Japanese workers still reluctant to dress cool for the planet

Japan's office workers are being asked to dress down and turn their thermostats up a notch in a government-led attempt to cut carbon emissions from air conditioning this summer.

With the hot and humid weather about to kick in, environment minister Yuriko Koike launched the “Cool Biz” campaign on Thursday, calling on office workers to ditch their jackets and ties for more casual attire and set thermostats to 28 degrees C over the summer months.

But Japanese workers’ reluctance to dress casually for work is proving a major hurdle for the campaign, as many businessmen and officials say they feel uncomfortable in an office setting without their standard uniform of suit and tie.

In an attempt to break traditional stereotypes, business and political leaders modelled casual office attire at a specially organised fashion show. This year’s campaign ambitiously aims to expand into Asia, and ambassadors from neighbouring countries joined in the event.

Even PM Junichiro Koizumi daringly turned up to his office on Thursday wearing a blue shirt with no tie.

The campaign first launched last summer amid high expectations (see related story), but the uptake proved disappointing with only about 40% of companies surveyed by the environment ministry saying they turned air conditioning down to conserve energy.

Nevertheless, last year’s campaign managed to save 210m kW on air conditioning – the equivalent of almost 1m households and 460,000 tonnes of CO2, according to the environment ministry.

Japan is behind on the carbon cut targets it is committed to under Kyoto, and the “Cool Biz” campaign is one of the measures aimed at reversing the trend.

Meanwhile, the environment ministry’s efforts may be aided by Japan’s fast-growing trend for wearing loincloths, with sales of the unusual garment rising rapidly and fashion experts predicting a full-scale loincloth boom in the coming months.

Goska Romanowicz

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