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November is a special month in the world of Toilets. Each November we join together with our global stakeholders to shine a spotlight on a very important grand challenge — addressing the global sanitation crisis. Mark your calendars, World Toilet Day is 19 November!

This November marks two years since I joined the Toilet Board Coalition as its first Executive Director. The Toilet Board is a unique collaborative founded by leading multinational businesses, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark, Firmenich, Lixil and experts from the global sanitation community to support entrepreneurship and innovation in the sanitation sector, and to accelerate business solutions to the global sanitation crisis. We launched the 1st Accelerator Program dedicated to sanitation entrepreneurs serving low-income markets, The Toilet Accelerator.

My journey so far in the world of toilets has been eye-opening. My experience in working with inspiring business leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors from around the world, who are taking a fresh look at current sanitation systems from a business perspective, has painted a much different picture about the potential future of sanitation systems and toilets.

Our world of toilets is one abound with exciting new business and innovation opportunities, found in the places that no-one has been looking, virtually un-tapped, and with the potential to garner significant positive impact for society. And it’s much more than toilets!

This November, the Toilet Board Coalition is launching THE SANITATION ECONOMY with a call to action for the global business community.


From our viewpoint, the potential is massive. In the Sanitation Economy, a perfect storm of reinvented toilet innovations; biological, renewable resource flows; data and information come together creating swells of new and valuable products, services and resources.

New research from the Toilet Board Coalition to be launched later this month, shows that the market could be worth US$ 62 billion in India alone by conservative estimates; it could make available 3.8 trillion litres of valuable biological resources each year; and it could hold a vast reservoir of information about human health.

It is rare today to find white spaces in the current economy open for business and innovation; and that address such an urgent global challenge — ensuring resilient and aspirational sanitation for all.


Fuelled by new political will & citizen movements

Providing basic access to a toilet and the sanitation systems that safely manage human waste is a serious issue. 2.3 billion currently are without access to basic sanitation according to WHO/UNICEF. Access to sanitation for all made the least progress during the Millennium development goals 2000–2015. As a result, the world is now watching, and acting, to ensure progress over the next 15 years under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 6.2 states the goal to achieve universal access to sanitation by 2030.

The Indian Government is leading the way with its Swachh Bharat Mission — Clean India Campaign which aims to provide universal access to all Indians in just 5 years (2014–2019), declaring the nation ODF (open defication free) and building more than 100 million toilets. The campaign is making swift progress in providing access to toilets and awareness is high amongst citizens.

It is not just global and national governments rising up. It is citizen movements as well. In November 2016 the Global Citizen Festival was held in Mumbai, India to put a spotlight on the need for access to sanitation for all. About 100,000 citizens gathered to listen to a fusion of messages about sanitation from an impressive mix of celebrities, musical artists, and sanitation experts — including Coldplay, JAY-Z, and famous Bollywood stars. In August 2017 Bollywood launched a movie about a woman who turns down a marriage proposal until her husband to be agrees to buy her a toilet, it is titled, “Toilets a Love Story”.

Whether it is 2.3 billion or 800 million potential new customers, that is a big market for the businesses and entrepreneurs making toilets, products for our toilets, and providing cleaning, maintenance and repair services.

The Toilet Economy can be seen in pioneering businesses like SARAPLAST, SANERGY, CLEAN TEAM, LOOWATT, SOIL, AND LIXIL who have been partners in the work of the TOILET BOARD COALITION.


Toilet resources can provide solutions for food, agriculture, water, energy and healthcare

The past decades have seen the rise of sustainable development, where businesses have had to shift business practices to address growing constraints on resources and new responsibilities for the customers and communities they serve. Leading businesses have found new market opportunities in looking at where their unique value propositions can also address unmet needs, and market failures that underpin the sustainable development goals, where no one is left behind. The circular economy, the mining waste and available resources to save costs and generate new revenue, is currently trendy amongst global businesses.

We argue that sanitation has an important place in Circular Economy & Corporate Sustainability strategies. When looked at through a circular economy lens, sanitation systems and our toilets, become an important pool of valuable resources. If what goes into our toilets is seen as valuable, those interested in extracting that value will invest in ensuring that the resource is properly managed — delivering important benefits to society.

7.6 billion people on the planet currently create toilet resources (also known as human excreta) everyday, to the tune of 3.8 trillion litres of resources (based on 500 L of excreta generated per person each year), and growing with our population growth. These resources, when captured and mined are revealing very interesting biological resource use cases.

Entrepreneurs and businesses are starting to monetise these resources and are creating valuable products such as nutrient rich organic fertilisers, electricity, bio-fuel, water, and proteins — previously, and in many cases still currently, flushed down our toilets. Our work has shown growing demand for these new renewable resources and organic or biological products from manufacturing operations and municipalities, to food, fibre, agriculture, animal feed, consumer goods and healthcare.

In 2016 the Toilet Board Coalition launched an initial inquiry into the business opportunity spaces in Sanitation in the Circular Economy. Later this month, the Toilet Board Coalition will release new evidence on the commercial case for these new business models. The study consulted with pioneering CIRCULAR SANITATION ECONOMY businesses in our 2017 Toilet Accelerator cohort, BIOCYCLE, SAFISANA, SANERGY and SANIVATION.

A new renewable, biological resource is coming to market — it is abundant, 3.8 trillion litres per year based on the current population, and available to be captured and monitsed by businesses today.


The “cool factor” of new tech & digital mega-trend applications for sanitation

The future of industry is being shaped by what the World Economic Forum is calling the fourth industrial revolution — a digital economy, characterised by a fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

Sanitation and toilets have a place here too! There is a key opportunity now to apply new technologies and digitisation to sanitation to create new business opportunities as future sanitation systems are developed. While the SMART SANITATION ECONOMY is the least developed area of THE SANITATION ECONOMY to-date, we believe that it could be a game changer for how we view our sanitation and toilets into the future.

In 2016 the Toilet Board Coalition launched an initial inquiry into the business opportunity spaces in The Digitisation of Sanitation. In 2017 the Toilet Board Coalition has announced a new collaboration with the Pune Municipal Corporation in India to develop the 1st Smart Sanitation City. The project, launching in 2018 will host demonstration projects to develop use cases for smart sanitation architecture, business solutions and their ecosystems. Some of the projects planned include WIFI enabled community and public toilets; monitoring of public health indicators from toilets as well as the application of smart technologies to waste management, sewage and wastewater treatment.

The SMART SANITATION ECONOMY is being explored by pioneering businesses and projects such as: SAMAGRA, GARV, LOOWATT, SANERGY, and the MIT UNDERWORLDS PROJECT.

“A vast reservoir of information on human health and behaviour, lives in our sewage. And this resource is untapped.” MIT Underworlds project.

The fortune in our toilets

The SANITATION ECONOMY aims to un-lock the fortune in our toilets. The week of 13–19 November 2017 the Toilet Board Coalition will launch a series of new findings which:

  1. Introduce the Sanitation Economy with a call to action from business leaders
  2. Quantify the potential size of the Sanitation Economy market in India
  3. Present commercial cases from Africa and new evidence for the Circular Sanitation Economy.

We hope that fellow business leaders will join us in this movement to accelerate the Sanitation Economy and unleash the fortune in our toilets!

Join our World Toilet Day Campaign 2017

Cheryl Hicks is the Executive Director of the Toilet Board Coalition, a business led public private partnership with the aim to accelerate the Sanitation Economy.

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