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Can Efficiency Inhibit Productivity? Maybe Even Conversation?

July 31, 2008 2 comments

I never thought my first blog entry would begin with the words “While sitting on the toilet this morning.” But that is when inspiration struck. Or should I say when I heard a conversation cut short by a high efficiency hand dryer. And it made me wonder, is increased efficiency always positive? Are there any unintended side-effects when a product or service becomes less wasteful?

My company recently moved into a LEED certified building. Being the chair of our Green Committee and about to finish a Master’s in sustainable business, I have been eagerly awaiting the change of scene.

Overall, it has been fantastic. Yesterday I worked with the overhead lights turned off but I wasn’t in the dark because of the many windows that surround me.  In addition to low walls, many cubicals have clear panes near their top which allow natural light to filter deep into the building.

Back to my story. I was in the men’s bathroom around 8:30am and couldn’t help but overhear a conversation that two colleagues were having about their hour long commutes. I listened as the talk move from the urinals to the sink and everyone, including me, seemed to be enjoying the chat.

When the high efficiency hand dryer turned on, everything changed. One person continued to talk as he began drying his hands. He got about 5 seconds into his comment and decided it was futile. And that was it. The conversation ended. There were no more words exchanged.

I travelled for years with work. Been from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange things, including hand dryers, but I’ve never seen anything that compares to what I have here in my own office.

The XLERATOR® dryer is a great leap forward in hand drying technology. The company’s web site claims it uses 80% less energy than other electric hand dryers. It also says there is a 95% cost savings compared to using paper towels. It isn’t clear what time frame they are using when making these claims but the fact that it can dry your hands to less than 15 seconds, is GREENSPEC approved and provides credit toward LEED certification is impressive.

But during my first week in the new building, I am seeing an unintended consequence of its increased efficiency. The first time I walked past the restrooms and heard what has become known as “the sound”, the first picture that came to mind was a jet taking off.  After admitting to myself that the men’s bathroom was probably not being used a runway, I assumed it was a contractor cleaning up. Yes, like many construction projects, ours is a bit behind schedule.

And as I write this blog, the infinite wisdom of the universe is calling to me. How do I know? Because I can hear the rush of air coming out of the XLERATOR and I am about 75  feet way and around two corners.

Is it a major concern that the people within earshot of the bathrooms are subjected to noise pollution? I think it is. For some the sound of jet engines may become common and soon fade out into background noise. Others will be distracted each time they hear the XLERATOR whirl into action.

And back to the conversation that was cut short in the bathroom. What if their talk was about to spawn a new idea that would change our world? If the chat had been about stabilizing green house gases or ending world hunger, the conversation ending XLERATOR may have blown a great idea right off on someone’s tongue instead of just pushing the water off of their hands.