‘Cool Biz’ popular enough for another try

But lack of nonsales data leaves environmental success open to debate

by Eriko Arita

The sight of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in an open-collar shirt was much more familiar this month than in June, when the government kicked off the “Cool Biz” casual-dress campaign for reducing air-conditioner use.

The four-month-old, no-tie drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ends Friday, and seems at least to have been more popular than its previous effort in 1979, when people were urged to wear short-sleeved suits and adopt the “sho-ene” (energy-saving) look.

“We believe the campaign this year saw major success, and hope to promote the effort again next year,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said earlier this week.

While the government has not yet released its figures on the actual results of the campaign, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan estimates that about 210 million kwh were saved from June to August, which in turn helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 79,000 tons.

That’s the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 14,000 average households in a year, the federation officials said.

The federation’s calculation is based on the assumption that 40 percent of the offices in regions covered by the federation’s 10 member utilities set their air conditioner temperatures 2 higher than usual during the summer, they said.

The Environment Ministry said in May that around 1.6 to 2.9 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted if all offices in Japan set their air conditioners to 28 instead of the summer average of 26.2. This is based on the assumption that the offices run their air conditioners nine hours a day for 112 days.

Although the federation’s estimate is far lower than the ministry’s, Masataka Kiyotake, an official of the ministry’s Life-style Policy Office, said the two are based on different calculations and cannot be compared.

But Kiyotake admitted the government could do more to promote the campaign, noting that a survey by the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) showed only some 80 percent of its member companies took part in “Cool Biz” this summer.

“We will strive to promote the campaign so that 100 percent of companies adopt the dress code,” he said.

Kimiko Hirata of Kiko Network, a nongovernmental organization studying global warming issues, said it is difficult to judge whether “Cool Biz” was successful due to the lack of concrete emission reduction figures.

But she said the campaign, embraced by the popular prime minister himself, was more effective than past government efforts to raise public awareness that saving energy helps mitigate global warming.

“(Such a campaign) would be more effective if more places other than companies and government offices — such as supermarkets, subways and trains — raise the settings on their air conditioners,” Hirata reckoned, adding that the government needs to do more to popularize the dress code.

Whether it was the government’s intent or not, the campaign also gave a shot in the arm to the fashion industry, which saw menswear sales rise as peer-conscious office workers scrambled to update their wardrobes.

According to major men’s clothing firm Aoki International Co., same-store sales in the June-August period rose about 5 percent year-on-year, accompanied by a 10 percent increase in customers.

Shirt sales jumped 25 percent over the previous year, while sales of button-down shirts grew threefold, the company said. Sales of light jackets rose 15 percent.

“Many customers were at a loss as to what they should wear” when told they should do away with ties, said Chiharu Kobayashi, vice chief of Aoki’s marketing and sales promotion department.

The company’s shop clerks suggested customers buy button-down shirts and cotton or linen jackets, and several bought combinations, he said.

At the 272 department stores that belong to the Japan Department Stores Association, sales of men’s clothing and accessories from June to August edged up 2.6 percent from the same period last year, association officials said. Matching shoes and bags also sold well, they added.

Kenji Namazue, an official of Japan Men’s Fashion Unity, an industry association, agreed the government-led campaign gave a big boost to the men’s clothing industry.

“As disposable income decreases, men first tend to spend money on such things as personal computers and mobile phones, with clothing being the last thing they buy,” he said.

But the success of “Cool Biz” was a curse for the country’s tie makers.

Tetsuo Yamada, an official of a federation of tie manufacturer associations, said domestic sales dropped 10 percent between June and August.

“This minus 10 percent figure is a life-or-death problem for necktie makers,” he said.

To make up for lost sales, the association ran a newspaper advertisement earlier this month pitching the slogan, “Autumn is the time for ties,” and has launched promotional campaigns at department stores, he said.

But the industry’s qualms may be unfounded. Emboldened by the relative success of “Cool Biz,” the government has announced it will promote a “Warm Biz” look that encourages workers to dress more warmly during the winter so thermostats can be turned down to save energy. Tie makers are trying to cash in on the new movement.