Temperature rises for cool fashion

Geez it’s been really hot over the past few weeks and, for many of us, returning to work after the summer break has been a welcome relief from the heat.

Almost all modern offices are air-conditioned – set to a range of between 20 and 23 degrees. This 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.

Air-conditioning 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 per cent. 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 per cent increase in our office’s energy consumption. With energy in buildings accounting for around 40 per cent 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 28C together with the introduction of a more suitable dress code – private businesses were encouraged to do the same. It achieved greenhouse gas emission savings of more than two million tonnes in the first two years.

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 25C – 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 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.

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