Japan Asks Workers to 'Be Cool' in Dress and Temperature

With the arrival of fall's cool temperatures, businessmen across Japan have breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Not only does this change in climate, which came late this year, signify the end of Japan's notoriously hot and humid summer (temperatures can creep as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit) but also the conclusion of an annual nationwide campaign to reduce the use of air conditioning.

Since 2005, the Japanese government has unleashed a campaign aimed at convincing businessmen to drop their jackets and ties to cut down the need for air conditioning in the workplace. The underlying message in this movement is "be cool," both in dress and in temperature, which is exactly where its name, Cool Biz, stems from.

In a nation known for its suit-sporting work force, getting this initiative started was no easy task. But former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi committed himself to his energy-conservation plan, even going so far as to address parliament tieless and in a shirtsleeves in 2005.

Cool Biz, which is overseen by Japan's environment ministry, came about as a part of the country's effort to meet the goal of the Kyoto Protocol -- to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6 percent by the year 2012. And by all accounts, Cool Biz seems to be working. According to the government, by urging corporate Japan to set office temperatures at a steamy 82 degrees, the nation in 2005 reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 460,000 tons -- the same amount that 1 million households create each month.

Over the past two years, corporate involvement and acceptance of Cool Biz has grown. This year Cool Biz's list of participants boasted a whopping 14,000 companies, along with banks, retail stores and community centers that have signed up to do their share.

While the nation seems to agree on the overall theme of caring for the environment, some office workers are not allowed to work without a jacket and tie, making life in the office unbearable during the summer.

"Cool Biz is totally a foreign concept to my boss," said Ota, a Japanese businessman. "My company is very old-fashioned, and this is how I must dress no matter how hot it gets. It is not easy."

For the most part, however, Japanese businessmen have accepted the Cool Biz dress code as a new, environmentally-friendly and unavoidable reality. It's such a reality that last year fashion designers in Japan began creating new lines of men's businesswear last year, complete with form-flattering shirts, jackets and trousers in ultra-lightweight fabrics in a rainbow of different colors, ranging from blazing reds to vibrant greens.

Ultimately, Cool Biz has served not only as a model for energy-conservation across the globe but also as a reminder of how much carbon dioxide humans produce each year and how easy it can be to reverse that trend.

Now that it's November, Cool Biz has come to an end and Japanese businessmen no longer have to worry about the dreadful dog days of summer. But workers will quickly be faced with yet another campaign -- this time they're asked to tolerate cold temperatures.

Thanks to Cool Biz's new sister campaign to save on energy consumption during the winter months, the Japanese government is asking businesses to set their thermostats to a chilly 68 degrees until the end of March as a part of the Warm Biz initiative.

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