Gedanken zum Welttoilettentag 2016

The following blog post is in German only, and covers some thoughts and activities on World Toilet Day 2016.

Wenn man in Deutschland zum Arzt geht, bekommt man oft nur Leiden diagnostiziert, für die es in der Gebührenverordnungen der Ärzte eine Abrechnungstabelle gibt. Ähnlich verhält es sich aus meiner Sicht mit den Toilettensystemen, die zur Auswahl stehen und dann oftmals nur aus Kostengründen zum Einsatz kommen. Aber der Reihe nach:

Der Frankfurter Welttoilettentag 2016

Die Pressekonferenz beim Welttoilettentag 2016 im Zukunftspavillon in Frankfurt am Main
Die Pressekonferenz beim Welttoilettentag 2016 im Zukunftspavillon in Frankfurt am Main

Für den Welttoilettentag 2016 hatte ich mich dieses Mal mit zwei Frankfurter Unternehmern zusammengetan, die mich aufgrund meines Leserbriefes zu den Toiletten in Frankfurt kontaktiert hatten. Wir Drei haben eine Arbeitsgruppe gebildet und möchten uns in Frankfurt für mehr und für bessere öffentliche Toiletten einsetzen, die man gerne benutzt und bei Bedarf auch jederzeit sauber und offen vorfindet. Jetzt in 2016 ist das leider noch nicht der Fall, es gibt einfach zu wenige Toiletten, und die relativ wenigen Toiletten entsprechen auch noch nicht dem Standard, den man sich als Nutzer bei einer öffentlichen Toilette wünscht (siehe: FNP1, FNP2, FR, RTL, Hessenschau). Dazu kommt, dass die Versorgung mit öffentlichen Toiletten für die Städte nach meinem Kenntnisstand keine verpflichtende Maßnahme ist (im Gegensatz zu Toiletten in Arbeitsstätten). Aus Sicht der meisten Städte verursachen öffentliche Toiletten vor allem Kosten und müssen ständig gewartet werden. Und das stimmt leider auch, weil jede Toilette nur so gut ist wie ihre Reinigung und Wartung – ein sich komplett selbst-reinigendes System gibt es bisher noch nicht. Ebenso ist es so, dass es in Frankfurt verwaltungsrechtliche und historische Gründe gibt, wieso die Zuständigkeiten für die Toiletten noch auf verschiedene Ämter verteilt sind. Alles keine leichte Ausgangssituation für den neuen Stadtrat, der hier eine Verbesserung versprochen hat.  Continue reading “Gedanken zum Welttoilettentag 2016”

WASH karma score

Just as a quick hit and food for thought: in a recent e-mail exchange with WASH colleagues regarding online participation, I came to realize that it would be great to have some sort of (transferable) WASH karma for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experts.

I have a friend who is an expert in the open-source server-side scripting language PHP. Being a programmer by profession, he often contributes to – a Q&A site for IT people. Questions and answers are rated and get voted up and down. His karma or online reputation is based on the quality of his answers. There is a direct relation between his expert knowledge, his willigness to share it with others, the resulting karma / online reputation and new contracts. Because, hey, wouldn’t you want to hire experts only? Right.

Microthrix parvicella An unrelated, but still interesting photo to attract the reader’s visual attention: Microthrix Parvicella, a family of bacteria the author of this blog encountered while working on a waste water treatment plant back in the days.


The International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is currently also prototyping a website (under the interim name “Knowledge Point”) that is based around the same software that powers Stackoverflow (StackExchange). I support this cause and believe that it will be great.

I have been thinking about the forum of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance and other interactive websites that facilitate the exchange of expert knowledge online. As far as I see it, there are at least two main criteria that play a role when it comes to engaging experts in online conversations:

Motivation: Why should I contribute my knowledge/expertise to a forum/website/group? Can I do this during office hours? What if my competitors read up on my entries and copy from me? Will I get paid?

