Since 2005, businesses in Japan have been saving millions of tons of carbon dioxide by dressing casually and turning up their air conditioning.
The campaign, known as Cool Biz, was launched by the Ministry for the Environment and aims to reduce electricity consumption in the summer months.
It encourages people to abandon formal suits and neckties, dressing instead in short sleeves, popular Kariyushi shirts and chinos.
As people can work in warmer conditions by wearing lighter clothes, Cool Biz recommends that office air conditioners are set at a maximum of 28°C.
That might sound hot but bear in mind that the average high in Tokyo is 31°C in August and it can reach almost 40°C.
Changing Business Culture
Japanese workers have been wearing business suits since the 19th century Meiji Period, when the country began to assimilate aspects of Western culture. They’ve long been central to Japanese business culture.
Formal dress codes and etiquette are extremely important, so Cool Biz represents something of a paradigm shift. Without strong government support, it would almost certainly have failed.
In Cool Biz’s first year, the Ministry for the Environment took a firm stance against people wearing suits in its offices. Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was often interviewed in casual dress.
Even in cabinet meetings, politicians could be seen dressed in colourful shirts without ties, which did a lot to raise the profile. It wasn’t long before businesses followed suit.
The campaign has proved very popular among workers and they’ve embraced the Cool Biz style. Fashion retailers now bring out special lines in the summer to match the new business attire.
Cool Biz is here to stay.
Energy Efficiency in the Wake of the Fukushima Disaster
The 2011 Fukushima Disaster and subsequent energy crisis had a huge impact on the extent to which Japan recognises of the importance of energy efficiency.
There’s now more emphasis on saving energy throughout the country. Businesses in Tokyo have reduced their carbon emissions by 23%.
This change in attitude has had an impact on Cool Biz too. In 2011, the initiative was moved from June to September to May to October.
An enhanced scheme called Super Cool Biz was also launched, allowing workers to dress in T-shirts, jeans and sandals when appropriate.
With Cool Biz and Super Cool Biz both running, Japan’s carbon emissions fell by 1.56 million tons in the 2011 financial year.
What Can the UK Learn From Japan’s Air Conditioning Campaign?
Now a decade old, Cool Biz has become a fixed part of Japan’s working calendar and the concept has spread to other Asian countries, including the Republic of Korea. Even the UN is exploring the idea.
Back in Japan, there are plans to extend the practice into homes in an attempt to cut down on domestic emissions.
In the UK, lower temperatures mean air conditioning is less energy-intensive but businesses could still make savings by adopting similar practices. There are welcome signs that businesses are adopting more efficient technology but that’s just one of the steps to making real energy savings.
It takes a cultural shift, both for businesses and individuals, to make the necessary changes.
Could we see more flexible dress codes emerging in British businesses over the next few years? Will attitudes to working temperature start to shift?