TOTOUSA Leads the Way in Sustainable Manufacturing
In the architecture, design, and engineering world, TOTOUSA is known as the world’s largest toilet manufacturer. It began in Japan over one hundred years ago by Kazuchika Okuras as a way to develop a healthier and cleaner living space. Okuras had a vision after visiting Europe, before Japan was hit by the concept of public sewage systems, so in 1917 he founded Toyo Toki K.K. Eventually that became TOTO LTD. in 1970. But to the non-manufacturing world, TOTOUSA is known more by their product than by their name. They are the company that flooded Japan with the notorious “smart toilet” that included an automatic lid lift, heated seat, an electronic bidet, music to cover the natural noises of toileting, and a wall-mounted control panel to make it all work. Japan is so famous for these toilets that in 2018, the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association standardized the pictograms on the control panels so that foreign visitors wouldn’t be confused and face a mishap, like maybe getting squirted in the face when trying to flush.
But while TOTOUSA is both the world’s largest toilet manufacturer and the creator of an ingenious toilet, they are also innovative in how they run their business.
How TOTOUSA Made Themselves the Leader
TOTOUSA has a multi-faceted approach to their People-First Innovation as a core brand promise, including their fundamentals:
- People-Centered Design
- TOTO Total Design
- TOTO Whole Bathroom
- TOTO Everywhere
Their philosophy, “TOTO strives to create a great company that is trusted by people around the world and to contribute to the betterment of society”, combined with the fundamentals, supports their website claim that the heart of TOTO culture is involving people, which has led them to set the world standard for excellence and quality bathroom experiences. They have five standards that collaborate with the fundamentals and are intended to achieve their philosophy:
- Create an enriched and more comfortable lifestyle and culture built on our plumbing products
- Provide high-quality products and services through ongoing research and development
- Create an employee friendly work environment that respects individuality
- Pursue customer satisfaction by exceeding expectations with our products and services
- Protect the global environment by conserving finite natural resources and energy
All five of these standards are seen in how they conduct their business, but their first fundamental, PeoplePlanetWater, is a great way to see how they synthesize all this together.
TOTOUSA places people above profit. Their focus is on the comfort and well-being of the consumers and their employees, as much as on their ROI. They have a People-First Innovation as a core brand promise, and while they center their design around people and the planet, they also respect the role of water in the world and in their operations, understanding that water is a precondition for human existence. This value on water applies not only to how the product works for the consumer, but also how water is conserved while products are manufactured and when products are in use. This is done in ways such as recycling post-industrial gray water created during the manufacturing process to reduce potable water consumption, and designing their products to use the least amount of water efficiently.
This people-first philosophy carries forward into thinking about how their product interacts with people in all ages and stages of life, creating adaptations for the aging and multi-family living, designing wall mount toilets for high rises, efficient in not only water usage but space, and adding bidets to help cleaning for those who struggle with toileting. Additionally, TOTOUSA “strives to act responsibly as a corporation, and is actively engaged in a variety of socially responsible, community-based projects”. They partner with many groups, including businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, universities, to better communities, and they donate TOTO products to charity auctions and to benefit worthy causes like flood recovery and Habitat for Humanity. While profit is important, because they are a business, their care for enriching the lifestyle and culture of the consumers they serve is built into how they manufacture and run the business.
TOTOUSA also believes in creating inclusive workspace for all their employees, providing equal opportunities to their demographic mix of forty different nationalities working on the factory floor. A perk they offer that not only supports their commitment to sustainability, but also supports their employees, is their home recycling service. Employees are invited to bring in their home recycling at no cost, to recycle it at the factory.
It is true that TOTOUSA prioritizes people first, but that doesn’t diminish the fabulous work they are doing for the planet as they design and manufacture high-quality products. They do this this through incremental changes made in shipping costs, energy costs, and waste disposal costs. TOTOUSA believes that even small changes can lead to big impact, and they make this impact through incremental changes: reduce shipping costs, reduce energy costs, and reduce waste disposal costs. Some of the ways TOTOUSA does this, taken directly from their press kit information, are:
- Upcycling imperfect and damaged china by grinding it to powder for use in the manufacturing of tile
- Upcycling clay slurry as feedstock for tile production
- Upcycling clay sediment waste into premium white brick building material
- Recycling post-industrial gray water within its operations to reduce potable water consumption
- Kilns use pulse-fire technology, and exhaust heat from the firing process is reused in the drying room
- Green electricity is purchased from Georgia Power, some of which comes from gas-fired generators that use methane produced at the local landfill
- Biodegradable soybean-based oils are used in all hydraulic systems to reduce reliance on carbon-based lubricants
- UPS small package shipments are carbon neutral
- Water and electricity used at TOTO offices is reduced to a minimum
- Employees are encouraged to bring their recyclables to TOTO plants if the city where they live does not provide recycling services
- All TOTO facilities are ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001-2004 certified
Further, TOTOUSA puts a lot of thought and effort into their product’s life cycle, as well as transparency documents. They believe having a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) done on their products not only affects their customer’s experience, but it saves money and reduces their carbon footprint, water consumption, and energy use. They have also moved beyond compliance for a Health Product Declaration (HPA), a Environmental Product Declaration (EPA), and Declare Labels, to anticipate Red Listed items so they can preempt them. TOTOUSA genuinely cares about the impact their product has on the earth and on people, and they are serious about responsible and sustainable manufacturing; not only the affect it as on the environment, but also on the people who are using the product.
TOTOUSA regards water as the most precious commodity, understanding that toilets don’t work without it and neither will the world. They believe that conserving water must be a goal in both how the products use water, and how water is used in the manufacturing process. One way TOTOUSA does this is they recycle used water, which reduces consumption and conserves resources. They also have worked to reduce the amount of water needed for toilets, working toward the WaterSense standard implemented by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. TOTOUSA put a lot of time and effort into their flush system to determine how to meet the 1.6-gallon national standard efficiently. But TOTOUSA went beyond just meeting the standard and became involved with the WaterSense standard developers to help create the 1.28-gallon standard. This standard was enacted not only to save water, but also to reduce the consumption of electricity used from moving, treating, and replacing the water used in plumbing. This created a place in the Better Buildings Challenge to allow water conservation as an energy saving opportunity nation-wide, as well as being LEED recognized. TOTOUSA sees this as being part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.
But TOTOUSA took this water conservation even further and designed a system that works efficiently with only 1 gallon of water. The reason they are successful with this low amount of water is because they used biomimicry to discover how to overcome drain line carry challenges and find the balance between water consumption and efficient waste removal, studying how rivers on a flat plane flow.
TOTOUSA is innovative and doing something fantastic in the manufacturing world. It’s not often a product manufacture is able to commit to sustainability in so many ways. It is exciting to look at them as a model of how to do better. If you’d like to learn more TOTOUSA, you can take our free course, Walking the Talk: The Importance of Sustainable Manufacturing.
Do any of these approaches to manufacturing inspire you to change your process? Or are you doing something similar? We’d love to hear about it!
For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please contact Brad Blank