Sustainability: Why should I keep on repeating myself online? I have already shared this knowledge/expertise in a publication. Forum ABC has similar content like forum XYZ – where will I be active? Can I import my previous posts on another forum? Can I keep my aggregated karma points? What happens to my posts when the site goes down?

There may be even more criteria that limit the interaction of experts online and this list certainly isn’t complete. It may be against this background though that many contributors probably come from the scientific sector, less from the practitioner’s or (sanitation as a) business side.

WASH karma score

So in comes the idea of a transferable WASH karma / online reputation score. Something similar to the Klout score that measures the social media influence. But while Klout is based on an unknown algorithm, the proposed WASH karma score would be open and transferable: the better your answers and interactions, the higher your ranking. Quality instead of quantity (because that’s a well-known downside with Klout). And transferable with an application programming interface (API) – similar to the “Gravatar” avatar/profile pic icons you see that come along with comments. An independent site that keeps track of your contributed WASH expertise online – so that YOU as a contributor won’t have to worry about double efforts.

Everything counts, there is no single resource online, not the one-and-only-forum that has the magic solution. Small sites, comment threads on blog posts, locked Ning networks, LinkedIn/Xing groups, Twitter, Google+, FB, YouTube, etc. – all of them matter. People who contribute to such platforms online will do so for various reasons. Their knowledge is shared via a variety of channels, but they still are individuals who often have the desire to get credit for their various activities. A specified online reputation score for the WASH sector that will come along like a Gravatar image could probably contribute to that desire.

What do you think – would it be an improvement to have such a karma score for the WASH sector?

How about a Cradle2Cradle certification for toilets?

UDDTs in Ukunda, KenyaYou may or may not have heard of the Cradle to Cradle® design concept – an approach to environmental engineering where materials flows are analysed and optimized to enhance the quality of products for the user so that they are more practical for the user, healthier for everyone affected by the product, and beneficial for the economy and the environment.

Quality enhancement is achieved by focusing on three innovation principles:

  1. Everything is designed to be a nutrient for something else (waste = food)
  2. Use (of) renewable energy produced from current solar income
  3. Support diversity including conceptual, cultural and biodiversity.

A Cradle to Cradle trade fair, held in 2008 in Frankfurt, Germany, already showed C2C products and concepts – mainly from US, Dutch and Austrian manufacturers. This new design concept may just be one side of the medal – the other one being that William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the two inventors behind Cradle to Cradle, actually took this a step further and created a certification: the Cradle to Cradle® Certification.

Now, my question to you, dear readers, is: what do you think – would it make sense to obtain such a C2C certification for one of the existing or a future sanitation (toilet) system?

My assumption as someone who has been active in the field of sustainable sanitation is that most activists in this sector are scientists, who have in the past missed to really market their approaches. It’s because they are mainly scientists and only sometimes business people, where the creation of a problem-to-be-analyzed is more attractive than a marketable solution. This may of course be only one out of many other reasons why sanitation as such has been so neglected as an important issue for every human on this planet (don’t get me started on the public toilets situation in most countries…).

I am a great fan of the “Reinventing the Toilet“-approach, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as I believe that real acceptance of reuse-orientated sanitation systems in the developing world will only be possible when the rest of the developed world also starts using a reinvented type of toilets.

Also, a good product may also be made of high quality materials (which could then be recycled, thus kept in a technical loop) and I can also imagine a different type of ownership for the 21st century – where products aren’t “owned” by their users, but instead leased for a period of 15-20 years. This would enable a much more natural recycling where older products would just be given back to the manufacturer.

So the question really is: would such a C2C certification be a catalyst within the redesign process, and would it be an ultimate marketing tool that would also help changing the general perception of toilets (as a taboo that no one likes to talk about)?

What do you think?

Photo credit: UDDTs in a school in Ukunda, Kenya, by Engineers without borders. Taken from the (CC)-licensed Sustainable Sanitation photo collection on Flickr.

