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Revolutionizing Water Efficiency: TOTO’s Sustainability Journey from Japan to the US

Exterior of building with overlay indicating plumbing
To study water and waste flow through the plumbing system, TOTO built a unique temporary six-story building with transparent pipes.

The history of TOTO’s commitment to sustainability and water conservation begins not in the bustling markets of the United States but in the environmentally conscious landscape of 1970s Japan. Despite extensive water infrastructure projects, Japan faced severe water shortages, creating an urgent need for efficient water use solutions. TOTO, a company synonymous with innovative plumbing technology, took our first steps toward redefining the concept of water-efficient toilets. This blog post delves into TOTO’s rich history of pioneering efforts in water conservation, highlighting our impact in both Japan and the U.S. and setting the stage for a discussion on the future of sustainable practices in the industry.

The Seeds of Sustainability: Innovation Takes Root in Japan in the 1970s
In the 1970s, Japan was grappling with a water shortage despite its dam development projects. Japan’s Ministry of Construction estimated a staggering two billion cubic meters of water deficit for its citizens, leading to a surge in public awareness about water conservation.

TOTO Takes Charge: Re-Engineering the Toilet for Water Efficiency
Recognizing the national urgency, TOTO embarked on a revolutionary approach, shifting our focus to developing water-saving toilets. TOTO’s ambitious goal was to slash water usage per flush from a hefty 3.5 gallons, which was the standard, to a much more water-efficient 1.6 gallons.

The Z Cyclone Revolution: Unveiling the Secrets of Water Flow
To achieve this ambitious target, TOTO engineers embarked on a groundbreaking project, building a unique six-story temporary structure equipped with transparent pipes. This ingenious setup allowed them to meticulously study the movement of water and waste through the plumbing system, visualizing water flow dynamics to pinpoint areas for improvement and optimize efficiency.

Three-quarter product view
TOTO’s first 1.6 GPF toilet, the CW 703

The CW 703: A Milestone in Water Conservation
The dedication of TOTO engineers to understanding water flow paid off big time. The TOTO CW 703 model, born of those persistent efforts, achieved a remarkable water usage rate of 1.6 gallons per flush, marking a significant milestone in water-saving toilet technology and paving the way for a more sustainable future.

A Legacy of Innovation: The C.S. Series and Beyond
The success of the CW 703 fueled further innovation. Over the next decade, TOTO continued our research, utilizing the six-story structure and developing technologies like the Z Siphon flushing system. These advancements culminated in the C.S. series of water-saving toilets, achieving a remarkable 30% reduction in water usage compared to traditional siphon or washdown toilets.

Pioneering Water Conservation in the US
TOTO has a rich history in the United States that extends far beyond our elegant, sleek designs and advanced technologies. TOTO has been at the forefront of a quiet revolution—a revolution in water conservation.

Early Days: Embracing Sustainability as a Core Value
TOTO entered the U.S. market in 1989. TOTO USA’s dedication to environmental responsibility is ingrained in our DNA. Long before water conservation regulations became commonplace, TOTO USA embraced sustainability as a core principle. This commitment stemmed from our Japanese heritage, where water scarcity has historically been a concern.

Aligning with Change: The Rise of Water-Saving Toilets
In 1989, as TOTO entered the U.S. market with our high-performance 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF) toilet, the U.S. was on the cusp of a significant environmental regulatory shift. The introduction of TOTO’s 1.6 GPF toilets came at a critical time when water conservation was becoming an urgent issue due to increasing concerns over droughts and water shortages across the country. This period of environmental awareness set the stage for the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct), which aimed to standardize the water consumption of toilets and other fixtures to combat wasteful water use.

The EPAct mandated that all new toilets installed after 1994 use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, a significant reduction from the then-common 3.5 gallons per flush. This regulation was intended to lead to substantial nationwide water savings. However, the transition faced considerable challenges. Many U.S. manufacturers responded to these new regulations by simply reducing the size of their toilet tanks rather than re-engineering their products’ flushing systems. This resulted in toilets that failed to clear the bowl in a single flush, requiring multiple flushes and negating the intended water savings. This ineffectiveness led to widespread dissatisfaction among consumers and the plumbing trade, with some groups even lobbying to overturn the regulation and return to the less efficient 3.5 GPF standard.

