Tobias on innovating showers to make a difference

Nearly one-third of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. In a household, it’s showering that consumes the most water – about 40 per cent. Hence, IKEA is innovating around water-saving solutions. The latest is a water recycling shower solution, which has just been through the first round of home tests. For Tobias Svanberg, Development Leader at IKEA, this is an important step to enable customers to make a big difference in their water use at home.

Who doesn’t like to sing in the shower? A line or two of your favourite song, often out of tune, or the peppy number you just heard on the radio. And why not? The bathroom is one place we can be our beloved singer. While there is nothing wrong with singing in the shower, it often prolongs the time under the water flow. And every minute under the shower means 10-12 litres of precious water going down the drain. Tobias is too aware of this waste and the hardships it can bring in the future for all of us.

“Water scarcity is getting real, and many people do not have enough access to freshwater today. We need to make sustainable, water-efficient solutions affordable for everyone,” says Tobias.

IKEA has identified showering, toilet, laundry, cooking & eating/drinking and washbasin/sink activities as five areas where the right products can influence over 90% of the water use at home, enabling households to become more water-efficient.

Tobias Svanberg, Development Leader.

Of these, showering is where most water is used. Therefore, IKEA and Flow Loop – one of the finalists in the IKEA Bootcamp 2019 – joined hands to co-develop a water recycling shower solution for homes and enable people to be more water-efficient. The innovation consists of a water recycling retrofit shower solution that fits any shower space.

As a part of the innovation development process, the shower prototypes are going through home tests. In a home test process, the development team gets user feedback from families to improve the product. As a first step, shower prototypes were installed in homes in Älmhult at the beginning of the year.

The solution IKEA is developing together with Flow Loop aims to save up to 80 per cent of water and reduce up to 70 per cent of energy used compared to average shower solutions. This is done by recycling and cleaning the shower water in a closed loop.

“We’ve seen indications that we’re almost there. At places where we had a stable shower set-up with good room temperature, water temperature and user behaviour in the shower and so on – we achieved these goals. So, the basic functionality is confirmed. We have proof of the concept,” says Tobias.

For the families that have tested the showers in their homes, three aspects stood out:

– The fact that they could save both on water and heating charges
– Generally feeling good for doing something for the better of the environment and an uninterrupted
– Having a warm and good flow of water making a great shower experience.

Typically, water from a shower goes into the drain and gets wasted. But with the water recycling shower solution, the water doesn’t get wasted; it gets cleaned and reused over and over again in the shower.

Mindful water use at home is one small yet big step in our efforts to find smart ways to save or reuse water. On average, in Europe, a person uses 150 litres of water a day, while it’s over 200  litres per day in the US. At the same time, nearly 1.1 billion people lack access to freshwater, and 2.7 billion people suffer water scarcity at least one month a year.

IKEA wants to enable as many customers as possible to become water-efficient in their home. And several IKEA products are already helping customers do that. The ÄLMAREN kitchen tap and the BROGRUND shower range, for example, are designed to reduce water consumption significantly while keeping the water pressure just right.

And we want to offer more sustainable solutions – where innovations around water efficiency in the home are one key area. The innovative water recycling shower solution is one step in that direction.

As in any innovation project, it is important to listen to users early on and co-create the products. It’s a constant learning journey to work with innovation, and by testing and trying, we can adapt and improve along the way. During the home tests, Tobias and his team are staying close to the users. He assures that the next version of the water recycling shower will address their valuable input.

“The main target is reducing the size of the shower. It’s quite bulky. And reduce the noise that the recycling system is emitting. We have a lot of learnings around the water quality and the filtration system as well. The big improvement areas for the next round of prototypes are its size, noise and water quality,” says Tobias.

Why are water-saving solutions important for IKEA?
“We have identified that nearly 400 million IKEA visitors, who come to our stores every year, are living in water stress, high water stress or extremely high-water stress areas. This gives us the possibilities of delivering solutions to these customers that will help them become water efficient. It’s also part of providing healthy, sustainable living at home and being responsible as a company to help people at home and save water.”

Are you seeing an increasing preference for such solutions from IKEA customers?
“People with thin wallets still have big dreams and still want to minimize their impact on the environment. But today, customers are facing expensive solutions when they want to minimize their environmental impact and the raising water consumption at home. We want to inspire and enable water-efficient living by capturing all opportunities to deliver innovative water-saving solutions across the home. We want to make sustainable innovation solutions affordable for the many people.”