Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More T's, less A/C!

Lowering this country's energy bill and making buildings—especially office buildings—more sustainable will require a host of technological innovations, from smart meters to energy efficient lighting to onsite renewable energy production. But it will also require changes in human behavior, work rules, and company policies.

Take dress codes, for instance. Modern energy efficient buildings call for the installation of energy efficient air conditioners that can talk to other building systems, such as occupancy sensors and air quality sensors that allow for windows to be opened. But how many companies occupying these buildings are scrapping stuffy business attire and allowing workers to dress comfortably and appropriately for the climate or season—while maintaining a professional level of, um, couture.

It's 90 degrees in Syracuse today (yay!) and, because the staff is in a fairly relaxed mode, some of us have come to work dressed for the weather, both outside (where the heat island effect in downtown Syracuse makes it pretty steamy) and inside (so we don't have to crank up the a/c).

Sure, T-shirts and flip-flops may be too casual for most business, but on the other hand, do men really have to dress in a suit and tie (or women in hosiery) on very hot days?

My colleague Ana Fernandez comes from Puerto Rico. I asked about dress codes in offices there, and she mentioned that her father had a formal job at a water department but that he "refused to wear a suit" in such a tropical climate. Instead he wore guayabera, an elegant, customary shirt that is a sensible choice for hot weather. Ana noted that in Puerto Rican offices where suits are mandatory for men and women, air conditioning works overtime to keep people comfortable.

There's even been research on this subject. World-class indoor environmental quality scientist Shin-Ichi Tanabe —who spoke at Healthy Buildings 2009 in Syracuse—is an expert on dress codes and climate settings in office buildings, especially in Japan where business culture encourages people to dress formally. His recommendation? Relax dress codes and save on energy!

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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