Cool Biz — What It Proves, and Could It Work Here?

Check out Cool Biz — it’s a program started up by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. What does it do? Simple; it raises the thermostat in the summer. Offices set their summer indoor temps to 28C, or about 81F, instead of the typical 70F.

It’s the law in government buildings, and voluntary in others, but the majority of private sector buildings have bought in.

(We like saving energy, but 81F?  Gives me pause.)

So it’s a big-government environmental regulation, so therefore it must have had some crushing blow on some sector of the economy, right? Actually, true to form, the free market finds a way to create wealth from regulation — Despite the government specifically pushing a new no-tie-no-jacket office standard, a whole new industry of ultra-light business attire has come onto the scene. So instead of giving up their famously-traditional business suits, your classic (or stereotypical?) Japanese businessman can still dress the part.

That’s the moral of the story, economically: environmental regulations will require change, but the free market will spawn products and services to facilitate that change, and the economy will innovate into a more sustainable future. It happens all the time, in every aspect of society.

Could Cool Biz (Hot Office) work in the US?

It sure could, if we raised the temp to about 75F instead of 81F. But we could go up a few degrees, at least. Everybody’s had the experience of walking into a store out of a blisteringly-hot summer day and being shocked — not comforted, but hit — by a bracing cold blast. When it’s over 90F, nobody’s going to complain that a 75F store temperature isn’t cold enough. Plus, having just spent a DC summer with a sweater draped over my office chair for chilly August afternoons at work, I can safely say from personal experience that there’s room to burn less coal on summer air conditioning.

But could we go all the way to 81F? Nah — we’re a little too chubby a population to stay comfy over 80.

Is this a good target, strategically, for environmentalists in the US?  No.  It will reduce electricity demands, but it won’t make a huge impact on total consumption (it makes about a 0.5% impact in Japan, where people drive less), and it won’t do anything to impact the causes of the growth in our CO2 emissions.  Further, and more importantly, there are enough ways for us as a society to make bigger impacts (fuel efficiency, CFL’s, better transit, city planning, and community design) that pushing a plan to make 100 million Americans suffer through hot stuffy days at jobs that they already don’t like isn’t necessary.  The real risk is the pushback against this and against environmentalism in general.

The greatest misconception is that our standard of living will suffer with conservation efforts, and a massive sweaty-offices campaign by green groups would just feed that misconception and increase resistance against the cause.

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