Time to reimagine - Daigo Ishiyama, our Leader of Innovation, talks about how SATO is reimagining sanitation and hygiene solutions in the face of climate change and COVID-19.


1. What is the relationship between climate change and basic access to sanitation and hygiene?

One effect of climate change is global warming. A warmer planet will be drier, enhancing evaporation from soil, and diminishing plant cover. These will contribute to change in precipitation patterns, and intensify and prolong periods of drought. Going forward, water will become an increasingly scarce resource.

As water is an integral part of proper sanitation and hygiene practices, its availability is one of the factors that determine one’s access to sanitation and hygiene. Our customers who already face challenges accessing water for their daily needs will require more water for agriculture and human consumption, making it even more difficult to maintain good sanitation and hygiene practices due to shortage of water.

With this in mind, the water-saving feature has been and will always be an essential value proposition we incorporate into all of SATO’s innovations. We have designed SATO toilets so that they require less than 20% water compared to conventional flush toilets. For handwashing, the SATO Tap was developed to maximize efficiency by using every drop of water it dispenses, allowing handwashing to be done with as little as 100ml. Every bit of water we help the communities conserve will enable them to sustain good sanitation and hygiene practices in the face of climate change.

2. How is SATO helping to achieve the SDGs?

At SATO, our goal is to transform the lives of 100 million people through access to affordable sanitation and hygiene by 2025, directly impacting SDG 6.2, which “aims to provide access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations by 2030.”

Although we are focused mainly on SDG 6.2, sanitation and hygiene are a very fundamental part of supporting physical, mental, and social well-being of any human being, so what we do has broader effects on society at large. Through our activities, we not only design, make and sell life-saving and water-saving products but we also engage in activities like school sanitation programs, and mason trainings for men and women. This means that our global impact affects many other SDG targets including education, women empowerment, poverty reduction, reduction of water usage, among others.

What we strive to do across all SDG goals, is to offer sanitation and hygiene solutions that enable people to live their lives to the fullest, empowering individuals and communities who embrace life.

3. How does SATO find the balance between agility and timely production to tackle global sanitation and hygiene issues while remaining environmentally and socially conscious?

Our end-to-end process is built around a fundamental understanding of our target market’s unique environments and needs. This informs all our decisions; from design, pricing, marketing, to operational procedures.

We take pride in our product development processes, which are not only consumer-centric but also environment-centric. We work to reduce even a gram of plastic in our designs, introduce recycled materials whenever we can, and encourage our local partners to establish circular economies.

Moreover, all our products are 100% recyclable, and we are currently developing new solutions with materials created from mixed waste. We also rigorously test our products to ensure they stay in service for a long time, which is another key element to keep plastics out of the environment.

While some people rightly reject single-use plastics, such as PET bottles and packaging materials, we must remember that plastic does offer benefits if used correctly. It can be molded in fast cycle times, making it very conducive to mass production which allows rapid rollout of a large quantity of products into the hands of customers. Plastic is also inexpensive, readily available around the world, moldable in various methods, does not break easily, can be long-lasting, and is lightweight for easy transportation and handling. So, from manufacturing to the end-user point, it provides affordable and practical benefits that allow our clients to access products that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

We maintain the local make-sell-use business model by leveraging our local partners’ ability to manufacture and distribute products. For rapid deployment of products, this relationship with business partners in each region becomes key. We also work with local and global partners such as UNICEF and JICA to get the products into the users’ hands as quickly as possible. From design to delivery, SATO’s process is built to be agile and customer-centric, while preserving natural resources.

4. SATO Tap has certainly reimagined the use of PET bottles. What collaborations or actions are needed to further reduce the impact on the environment?

The decision to reuse plastic bottles and caps was a conscious one for us at SATO, so communities around the world could utilize the bottles and caps that already exist in their homes and avoid them becoming waste. There needs to be a way to collect, process, and reuse used plastic items more readily and efficiently. SATO Tap’s use of plastic bottles aims to contribute to this by reducing plastic being discarded.

According to UN Environment, “the most common single-use plastics found in the environment are, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam takeaway containers. These are the waste products of a throwaway culture that treats plastic as a disposable material rather than a valuable resource to be harnessed.”

SATO’s approach to plastic usage is totally the opposite of that of single-use. SATO Tap’s mechanism has been tested for 3.65 million cycles, simulating one-hundred years of use by a household of five members. We’ve included UV inhibitors in the materials to help withstand the harmful UV rays. We go to great lengths to ensure long service life of our products.

We are now in discussions with large beverage companies to explore ways to collaborate and encourage the reuse of PET bottles. We have started bundling soap with SATO Tap with the help of our soap industry partners. I feel these partnerships with like-minded industry players are a great way to amplify the positive effect on the communities and the environment.

5. What plans can you share on how SATO is being involved in tackling the pandemic while also remaining environmentally conscious?

We are extremely pleased that the SATO Tap was named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2020 and is also a finalist for Fast Company World Changing Award 2021 for Pandemic Response and Developing World Technology categories. SATO Tap has a simple yet powerful design that delivers robust benefits: it uses minimal material, saves water, promotes proper and safe handwashing practices, and provides easy access to handwashing for all users. These global recognitions help to increase awareness on the importance of handwashing as an effective means to tackle the pandemic and also helps SATO gain trust with our partners.

In response to COVID, we have been closely working with our partners, including UNICEF, to reach out to and support as many lives as we can in the shortest period. We have initiated the rollout of the SATO Tap donation programs in India and Africa. We can expect to see hundreds of thousands of units going out in the coming months, reaching communities that need access to handwashing, supporting the lives of millions to combat the pandemic. Commercial availability is expected in the second half of the year, starting from Africa.

Has this Q&A inspired you to take part in making a difference in sanitation and hygiene while remaining environmentally conscious? If yes, contact us on sato@lixil.com for more information on how you can collaborate with SATO.