Hot hot hot

As Canberra swelters under a week-long heatwave and 40 degree temperatures, for many of us, returning to work after the Christmas break has been a welcome relief from the heat.

Australians have come to expect a cool working environment in the summer months.  Almost all modern offices are air-conditioned - set to a range of between 20 and 23 degrees.  This temperature lets us work throughout the hottest period of the year without having to vary the ‘uniform’ of the business world .

But as we head off to work under the searing Australian sun, suit jackets in hand, surely we must question the wisdom of our attire.

Airconditioning contributes to more than half of an office building’s energy consumption, with every degree of cooling increasing energy use by up to around 7%.  Our standard business attire is estimated to be worth around two degrees in cooling - so our jackets, ties and stockings could be leading to a 14% increase in our office’s energy consumption.  With energy in buildings accounting for around 40% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions it seems clear that we need to rethink what we are wearing.

The Japanese government took this idea seriously.  In 2005 all agencies increased office thermostats to 28 degrees together with the introduction of a more suitable dress code - private businesses were encouraged to do the same.  The results were significant - ‘CoolBiz’ achieved greenhouse gas emission savings of more than two million tonnes in the first two years.  Not surprisingly, demand for button down shirts, slacks and belts (more visible sans jacket) was booming.

The idea of 28 degrees might make some of us a little hot under the collar.  But even a more conservative increase in office temperatures - say to 25 degrees - could provide savings across Australia of more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. 

The property industry has already risen to the challenge, delivering new commercial buildings that are more energy efficient and responsive to climate.  It’s time for fashion to follow.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia