June 4, 2008

Resistance to Change is Blind

[Originally posted here on Huffington]

Recently the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. upheld a ruling that our currency violates the law - it will need to change to accommodate the blind (unlike most currencies, the size of each U.S. denomination is the same so you can't tell by touch how much you're holding). Of course some commentators had to chime in about activist judges and express concerns about the cost to society in fixing this problem. Apparently there's concern from some business interests that there will be costs in making the change. Here's what an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal said:

"Varying the size of bills would impose substantial costs on individuals and companies in the private sector for replacement or retrofitting of vending machines, automated teller machines, wallets and purses."

Well, of course there will be costs - change costs something. But what are the possible upsides beyond the incredibly obvious social benefits (hey, call me soft on the blind)? Maybe there are other reasons to make a change that saves some money.

So I thought about this for like 30 seconds (nobody said blogging takes years of thought) and came up with another good reason to change vending machines - they use a ton of energy. For a few years now, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been advocating for changes in vending machines design. Here's the data from a paper written by Noah Horowitz from the NRDC and his partners at the EPA, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, and the DOE:

"In the U.S. there are about 2.5 million vending machines in the field and new machine sales exceed 250,000/year. Existing vending machines consume approximately 7.5 billion kWh/year and cost $600 million/year to power...Approximately 3.5 kWh/day can be saved per machine through refrigeration and lighting energy efficiency improvements alone...Over the ten year machine life, [each machine will save] 13,000 kWh, $910 in electric savings, and 10 tons of carbon dioxide."

First of all, $600 million...in vending machine energy. Wow. But my general point is not actually that changing money to accommodate blind people is the right thing to do (which I feel ridiculous even having to say), but that we need to get more innovative and flexible about finding ways around stumbling blocks. Some have pointed out that there may be solutions that don't even require changes to machinery (like raised dots on the bills), but even if they do, again, there may be other benefits. This isn't as narrow as the political view of "crossing the aisle" to explore compromises and opportunities. Perhaps it's more about crossing the hemispheres of the brain and thinking differently.

The environmental challenges facing society and business are profound, and it will help if businesses and policymakers can think holistically about issues and see things through the green lens. Opportunities to kill two or more birds with one stone are all over the place.

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