Mainstreaming proprietary software formats into dev aid publications

Mainstreaming the Environment into Humanitarian Action

Dear Readers,
as much as I would like to share the following link to a very nice training toolkit with you – a toolkit that has been up online for some time now and recently got an extra section on sustainable sanitation – I am seriously wondering what the good folks at UNEP’s Environment, Humanitarian Action and Early Recovery programme are doing all day long. Probably not anything related to knowledge management & IT.

“UNEP and Groupe URD have developed a training toolkit to assist humanitarian actors to integrate environmental considerations into their policy development, planning, programme design and operational activities. The training toolkit consists of 11 modules, with each substantive module containing a summary, PowerPoint presentation, trainer’s guide, training materials and key supporting documents.” (src)

I know it isn’t good style to publicly criticize others, but producing a toolkit that consists of documents saved in DOCX, PPTX or WMV format just isn’t appropriate in any way. This may work for those in charge behind their desks in Europe or the US, but not out there in the field.

Instead, all documents should rather be in Portable Document Format (PDF). Along with a free & light-weight portable PDF viewer. There are quite a few out there with open licences.  And the videos – how about AVI instead of Windows (!) Media Video (WMV)? Or Theora? And a portable VLC player for MS Win, OSX and Linux.

How many dev workers in Africa are on Apple computers due to the malware threat? Right.

This publication is just an example. In fact, there are many others – yes, even in 2012 – that are produced in a similar way and which make me think that there’s no real passion behind it. This issue probably wouldn’t arise if everything was accessible via the web – which could also be displayed on small mobile phone screen, instead of 48 MB *.pptx files. Maybe we also have to blame ourselves for producing PDFs that can be shared on- and offline, but whose content would be much better in old-fashioned html.

An example of a passionate project is Alex Weir’s CD3WD collection. That’s much more information than any one of us can handle, yet it’s all usable.

What do you think?

The Reptilian Code of Toilets?

I’ve recently read an interesting article on the work of cultural anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille who’s the author of different books, among them the The Culture Code and 7 Secrets of Marketing in a Multi-Cultural World .

One of this theories is that “buying decisions are strongly influenced by the reptilian brain”: only accessible via the subconscious, the reptilian brain is the home of our intrinsic instincts .

“Dr. Rapaille started his work on Archetype Discoveries in 1976 to identify consumers unstated needs and wants. His work is in sharp contrast to the traditional market research, which relies specifically on the permanent underlying structure of what people say through opinion surveys, focus groups or interviews to forecast behaviors. His research at Archetype Discoveries seeks to dig under ones “rational” reasoning, to uncover the true emotional and biological roots of ones opinions and behaviors. He believes that understanding this unconscious foundation gives one the tools to better motivate consumers, design new products, and improve communications strategies.”

According to his website, his list of clients includes General Motors, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Boeing, IBM and AT&T.

Archetype Discoveries
In the course of these Archetype Discoveries, as he calls this process, he helped uncovering the secret code of cities and products, such as Dubai and Singapore.

Clotaire Rapaille also recently received a lot of hatred when he identified the “code” of the City of Québec in Canada as “completely neurotic” and Quebeckers having a “sadomasochist” relationship with “the English”. The inconvenience of such “truth” obviously is the risk you take while uncovering subconscious messages.


This blog is about sanitation. Sanitation, as in: clean toilets and sound treatment options.

dilapidated flush toilet
Picture: dilapidated flush toilet in Kansuswa, Zambia

In an ideal world, all waste streams would probably be sustainable and could be reused (the biological and technical nutrients would remain in a loop). The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (of which this blog is a partner) aims to focus on such sustainable approaches.

Most humans, however, don’t seem to care about the treatment options, for them all that matters is the interface between them and the problem (their urine, faeces and other biological waste) because it is what they get in touch with. Such an interface is the toilet – a place where they can safely & comfortably urinate and defecate, with or without privacy.

Flush and Forget
To my understanding, the approach of the sustainable sanitation people has in the past also included the various treatment options (which are best described in the multilingual Compendium of Sanitation in Developing Countries), so the design of new toilets often follows the attached treatment option(s).

