Better Luck Next Tie

cool_biz

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.

Adam RICHARDS
January 25, 2010

Adam Richards lives in Tokyo and is a founding member of the blog Mutantfrog Travelogue.

15 Responses

  1. Andy Says:

    First off, a disclaimer: I actually prefer to wear a tie. If I’m going to go to the effort of wearing a suit, I feel like I might as well go the whole hog and wear one. Am I the only person that hates that whole “yes I might be wearing a suit, but I’m not wearing a necktie so therefore I am hip and down with the kids” thing? Either go casual or go formal; jackets with jeans are a no go too…

    That said, I hate Cool Biz. It’s a terrible, half-arsed attempt by the Japanese government to cut carbon emissions without looking at the true causes of pollution. The only genuine way to achieve Kyoto targets is to tax carbon emmissions from industry, not to penalise individuals by telling them that working in unpleasant conditions is “good for the country”.

    Cool Biz reminds me very much of the air-conditioned “Eco Trains” that Hankyu trotted out last year. You can pressurise individuals as much as you like by telling them to switch off their TVs etc, but the root causes (a mass culture of convenience and consumerism in the case of the Eco Trains, and a business culture where formality is given preference to convenience) remain the same. PR campaigns are extraordinarily bad at changing consumption patterns at a national level; at most, some people who are more environmentally conscious will take it on board, but I would bet money on the fact that they weren’t heavy polluters to begin with.

    Cool Biz is not, and cannot be, enough. Either people come to work in t-shirt and shorts (which we all know is unrealistic) or you have no right to dictate what they wear. Why not divert efforts from Cool Biz into genuine systems of taxation and penalisation against the companies and industries that produce the most emmissions?

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    I am also pro-tie.

    I am also sure that the root of being hot in summer is not a tie but a suit jacket.

    And yes, the issue is how can you tell people not to be consumers when the government and industry have built up consumerism as a “national virtue that helps everyone”? These tie guys are saying, wait, a minute, you’ve defined consumerism as society-contribution and now we’re cut out of it?

  3. Adamu Says:

    I definitely agree about the half-assedness. In an ideal world, rather than *just* taking off the necktie (or going to the extreme of allowing t-shirts) why not expand the repertoire of office gear to some nice business casual options? I know it sounds bad, but I think it was actually smart to give clear instructions, at least initially. Without that, the corporate world simply might have chosen to do nothing. So instead of just criticizing Cool Biz for not going far enough, I hope (perhaps vainly) that it can break free of bureaucratic chains and lead to even more comfortable work clothes.

    If you’re going to criticize Cool Biz for not doing enough to address root causes, you need to expand that argument to the entire Kyoto Protocol. It only calls on Japan to reduce emissions to 6% below 1990 levels (possibly easier for Japan since there’s been so little economic growth in that time). The world got together and decided this was the best it could do with everyone on board.

    For my money, devising Cool Biz might not be that effective but it has the positive side effect of no ties in the office for six months a year. If it goes further, the office environment should get even more comfortable, not less.

    “we’re cut out of it”

    Put that way, it’s much easier to understand their weird sense of entitlement. I am sure it must have stung to be unceremoniously deleted from the list of stuff required to be a normal Japanese shakaijin. High-tech toilet seats, bottled water, and natto are still on the list regardless of environmental impact.

  4. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    Wearing suits when it’s hot is just stupid. There’s no way to justify it IMHO. If artificial ecological conscience is what it takes to make people question their dressing habits, then I for one welcome it… even though what politicians should be doing, global warming–wise, is to convince people not to use cars, which would be a much more fundamental economic (and lifestyle) change than forgoing neckties.

    I wish architects would come up with ways to design buildings so that they stayed fresh with natural ventilation, without the need for ACs.

  5. Peter Says:

    Politicians are better off without ties. I rarely see anyone in the Japanese political sphere that can properly tie a necktie anyhow…

  6. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Big Ties just don’t know how the game is played. You don’t see the cufflink industry or the sleevemakers embarrassing themselves like this.

  7. Kaishin Says:

    Andy:”Why not divert efforts from Cool Biz into genuine systems of taxation and penalisation against the companies and industries that produce the most emmissions?” <<< Can’t agree more.

