Thursday, March 12, 2009


In the pursuit of a sustainable life there is always the question of which is the better choice, environment wise, purse wise, or simply as a matter of personal preference. And weather there is a legitimate reason to choose one over the other.

Lately paper consumption in any form is one of those areas of constant contemplation - using paper towels or cotton towels in the kitchen, tissue or handkerchief for colds, paper towels or wiping hands on trousers in public washrooms.

I felt installing hand dryers in public washrooms could be a good choice because it is -

  1. Good For The Environment - Paper towels cannot be recycled. Once they are used, they must go to the landfill, and we are all aware that America is facing a diminishing landfill issue. Converting to Hand Dryers is a great source reduction alternative. Many businesses and institutions are required by law to reduce non-recyclable waste.
  2. Promotes Hygiene - The use of hand dryers allows washrooms to stay cleaner and more sanitary. Picking up and disposing of bacteria-laden paper towel waste is one of the custodians' least favorite tasks.
  3. Labor Savings - Most Hand Dryers are virtually maintenance-free, except for a recommended annual cleaning. Paper towels, by comparison, require one hour of maintenance for each case of towels used.
  4. Reduced Vandalism- Hand dryers eliminate the vandalism often present with paper towels. Towels clog toilets and sinks, can be set aflame, and are thrown, wet, onto walls and floors.
  5. Always Ready For Use - Hand Dryers are ready to be used 24 hours a day. Say goodbye to customer complaints about empty or non-functioning paper towel dispensers.
So, in this study I set out to ascertain which of the two options – paper towels or third generation electric hand dryers, are better environmentally and economically.

I collected and analyzed consumption data from Company ABC Inc. (name changed), a San Diego based company with 800 employees.

Firstly, I calculated the total paper towel cost per year ($10,789) and total cost of hand dryer operation per year ($259). Then calculated the savings per year($10,530) and from the savings I subtracted the total hand dryer lease cost($10,530- $4320 = $5950). Thus, $5950 is net savings.

After this Net Present Value for both the hand dryer and paper towels was calculated.


The results of the analysis were a huge surprise. Third generation hand dryers, mainly Dyson and Xlerator win hand down. And the savings are huge. For ABC Inc it means making a gain of over $36,000 (NPV) as compared to over $66,000 (NPV) of loss over the next 10 years.

The switching costs are nil mainly because hand dryers are available on leases for a fixed monthly payment. The installation, maintenance, repair, and disposal are all taken care by the leasing agency without any extra cost.

And the number of trees saved because of the switch is unbelievable. One pine tree produces an average 80,500 sheets of photocopy paper1. Assuming one photocopy paper equals two hand towels one tree yields 116,000 sheets of hand towels. It means ABC Inc saves 9 trees per year, and 90 trees in 10 years!

Carbon foot print wise switching to hand dryers leads to 3 tonnes less CO2 in the atmosphere2.

For ABC Inc switching from paper towels to third generation hand dryers could be the very profitable low hanging fruit towards corporate sustainability.

Below are the spread sheets with detailed calculations. The first image is the Cost Analysis of both the options, and the annual savings realized by switching to electric hand dryers.

The second image is the NPV( Net Present Value analysis) of both the options, and the Net Present Savings realized by switching to electric hand dryers.
Any of you conducting similar analysis for your businesses or simply interested in details of the project can get in touch with me via email.

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