After about a hundred years of conventional flush type toilets in the developed world that are based on water for transport, the approach from the treatment side isn’t that wrong as it shifts the sanitation problem from the user side to the environmental engineering side: let someone else take care of it.

This “flush and forget” mentality probably also is what made flush type toilets so popular in the past, for they allowed the convenient discharge of waste within a few seconds.


Now, I understand that it would probably not be possible to have a single technology, a single toilet and treatment option for all humans out there on this planet, BUT! – and that’s where Clotaire Rapaille comes into play – would it be possible to make use of the Archetype method to identify the optimal toilet design for each culture out there? Not because toilet users in each community wouldn’t know best what they want (or rather: what they are used to), but because such an unconventional approach could probably shed some new light on toilet design – and which type would be best suited for each community (going by their intrinsic needs).

Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization in Singapore, already uses a similar approach on one of his toilet hygiene education projects in some SE Asian countries: “dirty toilets cause cancer”, he argues in this video, shot at the Water Cube @ Stockholm World Water Week 2010, “all the people in China who started smoking on the toilet” (because of smelly toilets) “continue to smoke and eventually get lung cancer”.

People smoking on toilets. On toilets! …because they don’t want to smell the remaining faeces of others. Oh my.

While his approach also delivers another argument on why progressive people in developed countries (yeah, the RP of China) should also rethink their investments into a proper toilet, it’s interesting to see the way toilet users chose to avoid the smell problem. Instead of cleaning the toilet, they prefer to smoke. This “hygiene” strategy in my opinion says a lot about the intrinsic instincts of toilet users in those communities. People don’t want to touch or care about other faeces, others than their own (as Jack argues: “you forgive yourself for the smell if you defecate within the first 6 seconds”) and will do anything else to cover it up.

You’ve probably already heard of or even used one of those sophisticated bidet/washlet toilets in modern Japan that offer so much comfort, including a sound module that covers up any embarassing sounds. I still remember squat toilets in traditional Ryokans while growing up in Japan which were very basic – but which also were very much in line with the traditional & rough Japan back in the days (1970s+80s). Nowadays, with over 13 million inhabitants in the Metropolis that Tokyo has meanwhile become, coupled with this special Japanese understanding of how an individual has to be part of a group, I understand that these modern toilets not only provide a very luxurious hygienic comfort, but also protect its users from any embarassing situation. The success of these toilet systems probably also goes in line with the use of toilet slippers, as there are clean and unclean areas, and may also be related to the ongoing ageing of society in Japan (which calls for automatic solutions). Given that about 72% of all installed toilets in Japanese households are of this bidet type, it seems obvious that toilet users / consumers are willing to invest money into such “luxury”.

Is this – the luxury of a clean & modern toilet – in any way related to the intrinsic needs of toilet users in Japan? I am asking this question as the “intrinsic instincts”, as Rapaille calls them, are very Freudian in a sense that they are associated with our early childhood memories. Given that Japanese boys are often pampered until they join university, and given that they are the ones who make the buying decision in Japanese families, could this desire for a luxurious toilet be part of their intrinsic instincts?

“Nonsense”, you may reply, “toilets are toilets, everyone needs to use them, Freud is totally overrated and this Rapaille dude from France a wacko”. Yes. And no, not really. Because there could indeed be a “Reptilian Code of Toilets” that still needs to be identified. “The Hot Button”, as Rapaille calls it, the unique code why consumers do something.

Why? Because he’s right on the Indian code as mentioned in the Fast Company article from 2006: “Indians are at root a practical people.”

Open defecation in a society that’s so old, sophisticated but also traditional and with a lot of 2000yrs old working in-the-loop-concepts, it seems more than logic that a lot of (poor) people are still defecating in the open (see documentary from my previous post) – simply because it’s the most practical thing to do. And that, ladies and gentleman, is a culture code.

Is there any Reptílian Code on toilets?