Just how green is a new green product?
The hand dryer in the toilets in the department store had a small plaque underneath it, which read “It is our policy to invest in new and pioneering technology as part of our carbon reduction commitment.” I pondered this as I dried my hands, which was certainly quick, but how much more quick I wondered than the old hand dryer had been. And while I have no doubt that the new hand dryer was more environmentally friendly than the one it replaced, I did wonder how much more, and whether the carbon advantage of buying and installing the new hand dryer outweighed the carbon penalty of having to manufacture it in the first place.
So powerful and fast was this hand dryer that there was very little time to think much further on the subject there and then. It certainly wasn’t like the old days when you could stand with hands under a dryer for an interminably long time, or until the dryer took the arbitrary decision that you’d had enough air, and almost always you had to finish the job on your trousers. But it was one of those niggling thoughts that wouldn’t go away. Certainly there is a good argument to be made for replacing paper towels with hand dryers. I believe I have read an economic case that the hand dryer will pay for itself in about a year, and proves itself much more environmentally friendly, even when you consider the carbon footprint of manufacture and of disposal. But do the same equations apply to arbitrarily replacing a hand dryer with a newer model?
Let’s make the random assumption that a hand dryer has a maximum working life of ten years, after which you would have no choice but to replace it. Was that the case here, or did the department store replace the dryer mid way through it’s life simply to bolster perceptions of its green image? That’s not the sort of conversation you strike up standing in the toilets, and there was nobody outside to ask. But of course there are other elements to the equation. If the new hand dryer was much more efficient than the old one, then there would undoubtedly be a financial payback in terms of energy savings, and any business can do the sums and easily work out where in the product’s lifecycle the optimum time for replacement with newer technology might be. Reducing your energy costs and your emissions is clearly a good thing to do, and increasingly is something your trading partners look at when they consider doing business with you. But nowhere in the discussions is a calculation of the carbon cost of making the product in the first place.
If all of this sounds as I’m advocating that we never buy anything new again, that was not the intention. Performance advantages, cost savings, energy usage reduction and even aesthetics are all powerful arguments in favour of the new. But if you’re really going to play the green card, maybe there needs to be a little more substance behind the rhetoric.
Mark Simms Editor
Industrial Technology - NEWS