Story at a glance:

  • The America Free Zone, host to multinational companies doing business from Costa Rica, strives for ultimate sustainability in its buildings and operations.
  • The uber-green buildings of this zone do the heavy lifting in achieving sustainability certifications.
  • XLERATOR’s Environmental Product Declarations helped the America Free Zone prove its case.

Visitors to Costa Rica’s America Free Zone (AFZ) are quick to realize this is an extraordinary office campus in an extraordinary place. And while something as simple as the hand dryers in the AFZ bathrooms might seem ordinary, their regular use respects the building, the environment, and ultimately the driving ethos of the United Nation’s Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The America Free Zone, which had its beginnings in the late 1990s, is designed to attract direct foreign investment (FDI) in the country that in turns boosts its economy. It has succeeded in spades. Major multinational corporations—most of them in corporate processes, creative industries, and digital technologies sectors, including Amazon, AWS, VMware, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Kyndryl, Bridgestone SSC, Bayer SSC, DELL Technologies, Bosch, and others—have established operations in this free trade zone park in Heredia, not far from the capital city of San José. “We work as a business city to create more and better opportunities for our country, and we drive sustainable development for our tenants,” says Carlos Sandí, general manager of AFZ.


Photo courtesy of Excel Dryer

The Heredia office campus is the administrative center of the AFZ and has grown since the early 2000s—a period when building sustainability became increasingly important and possible, thanks in part to innovations in building materials and the forward-thinking architects and interior designers who specified those materials.

AFZ’s building designs are decidedly modern, avant-garde, and green. Most structures are LEED-certified for Core and Shell.

But the concern for sustainability in these structures didn’t end at construction. Throughout the 16 buildings, more than 200 XLERATOR Hand Dryers have been installed in the bathrooms. Because these hand dryers—characterized by high-speed, energy-efficient operations that displace the need for paper towels—are proven through a life cycle analysis to be far greener than their alternatives, they enable the AFZ to maintain ongoing operations that are sustainable and therefore attractive to international corporate tenants.

The relationship between energy-efficient hand dryers and the verdant landscape of Costa Rica is easy to make. For every ton of virgin paper towels not manufactured due to the use of XLERATOR Hand Dryers, 17 trees are not cut. Those trees can continue providing species habitat and carbon sequestration services.

Costa Ricans appreciate this, as do the companies doing business there. The country is home to 500,000 species of plants, animals, and insects—including many found nowhere else on Earth. Its lush tropical rainforests as well as other geographical features—coastal lowlands, mangrove swamps, volcanic mountain ranges, and farms that produce coffee, bananas, and other fruit—create important climatic zones with distinct ecosystems. Recognizing this, the country’s leadership has encouraged the development of eco-tourism as a major part of the country’s economy, hosting millions of foreign visitors each year and constituting a full 25% of tourist-generated revenues to the country.

A deeper look at XLERATOR Hand Dryers finds that the ecological advantages of the technology and its use are clear, so much so the company is a first in its industry vertical to include an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).

On a per-use basis the XLERATOR uses fewer than 100 kilojoules to dry a person’s hands. This is far superior to standard dryers that have been in existence for decades (more than 200 kilojoules required), recycled paper towels (between 400 and 500 kilojoules), and virgin paper towels (about 750 kilojoules).


Photo courtesy of Excel Dryer

“At AFZ we are consistent with our ‘3P+i’ philosophy, from where the triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet) is enhanced through innovation and technology, which are the hallmarks that have marked the regional leadership and the notable track record of our business city throughout its 24 years of life,” Sandí says. “For this we need the best allies, including XLERATOR Hand Dryers.”

Considered from a monetary cost standpoint, 1,000 users of XLERATORS effectively require $0.50 (USD) of electricity, while that cost nearly triples (to $1.47) for a standard dryer, and a whopping $23 each for recycled towels and virgin towels. The reason recycled paper towels still have a high carbon footprint and high dollar cost is because the recycling process involves transport and processing of materials—including the transport of used paper towels to landfills (once wet, they cannot be re-recycled).

The poorer quality of recycled paper towels requires additional, energy-consuming processing to bring them up to par with virgin paper towels. Further, additives such as dyes and fragrances might be necessary with recycled paper, adding yet more cost and energy use. All of these factors are considered in a life-cycle analysis.

Notably, those life cycle data points are arrived at assuming fossil-fuel energy sources like coal-generated electricity. Because AFZ receives renewable energy from more than 2,000 solar panels installed onsite, those carbon numbers drop even further for the ongoing use of the electric hand dryers.

Development of the AFZ, due to its international nature and the pervading conservation ethos in Costa Rica, was done in recognition of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Beyond achieving LEED certifications, the organization has been certified as Carbon Neutral, won the Ecological Blue Flag in the Climate Change category, and earned the ISO 4001 certification.

Because XLERATOR dryers and the company administrative and manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts have undergone the analysis recognized by USGBC (LEED certifiers), the Green Restaurant Association, Architecture 2030, Green Building Initiative, and Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, customer installations like those at AFZ are able to earn points in various sustainability rating systems.

With the exclusive use of the clean, streamline-and-stainless-steel design XLERATOR Hand Dryers in AFZ bathrooms, some things are missing—overflowing waste receptacles and floor clutter, plus clogs and overflows from towels in toilets. It’s an operational advantage any structure of architectural excellence deserves.

Learn more about Excel Dryer


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