Japan Trades In Suits, Cuts Carbon Emission In an effort to meet a Kyoto Protocol pledge, Japan managed to cut about 1.4 million tons of CO2 emissions last year. The nation reduced summer air-conditioning use, overturning a decades-old "suit and tie" tradition along the way.
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Japan Trades In Suits, Cuts Carbon Emission

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Japan Trades In Suits, Cuts Carbon Emission

Japan Trades In Suits, Cuts Carbon Emission

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This week we've been learning about a nation that's struggling to reduce the gases blamed for global warming. That's struggling nation is Japan. It's the very place where many nations signed the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change, but the news from Japan isn't all bad.

And this morning we continue our reporting for Climate Connections, our series from NPR and National Geographic.


Two years ago, the Japanese government imposed a new policy. Essentially with the stroke of a pen, it has trimmed that the country's greenhouse gas emissions by something like two million tons - which is a lot. That required overturning a decade's old tradition.

NPR's David Kestenbaum reports from Tokyo.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: When Yuriko Koike was Japan's environment minister, one of her jobs was to figure out how to deal with climate change. So she hit on what in Japan was a radical idea - get men to stop wearing suits. That way, offices could ease off on the air conditioning.

Now showing up with no tie and no jacket was seen as rude in many circles. But Koike had the support of the charismatic Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Cool Biz, launched June 1st, 2005, the top government officials - the heads of ministries - came to work without jackets and ties. Koike, as it turns out, was out of town.

Representative YURIKO KOIKE (Former Minister of Defense; Member, House of Representative, Japan): I was in Paris and I saw the satellite news program in my hotel in Paris. And I was shocked. I try to shock people. But I was shocked.

KESTENBAUM: The prime minister looked good, others not so much.

Ms. KOIKE: Somebody looked very loose or rude, funny. It created a real shock.

KESTENBAUM: The tie-makers association complained, and what about those men who maybe were not so good at fashion? Would they panic? The suit and tie were safe, reliable. What to wear?

The Environment Ministry put out a help sheet. Koike came up with the idea of stickers that said, in essence, excuse my attire, I'm doing Cool Biz. And it pretty much worked. Air conditioners got turned down in all government buildings, saving electricity, and as a result, a half million tons of CO2 that would have normally been put into the atmosphere was not.

Ms. KOIKE: And the second year - 2006 - the number of companies and number of businessmen who practiced Cool Biz had enormously expanded.

KESTENBAUM: Doubled or tripled, cutting about 1.4 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Ms. KOIKE: That is equivalent of half of the Tokyo areas CO2 emission of eight months.

KESTENBAUM: Not bad. But you haven't heard the most surprising part of this story yet, which is that the suggested temperature for air conditioners as part of the campaign is 28 degrees Celsius, about 82 degrees Fahrenheit. That's like nine degrees warmer than what you might find in a U.S. office. And for government buildings - the 82-degree setting is mandatory.

So I'm in the lobby of a building which houses three of the ministries and one thing you notice is that no one's wearing a tie. Everyone's in short sleeved dress shirts. And I'm sweating. And that guy's sweating too. It was also incredibly humid. Everyone I interviewed had that shiny post-perspiration look. But they also said it really wasn't so bad. They got used to it. And they felt good about doing something to help address climate change - except when it got hotter. I went around with a digital thermometer.

Now, the elevators here, it's 31.2 Celsius, 88 degrees Fahrenheit. It was high in some offices too. I asked Masashi Komurasaki about this. He was carrying around a small cloth to mop his brow.

Mr. MASASHI KOMURASAKI (Employee): There are lots of printers and the PCs and lots of machines. So because of that, it's very, very hot and humid and also, after 8 p.m., air conditioners totally stopped. So it's kind of hell as…

KESTENBAUM: It's kind of hell?

Mr. KOMURASAKI: It's a kind of hell. Not the kind of - it's hell.

KESTENBAUM: You wonder how something like this would go over in the United States. When President Carter got on television in the '70s and urged people to conserve by wearing a sweater in winter, people laughed.

It's tempting to chalk Japan's success up to cultural differences, a greater willingness to make individual sacrifice for a larger good. But Japan had its own Carter moment. A prime minister once tried to push the idea of men's suits that had short sleeves. People felt it looked ridiculous.

Now, Cool Biz was a plan well executed. It propagated by peer pressure and common sense. Why wear a suit and tie in the summer? And some women cheered the end of Arctic office temperatures.

Japan's powerful business association, Keidanren, which represents about 1,300 major companies, says 70 percent now keep their air conditioners set to 28 degrees Celsius. And some retailers see Cool Biz as a chance to make money. The barber's association is promoting a Cool Biz hair cut - Mohawk style - and there's also a new market for Cool Biz clothes.

(Soundbite of a Japanese commercial ad)

KESTENBAUM: All right. This is the Aoyama suits store in the Ikebukuro neighborhood and according to their advertisements they claimed to have global warming suits for men.


Mr. MASANOBU MIYAGI (Aoyama suit store manager): Konichiwa.

I'm David Kestenbaum.

Mr. MIYAGI: (Japanese spoken)

KESTENBAUM: What's the best suit if I want to stay cool?

Mr. MIYAGI: (Japanese spoken)

KESTENBAUM: I try on a one-pound suit. It's so light you barely know you're wearing it. The company has sold 400,000 Cool Biz suits.

All right, since the suits are like 500 bucks, I'm going to buy some Cool Biz underwear, global warming underwear. I think I'm a medium.

Mr. MIYAGI: (Through translator) Once you wear this, you cannot wear other boxers.

KESTENBAUM: But something's a little funny here. The store seems suspiciously cool.

What temperature do you keep the building on?

Mr. MIYAGI: (Through translator) Well, I think this place is set a little bit cooler than the 28 degrees. If it's hotter, the people cannot concentrate. So that (unintelligible) they need. And here is the place for them to choose their uniforms to work. So that's why I think it's better to set a little cooler.

KESTENBAUM: And the truth is that cutting back on air conditioning alone will not stop climate change.

Yuriko Koike, the environment minister who proposed Cool Biz, says she intended it to be a wakeup call. Japan has pledged under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, emissions have grown since 1990 by 8 percent. The Cool Biz savings amount to a mere tenth of one percent.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

AMOS: There's more about cool clothes to keep you cool at npr.org/climateconnections. And you can also watch videos about climate change from public television's "Wild Chronicles."

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