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Debate heats up over Cool Biz temperature rules

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From May 1, the "Cool Biz" campaign, which encourages casual wear during the hot summer months, began its 13th year, having been initiated by Japan's Environment Ministry from 2005.

As Yukan Fuji (May 23) reports, the government has been rather inflexible on one aspect of the campaign, that of recommending that thermostats be set to the arbitrary figure of 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). On steaming summer days, growing numbers of uncomfortable people have been arguing, the wearing of lighter garments provides no assurance of comfort unless the A/C settings are changed.

But now more people in the government and private industry have begun to suffer from frayed nerves and they've started openly criticizing the system. Vice minister Masahito Moriyama, who was one of the bureaucrats in charge of Cool Biz at the time of its adoption, appears to be having second thoughts. He was recently quoted as saying, "Cool Biz wasn't decided from a scientific perspective, but conceived as some kind of benchmark when we started it. After that, it just kept going of its own momentum."

"At 28 degrees some people perspire a lot, and this of course requires them to do more laundry," observed Koichi Hagiuda, a vice cabinet secretary, apparently implying that heavier use of washing machines will consume whatever energy is saved by using less air conditioning.

An unnamed official in the Environment Ministry emphasized to Yukan Fuji, "We are not insisting that people set their thermostats to 28 degrees; rather we want the entire room temperature to be a uniform 28 degrees" (whatever that means). He claims that while his own bureau is set to that temperature, "nobody's complaining it's too hot." But he does concede that he hears occasional grumbles to the effect that "Today, the air conditioning doesn't seem to be working very well," or "When the afternoon sun beats down on the west side of the building, it gets pretty stuffy in here."

Shinichi Tanabe, a professor of structural engineering at Waseda University's graduate school of engineering, observed that the temperature of 28 degrees came about through a sanitary law for buildings that was passed in 1970.

"It's believed that the original environmental sanitary standards were meant to cover a temperature range from 17 to 28 degrees," Tanabe explains. "In other words, 28 degrees is the maximum figure stipulated by the law, and not the recommended temperature setting by any means."

Tanabe pointed out that at a certain company's call center, the efficiency of workers at 28 degrees declined by 6% compared to a setting of 25 degrees. The lower efficiency also resulted in more worker overtime.

"I think a setting of around 26 is probably just right," Tanabe remarked.

A survey of businesses found at least some efforts at compliance. A major Tokyo hotel, for example, told Yukan Fuji that it had tried to stick to the 28-degree setting for areas where employees are on the job, but it has been forced to put priority on work efficiency, and may use lower settings.

"Our headquarters, all branches and sales outlets are setting thermostats to under 20 degrees," a source at a major life insurance company told the tabloid. "Our staff are also encouraged to wear lighter clothing and dispense with neckties."

The sales areas of a department store have been varying the temperature settings depending on various factors, but 26 degrees is the usual starting point, with adjustments made according to the time of day and peak temperatures. (Employee areas, however, still adhere to the 28-degree guideline.)

Daikin Industries, a major manufacturer and supplier of air conditioning equipment, says at its own corporate HQ, the temperature in summer is generally set to 28 degrees, but the figure is not etched in stone.

"To ensure that staff can perform their jobs effectively, we might make adjustments to more appropriate temperature and humidity levels," a spokesperson said.

Thirteen years on, people are finally hoping to see the Cool Biz guidelines show a little more compassion, at least when the mercury soars.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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"At 28 degrees some people perspire a lot, and this of course requires them to do more laundry," observed Koichi Hagiuda, a vice cabinet secretary, apparently implying that heavier use of washing machines will consume whatever energy is saved by using less air conditioning.

My office could be 28 or 20 but I'm still doing the same amount of laundry. At least until my doko-demo-door allows me to bypass my 30 min. commute through a sweltering urban jungle.

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jcapan@is that a photo of Kogarashi Monjiro? He (Atsuo Nakamura) is a Diet member now. I wonder how he stands on the Cool Biz issue...

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"Our headquarters, all branches and sales outlets are setting thermostats to under 20 degrees,"

I bet they set the heating to more than 20 degrees in winter.

This university tells us not to set the cooling below 28 degrees, but that's because they want to save money. I think most people ignore it as they often send round "emergency" e-mails warning of high power consumption in the summer. It's not possible to work if you're sitting in a pool of sweat.

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From the point of view of comfort, I think that 26 or 27 degrees would be much more tolerable.

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I absolutely hate this policy. 28 is just too damn hot. Plus, I cannot remember the last time a government inspector came by the office to do a surprise inspection of our thermostat....

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I think the biggest issue is that what the aircon is set at isn't neccessarily what the room temperature actually is, especially in a big office. At least in my company where we have the 28C rule, we have many old ladies complaining and wearing blankets on their legs saying it's too cold (they fear aircon will make them sick and they hardly move the entire day), whereas I find it too hot. I find around 26C to be comfortable for the office, but 28C is just fine in my apartment.

Also, I'm curious if anyone is comfortable riding those weak air-con train cars? I find them too warm year-round.

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All my years in Japan, my worst memories are dealing with the oppressive heat due to no relief going indoors.

In the summer, I would begin sweating when I left my apartment and my undershirt would often not be dry until I returned home that evening. I developed skin fungus issues, that I had not had before or since and my productivity was much lower when I was hot enough to sweat.

i was so happy when I went to work for a German owned consulting company that kept the office at 23 degrees, but man were the J OLs salty about that!

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Different people have different tolerances for heat for optimum performance. Some of my friends (often those born between the tropics of Cancer & Capricorn) feel more productive when the temperature is around 28. Personally, since I was raised in a temperate climate, I function best at 22 or 23 in all seasons. I begin to wilt at 25. In an office, obviously compromises are necessary.

Since it's easier to put on a sweater or, in the case of the office lizards, to put on a blanket than have everyone sweating, it makes sense to go a little lower than 28. Unfortunately, air conditioners blast icy air which is uncomfortable and doesn't create an even temperature throughout the room. Bad luck if your desk is directly under the vent. Other cooling systems such as heat exchangers are more comfortable.

I don't know why (with all its technical prowess) Japan is so resistant to innovation in this area. Instead, nostalgia for highly uncomfortable tradition abounds.

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A dumb wa-building exercise. Building managers should be able to provide analytic data on energy consumption patterns, and parameters should be set on these to meet conservation targets. Setting all the thermostats to the same temperature (LOL) is not the kind of policy one expects in an advanced society.

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A scam to save money for the companies pure & simple. No different to making the population feel guilty for breathing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.

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Rats in a cage. Watching the ties and jackets coming off in unison on May 1 st, even though it was quite a chilly day this year is always a nice testament to how ridiculous and silly a society can go when it doesn't know how to think for itself. Lame really. Cool biz.

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Even in my workplace, one of the administrators insists that air-conditioning system won't be turned on until the temperature of a certain area hits the 30 degrees Celsius, and also mentions that that'd be the most environentally friendly method. But, just think about it, can you keep working standing the heat and high humidity without using airconditioner? I don't think so, and actually, I couldn't stand it. In other words, I think that simply standing the heat at around 28 to 30 degrees decrease workers efficiency. Ironically, some environmentally friendly method sometimes decrease work efficiency.

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The WHO recommends a temperature of basically between 18 and 22 degrees.... but comfortable room temperature is supposed to be around 22. What the hell is wrong with the Japanese? Some 50 year old law? Are you kidding Japan?

Japan has got to be one of the most stubborn, change resistant countries in the world.

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