Three-quarter product view
TOTO USA’s CST 704, the first 1.6 GPF toilet the company marketed in the U.S.

Amidst This Dissatisfaction, TOTO USA Introduces Our Effective 1.6 GPF Toilet
TOTO USA’s introduction of a 1.6 GPF toilet that performed effectively with a single flush was a game-changer. Leveraging the advanced engineering and insights gained from decades of water flow and waste management research in Japan—particularly from experiments with a six-story testing structure with transparent plumbing—TOTO developed toilets that not only met but exceeded the performance expectations set by EPAct. Unlike other toilets on the market, TOTO’s models used the 1.6 GPF required by the new laws effectively, effectively clearing the bowl with one flush and demonstrating the practicality of high-performance, water-efficient technology.

TOTO USA’s success in the U.S. market was instrumental in demonstrating the viability of low-flow toilets that did not compromise on performance. TOTO’s 1.6 GPF toilets – CST 703 and CST 704 -- quickly gained acclaim from both plumbers, who appreciated the ease of installation and reliability, and homeowners and environmentalists, who were pleased with the water conservation benefits. This positive reception played a crucial role in maintaining support for EPAct’s regulations, counteracting the movement to revert to higher flush volumes.

Moreover, TOTO USA’s commitment to rigorous and innovative flush performance testing helped shape industry standards. Some of TOTO’s methodologies have been adopted by various agencies and organizations, including those used by the EPA’s WaterSense program, which later emerged as a key player in promoting water efficiency. TOTO’s pioneering work thus not only met the immediate needs of the U.S. market but also contributed to the broader adoption of sustainable practices in the plumbing industry, establishing new benchmarks for performance and environmental responsibility.

Innovation for Efficiency: The Hallmark of TOTO’s Approach
TOTO USA didn’t simply adapt to the changing regulations; it became a leader in driving innovation within the water-saving toilet market. TOTO toilets weren’t just low-flow – they were demonstrably high-performance. TOTO’s engineering prowess yielded toilets that used less water while maintaining superior flushing performance. This focus on innovation not only benefited the environment but also addressed potential consumer concerns about sacrificing performance for efficiency.

WaterSense Partnership: A Collaborative Effort for Sustainability
TOTO USA’s dedication to water conservation goes beyond our product development. TOTO actively participates in collaborative efforts to promote sustainability. A prime example is TOTO’s longstanding partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program. This program identifies and promotes water-efficient products, and TOTO has consistently been a major contributor.

Beyond Toilets: A Holistic Approach to Sustainability
While water-saving toilets are a cornerstone of TOTO USA’s sustainability efforts, TOTO’s commitment extends far beyond. TOTO actively explores water conservation practices across our entire business model. This includes optimizing manufacturing processes to minimize water usage, implementing water-recycling initiatives within their facilities, and promoting water-saving practices among their employees.

The Ripple Effect: TOTO’s Contribution to National Water Savings
TOTO USA’s impact on water conservation in the U.S. is nothing short of significant. TOTO’s leadership in developing and promoting water-efficient toilets has undoubtedly contributed to a national reduction in water consumption.

Looking Ahead: A Commitment to a Sustainable Future
TOTO’s dedication to sustainability is a core value deeply embedded in our corporate philosophy. As TOTO looks towards the future, we continue to invest in research and development, exploring new technologies and solutions to further reduce water consumption. TOTO’s commitment extends beyond product development, as it actively engages with policymakers and industry leaders to advocate for stricter water conservation regulations and promote sustainable water management practices.

TOTO USA: A Beacon of Environmental Stewardship
TOTO’s story in the U.S. is more than just a tale of commercial success. It’s a testament to a company’s unwavering commitment to environmental responsibility. By consistently prioritizing water conservation, TOTO has not only helped shape the plumbing industry but has also played a crucial role in promoting a more sustainable future for the nation. TOTO’s dedication serves as an inspiration to businesses across all sectors, demonstrating that innovation and environmental responsibility can go hand-in-hand. As water scarcity concerns intensify, TOTO’s legacy serves as a blueprint for a future where responsible water management goes beyond a trend and becomes an essential practice.

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