the potential of the commercial sector, given its large draw on municipal water resources, to reduce its demand by eliminating inefficiencies, which in turn could lead to significant cost savings for landlords and tenants.

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Brink believes that the impact of more efficient monitoring of water usage and reducing consumption by toilets went beyond cost savings.

“Because toilets contribute the most to wastewater infrastructure, reducing the wastewater into the system would enable treatment plants to operate more efficiently and discharge less effluent into the environment.

Water scarcity continues

“Water scarcity in South Africa is not a temporary problem. While drought might not be making headlines, we need to understand that one good rainy season only lightens the load on the system for a short time but cannot permanently supply an ever-increasing demand,” Brink said.

Brink said that the main contributors to water consumption in the office buildings were toilets, canteens/kitchens, irrigation, cleaning services and air-conditioning, with toilets by far the biggest consumers.

#SurplusWater2025

Brink has launched a new business venture, #SurplusWater2025, to assist individuals and companies in investing wisely in water security. He shares some recommendations for more efficient water usage:

  • Installing automatic meter reading (AMR) devices to monitor consumption volumes and patterns, enabling quick detection of abnormal usage.
  • From the data obtained, look for the “obvious contributors” to high demand, i.e. irrigation systems, cooling towers, hot water cylinders, leaks, and toilets, and reduce demand by eliminating inefficiencies. This could include measures such as:
    • Ensuring automated irrigation systems are not over-irrigating, and using smart technology to monitor weather patterns and change the schedule accordingly.
    • Reducing the running time of cooling and ventilation systems to only times when buildings are occupied.
    • Installing high efficiency toilets.
  • Actively raise awareness in workplaces and education facilities on water conservation practices