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ICC World Toilet Summit Reveals Many Lessons in Sanitation

Jay Peters, ICC Executive Director of Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas, U.S. Ambassador (retired) John W. McDonald, and Jack Sim, World Toilet Summit founder
Jay Peters, ICC Executive Director of Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas, U.S. Ambassador (retired) John W. McDonald, and Jack Sim, World Toilet Summit founder.
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The International Code Council (ICC) collaborates with many international organizations on a variety of initiatives. For the past several years, the Code Council’s Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Group (PMG) has worked with the World Toilet Organization (WTO), including participation by staff in previous World Toilet Summits as speakers, exhibitors and sponsors. It was because of the strong relationships the Code Council has with both the WTO and American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) that the first ever U.S. ICC World Toilet Summit (WTS) took place. Presented by the Code Council, ASPE hosted the WTS during its biennial convention in Philadelphia, October 30 – November 3.

There were many highlights, all of which offered highly relevant business-building opportunities for many construction professionals and manufacturers.

“The key for ICC’s success is in partnerships that will benefit the industry as a whole,” said John LaTorra, Code Council Board member. “The learning and relationships which have formed from the first U.S. World Toilet Summit as a result of the collaboration between the ICC and both ASPE and WTO is a perfect example of this principle.”

Altruism and Commerce Can Coexist
The theme of the conference, “2.6 Billion Sanitation Business Opportunities,” was intended to pique the interest of as many relevant U.S. businesspeople as possible, regardless of whether they attended primarily through their relationship with the WTO, ICC, ASPE or another organization. The tracks were designed to communicate this overarching theme, and focused on the latest advancements in design, education, advocacy and commercial opportunities to demonstrate how altruism and commerce can coexist and help solve the sanitation crisis.

Global leaders from six continents came to share their knowledge and gain insights from other industry professionals about advancing solutions to the global sanitation crisis. Presentations were made on the latest innovations in toilet design, ranging from those offering greater water efficiency, to self-sustaining toilets for areas where wastewater infrastructures are not feasible, to those offering greater accessibility for the handicapped, as well as toilet designs that are “sexy” to appeal to the poor who are opting to buy cell phones and TVs instead.

Sanitation-related creative capitalism discussions revealed the mind-boggling, multi-billion-dollar profit potential (some industry experts project as high as a half trillion per year) in marketing toilets and related products and services to the 1.8 billion poor who are at the top end of the 2.6 billion poverty segment. Representatives from various organizations, including Ambassador (retired) John W. McDonald, founder of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, spoke about the importance of advocating for proper sanitation.

Yet, the highlight of the entire conference was seeing ASPE’s attendees in so many of the ICC and WTS sessions and networking with their peers from six continents. It was also very rewarding to see so many American registrants at this conference. Although the global sanitation crisis doesn’t directly affect residents of the United States, many Americans consider themselves citizens of the world. The WTS was a perfect opportunity to begin the education process to lead change.

Need for Greater Sanitation Advocacy in the U.S.
Something that was very revealing during WTS was the fact that many other countries have well-established and funded toilet organizations or associations.

“Global Guideline to Practical Toilet Design” session panel members, Jay Peters, Lee Clifton and Sylvana Ricciarini.

Just one example is the British Toilet Association. Mike Bone with the British Toilet Association presented the Loo of the Year award in general, along with its objectives and criteria for selection. Although the availability of public toilets in the United Kingdom is as good or better than it is in the U.S., their association enjoys broad-scoping awareness and government funding to promote the importance of hygienic, accessible (both in number and conformity to disability standards) restrooms.

Some may think the United States doesn’t need a restroom advocacy organization, but a number of sanitation issues do exist. It’s not the lack of toilets in homes or schools that is the issue; but the inadequate number of toilets in public spaces, dirty restrooms, bullying, and other social issues that need to be addressed.

Few are aware that the American Restroom Association (ARA) even exists, even among professionals in the plumbing industry. This small, yet feisty organization advocates for the availability of clean, safe, well-designed public restrooms in the United States, yet has no funding for operations.

Aside from supporting ARA initiatives, several of the committee members are sanitation crusaders in their own right. Professor Kathryn Anthony is leading the charge in Congress to change legislation to mandate that restrooms in existing government buildings reflect the needs of women versus men (building codes already reflect these needs, referred to as “potty parity,” but existing buildings do not require retrofits). Tom Keating founded Project CLEAN, which promotes cleaner, safer restrooms for children. Carol McCreary founded Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH), which advocates for more public restrooms in the Portland area, among other initiatives.

A Universal Guideline to Toilet Design
The topic relevant to virtually all attendees, regardless of their organizational relationship, was the “Global Guideline to Practical Toilet Design.” The Code Council and WTO are working with sanitation leaders from around the globe on this document that will standardize the design and installation of public toilets for virtually any country to easily adopt and follow.

Although public restrooms exist through much of the world, standardized design would be much more cost effective to install and maintain than having literally thousands of variations on a relatively basic design.  This improved efficiency not only reduces costs, but also may enable installations in areas where previously they might not have been affordable.

During the conference, attendees of the “Global Guideline” and other ICC WTS sessions, and visitors at the Code Council’s booth in the exhibit hall were invited to sign a proclamation to participate in the advancement of the Guideline, and be kept apprised of advancements in solving the global sanitation crisis.

Breaking the “Potty Taboo”
It is undeniable that the United States is well ahead of many countries with regard to toilets in the home and the infrastructure that ensures sewage is properly disposed of and treated. However, many other countries understand better the importance of continuing to evolve attitudes about toilets from design, accessibility and cultural perspectives. Once we can break the “potty taboo” that exists among most of us, we can begin to offer the level of attention this topic deserves.

The Code Council was proud to play such a major role in the success of this historic event. The initial intent was to increase dramatically awareness of this important plight among both the commercial and private sectors in the United States..This objective was achieved as evidenced by the networking, high-level discussions and compliments received, along with the level of media interest shown by local publications and a TV station.

“The World Toilet Summit is always an excellent event that attracts some of the best and brightest minds in global sanitation,” said Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization. “Having it in the United States provided an extraordinary opportunity to share this knowledge and passion with a broader group of liked-minded professionals. We are grateful to the  International Code Council for working so hard to present it on our behalf.”

If you are interested in learning more about the global sanitation crisis and what the Code Council and WTO are doing to solve it, or to sign up for these communications messages, please contact the PMG Resource Center at pmgresourcecenter@iccsafe.org or 1-888-ICC-SAFE, x4PMG.

As always, your articles ideas and submissions are welcome. Send them to foliver@iccsafe.org along with a daytime phone number at which to contact you with questions.