In the summer of 2005, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment (MOE), on behalf of the Japanese Government, launched a campaign known as “Cool Biz“. Originally launched in response to Japan meeting their targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, it is still in effect today due to the loss of the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the resulting energy shortages.
The Cool Biz campaign encourages Japanese work places to set their air conditioner temperatures at 28°C until the month of September (i.e. well above room temperature so that the AC unit doesn’t kick in to cool the room).
Employees are also encouraged to wear outfits appropriate for the office yet cool enough to endure the summer heat, such as wearing trousers made from materials that breathe and absorb moisture, instead of wearing a suit. Polo shirts and trainers are acceptable, and in some workplaces so are jeans and sandals.
What was reaction to the Campaign?
Initially many workers were not sure whether they should follow the Cool Biz stipulations, with many coming to work with jackets in hand and ties kept in their pocket. Others felt that it was impolite not to wear a suit during meetings.
This cautious approach by employees was short-lived, though, as clothing retailers began promoting the campaign and multiple prominent business people were photographed wearing cool office clothes. Even Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was frequently interviewed without wearing a tie or jacket, and as result this was seen as an important breakthrough in terms of the shifting of what is socially acceptable in terms of work wear.
What were the results of the campaign?
On the 28th of October, 2005, the MOE announced results of the inaugural campaign. An online questionnaire of 1,200 people on the Cool Biz campaign showed that 95.8% of the respondents knew about Cool Biz, with just over 15% of them stating that their offices had set the air conditioner thermostat to 28°C. Based on these figures, the MOE estimated that Cool Biz had resulted in a 460,000-ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
The following year, the percentage of respondents that noted that the thermostat had been set to 28°C rose to 42%, resulting in an estimated CO2 reduction of 1.14 million-tons.
Following the success of the Cool Biz campaign, in 2006, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) launched the ‘cool work’ campaign, which was an almost identical campaign, as it urged UK employers to relax dress codes during the summer months.
Although the approach from the TUC was focused more on the well-being of employees, they did note that businesses could save money on their energy bills by turning off their air conditioning units as a result of their work force wearing more appropriate clothing. The following are measures which were recommended by the TUC in order to stop work premises from becoming unbearably hot:
Of these measures, two have the potential to help businesses become more environmentally sustainable.
The others, although beneficial for well-being, have the potential to have a negative impact on the environment and an organisations carbon footprint.
The Cool Biz campaign has seen a resurgence following electricity shortages in Japan post the Fukushima disaster. The results are yet to be calculated, but it seems clear that that both the examples of the Cool Biz and cool work campaigns have the potential to make us think more practically about how we cool our offices. And in doing so we can make real cost and carbon savings.
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