    There are much more serious environmental issues out there than arguing what salary men should or should not wear… This cool biz hubbub is just a smokescreen.

  8. Mulboyne Says:

    Adam, if you ran the industry association for tie manufacturers and saw your sales decline as a direct result of a government initiative, what action would you take?

  9. landquest Says:

    Mulboyne-

    I tell you what I’D do. I’d start advocating the ‘stop idle’-ing program.

    Nobody ever gets anywhere by complaining, and going against a cause that is seen as good for the environment bodes twice as badly for your case.

    The necktie industry can’t blame cool biz, but in 5 minutes I came up with two ideas:

    1. Instead of advocating against a popular eco-campaign, advocate for a once popular but seemingly forgotten eco-campaign. Necktie companies + eco-legistlation = good image!

    2. Ask that people buy rotating tie racks and install them in the employee lounge, where employees may put on ties for meeting clients and such, and take them off when things get sweaty.

    Woops! My brain just came up with a third one:

    3. SHUT YOUR DOORS campaign, for every company that needlessly leaves it’s doors wide open in the summer, then blasts cold air into the store as well as out into the humid streets. Tokyu Hands, for shame, does this in one of it’s biggest stores in Shibuya.

    Necktie sellers should campaign with Tokyu Hands to get all these smaller, less responsible businesses to shut their wide open doors in Summer.

    (btw my company still requests that we wear neckties in the summer and boosts it’s a/c way too high, mostly for the comfortability of our customers. In that sense, ‘cool biz’ has little bearing on our purchases of neckties.)

  10. Adamu Says:

    You’re right, he has a responsibility to do something, but if I were him I would approach it differently.

    I’d bring a clear solution to the table and back it with evidence and facts. Maybe the politicians and the Japanese public are sympathetic to emotional appeals to protect businesses, but something tells me they won’t confer the same sacred status to the tie industry as that afforded to local retail districts and small machine shops.

    After the meeting, this guy had the press’s attention. He could have used that opportunity to shit on the entire Cool Biz endeavor by citing at least one study I have heard of that suggests the campaign may slow down the economy (google “bloomberg cool biz”).

    The concept that wearing ties makes you look dignified is also pretty convincing, just not the way this guy put it. Why not point out the obvious fashion deficiency of simply taking the jacket and tie out of the suit equation?

    And that’s about the extent of it. Sure, he is being paid to try, but if I were him I’d accept the limits of trying to get an official mandate for ties in the workplace. Even without the global warming aspect, wearing ties in the summer doesn’t make a lot of sense in most instances, and I think that’s part of why Cool Biz had the appeal that it did. Rather than shield his clients from reality, he might suggest they try and find new markets, diversify, or consolidate.

  11. Adamu Says:

    “SHUT YOUR DOORS campaign”

    Funny thing happened on the walk home the other day:

    The door to a department store was left open, so a guy walking in ahead of me shut it behind him, right in the face of the woman walking behind him. I guess the environment was more important to him than common courtesy.

  12. 波都陸 Says:

    Obviously the real reason Cool Biz doesn’t work is that it’s only relevant for half of the year. They need to get cracking on “Hot Biz”. The answer is to change Japanese office policy so you are required to swaddle yourself in a bear rug and a wool stocking cap at your desk once it gets chilly out. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m thinking about getting a fur-lined tie to help me survive through cherry blossom season. This kotatsu is just turning me into a worthless slug incapable of finishing any work.

  13. apeescape Says:

    This reminds me of the “licensing effect,” where small green actions may lead to less big green actions. Ending Cool Biz may be an overture to shutting down the car industry :)

  14. Shii Says:

    Namito: According to Wikipedia, the variety shows were all over “Warm Biz” in winter 2005, but not surprisingly, without a government mandate, salarymen were even less willing to don a muffler than take off their tie.

  15. 波都陸 Says:

    Oh, I get it, the government only gets excited when you take your clothes *off*. What a typical lack of administrative imagination. When I think about all those aristocrats back in the Heian period who readily embraced wearing 12 layers of kimono to save the planet…it’s heartbreaking to see how far society has fallen over the last 800 years. I’m sure Alex Kerr would have something righteous to say about this.