Representatives of the necktie industry made an official appeal to Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa to end Cool Biz — the campaign to cut greenhouse emissions by encouraging white-collar workers to work sans jacket and tie in the summer months to reduce dependence on air conditioning. The necktie lobby says it’s unfair to treat neckties as if they were the cause of global warming. They claim that summer sales are down 34% since Cool Biz started. They claim that their “necklace-tie” innovation failed to catch on. They also pointed out that PM Hatoyama campaigned with his necktie on, the association chairman emphasized that neckties bestow oan air of integrity (of course, Koizumi famously kept his off during the 2005 general election and won a similar landslide victory).
And as far as the short articles on the issue explain, it doesn’t look like the necktie representative even bothered to make much of a case, instead relying on an emotional plea to sympathize with the suffering necktie makers/sellers. But why force a good portion of the working population to cut off the circulation to their heads to benefit a mere 45 companies?
His argument isn’t even consistent. If he is advocating the end of Cool Biz, then why would we need those necklace-ties? If the necklace-ties are just an example of a failed attempt at innovation, then what is their alternative proposal for helping the country meet its Kyoto commitments? Whatever its faults, Cool Biz at least keeps thermostats higher and prevents people from wasting energy making neckties.
Even in a statement on its website, the association can offer no good reason for reversing the recommendation, aside from the fundamental unfairness of singling out neckties. You can feel the rage as they blame the government for “cultivating the image that the country can achieve almost all its CO2 emissions targets just by not wearing neckties.” They also mention they support the underlying goal of cutting emissions and are even a member of Team Minus 6, a coalition of groups signaling their commitment to helping meet the Kyoto goal of a 6% emissions cut vs. 1990 levels.
This isn’t the first time the necktie industry has tried to stop Cool Biz. Back in 2005 when the program began, the association sent a letter asking the cabinet to stop using the words “no necktie,” resulting in ample Internet ridicule not unlike this blog post.
And in 2007, members of the fashion industry ran a “Dress Up Men” campaign showcasing ways to stay cool while still wearing a suit and tie (with official support of METI, seemingly running at cross purposes with their environment ministry “rival”). At that point, Cool Biz was considered uncool enough to inspire an ironic Coca Cola commercial, but since then white-collar workers seem to be have reverted to following corporate dress codes like good worker bees.
One detail mentioned in the media is that the chairman handed Ozawa an official request. Sadly, we have no way of knowing what they said since this document is not on the web, but surely it’s some rehash of their website. It’s kind of amazing they are having such a hard time winning support for white-collar formality in Japan of all places. I’d have some sympathy for them if ties weren’t such a random, arbitrary accessory to begin with.
Another troubling undertone of this story: The premise that the government can turn Cool Biz on or off like a faucet. Sure, this movement started as a government initiative, but can’t organizations in Japan decide for themselves what makes proper office attire?
The minister made no promises but said he understands the need to “strike a balance.” Sure, unless Big Neckties control millions of votes or somehow know how to press the minister’s buttons, I can’t see this meeting getting them anywhere. If I were him, I would be mad at DPJ secretary general Ichiro Ozawa for approving this meeting. Since the new government came into power, all lobbying activity to MPs must be approved by the party headquarters. If people like this are getting through, maybe that’s a sign the environment minister isn’t exactly the most valued member of the cabinet.
While we weren’t looking, Cool Biz has suddenly become more vulnerable. In November, the Government Revitalization Unit recommended cutting the PR budget for Cool Biz in half. As far as I can see, the Environment Ministry does not even bother mentioning it in its FY10 budget requests (PDF). It’s possible that a silent majority is on the tie industry’s side. People don’t really seem to plan their wardrobes around Cool Biz, so when the season comes ’round it just looks like a bunch of salarymen who forgot to put their ties on. Some companies even wear special tags informing visitors that a special mission from the government is preventing them from showing the proper seriousness by wearing ties.
Cool Biz is great, despite the occasional setbacks (some offices get too hot). My only complaint is that it doesn’t last year-round. The government has no responsibility to promote one industry over another (unless it’s part of an ambitious industrial policy). So sorry tie industry, the planet and millions of neck take priority over your 45 companies. Unless the minister suddenly decides neckties are a vital national industry you are out of luck.