If you think the tragedy of the commons is highlighted in your office restroom, imagine what life is like in a prison bathroom.

Urinals in men's prisons have a history of being used as part of disruptive protests: prisoners collectively and simultaneously flush the toilets or urinals, tanking the building's plumbing and preventing the use of the facility for themselves or anyone else for sometimes days at a time. It's a costly way to get the attention of the guards, to be sure: data aren't available on how much this can cost a single prison system, but you don't need to be in touch with either the funding or budget crisis in American prisons to know one thing: that's a mess to deal with.

That's what a green-tech bathroom facility company saw when evaluating the way prisons, like many other inefficiently run buildings, are set up. It isn't just prisoners who flush toilets too often - your own office bathroom probably has its own over-flushing culprit, but maybe s/he isn't doing it for the protest value. Then again, you never know.

Plumbing solutions that keep both environmental aims and people-needs in mind are hard to come by. Even as green buildings and energy-efficient construction becomes increasingly mainstream, the bathroom seems to be that one part of each building that hasn’t yet caught up.

So how can a green toilet keep both your office and a prison bathroom safer and cleaner?

Well, it's all about making devices we've always taken for granted just a bit smarter. In this case, this major green bathroom fixture company uses Echelon-manufactured chips and software to time and co-ordinate the technology that's already ubiquitous everywhere from airport bathrooms to high schools: the auto-flush.

"So how can a green toilet keep both your office and a prison bathroom safer and cleaner? Well, it's all about making devices we've always taken for granted just a bit smarter."

Here's a good place for a reminder that it's time to stop heralding the impending arrival of the Internet of Things. It's been here for years, and now, products like this green toilet solution are in the business of connecting individual solutions - like an auto-flush, a human-sensitive handwasher, a urinal that doesn't allow itself to be flushed more than a certain number of times in an hour - to build system-wide solutions that answer people and industry problems.

What can that offer? More data than was ever before imaginable about how to act on cleaning up and improving efficiency in green-aspiring buildings. More data than was ever before imaginable on people and how people treat energy resources in quotidian situations like the bathroom. And, yes, even a way to prevent disruptive protests in prisons: a set of urinals that freezes up if all or most of the toilets in a row are flushed at once.

This is where the IoT as we know it is headed: each new maker or developer with a smart idea for an individual solution adds to a wider conversation within the industry about how to better connect the technology that’s already available. There's an app - virtual or physical - for almost anything, and the business of Echelon is to be the virtual voice and ears connecting each new spot solution to real people and real problems.