Asia Life

After Dressing Down for “Cool Biz,” Japanese Workers Layer Up for “Warm Biz”

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Asia Life

After Dressing Down for “Cool Biz,” Japanese Workers Layer Up for “Warm Biz”

Environmental Ministry asks offices and homes to set thermostats to 20°C.

In an effort to cut back on energy consumption across Japan, the country’s Ministry of the Environment has suggested that both offices and private residences set thermostats no higher than 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). The “Warm Biz” campaign, which officially kicked off on the first of the month, is just being put into effect after unseasonably warm weather that stretched into mid-October. Temperatures in Tokyo finally dipped into the teens this week.

Warm Biz arrives on the heels of the Environmental Ministry’s Cool Biz initiative, which concluded at the end of September. While the Warm Biz campaign is asking Japanese office workers to layer up in order to stave off the chilly weather, Cool Biz recommended ditching neckties and long-sleeved shirts in order to set air conditioners to a sweat-inducing 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Japan’s environmental authorities have promoted seasonal energy-saving initiatives since 2005, under the Junichiro Koizumi cabinet. Cool Biz drew particular attention after the March 11 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region, crippling the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor and sparking a nuclear disaster. The loss of that major power source motivated many Japanese citizens to adopt stricter energy-saving measures. There was an 11.8 percent reduction in electrical power use that year.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of electricity expected for 2013/2014.

“[Japan’s] Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has already forecast that there are unlikely to be any power shortages this winter. It projected supply capacity to exceed demand by 3 percent, which is the minimum level for maintaining a stable electricity supply,” reported Japan Today. “However, the Environment Ministry is still promoting the Warm Biz campaign. It is calling on offices and homes to keep warm the ‘old-fashioned way.’”

That means donning gloves, scarves, thermal underwear – and eating lots of nabe, a traditional Japanese hot pot dish often served during the colder months.

“You can lower the heat if you enjoy nabe with your family and friends, making both bodies and the room warm. The temperature will feel higher than it actually is thanks to steam from the pot,” said the Environmental Ministry’s website, which also recommended eating lots of root vegetables and ginger.

Since its inception, Warm Biz hasn’t caught on quite as much Cool Biz. Hirofumi Ideshita, a Sharp executive, pointed out the vast differences in fall and winter temperatures experienced across the country, as well as the fact that most Japanese offices are reluctant to change long-standing policies.

“I think it is a little more complicated to try and tackle energy saving in the winter months. Maybe it should be more localized,” Ideshita said. “There needs to be more emphasis on changing our office culture and our work style across the board. It was always the Japanese culture to work overtime, but with the new energy saving measures, we cannot do this anymore. Also corporations are promoting work[ing] from home a lot more, which is very foreign to the Japanese mindset.”

Japan’s most popular retailer is anticipating the chillier workplaces. Following its popular Cool Biz-inspired line of moisture-wicking business shirts and cropped pants, Uniqlo has begun promoting ultra-light down jackets and patented “Heattech” undergarments.

With the Japanese capital averaging 6 degrees Celsius (42.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in January and February, picking up an extra pair of long johns might be a good idea.