Sunday, March 30, 2008

Energy Efficient Business Attire

One hot August day, I organized a luncheon in New York City where the President of the Philippines gave a speech to about 150 bankers and business leaders. When I say it was hot, it was a day that defined sweltering. You could see the heat waves rising from the asphalt.

Arriving early to make sure everything was ready, I found that the luncheon hall had been refrigerated (air-conditioned would be a gross understatement) to feel like a walk-in freezer. The manager explained that he had turned the air-conditioning on full blast two hours earlier to get the room so cold. He said this was his standard practice during the summer months because people are pretty hot after walking a few city blocks wearing wool suits. "Don't worry," he assured me. "They'll be so hot when they get here that the room will warm up to a reasonable temperature very quickly."

Sure enough, as 150 over-heated people in business suits started offsetting the deep freeze of air-conditioning, the room temperature reached a very comfortable equilibrium.

Precisely at the appointed hour, the President of the Philippines walked in wearing a Barong Tagalog, the official formal wear of the Philippines, over crisply pressed black pants and black dress shoes shined to military perfection. Made of pina cloth that had been hand loomed from fibers of pineapple plant leaves, the President's formal Barong Tagalog was suitable for a groom at his wedding or, more appropriately, a President's State of the Union address to the Philippine nation. At the same time, the garment's sheer, loosely fitting fabric made the President one of the most comfortably dressed people in New York City that day.

As the President gave his speech on economic policy in the Philippines, I noticed more than a few men in suits tugging at their collars or patting their brows with handkerchiefs. Apparently, they were still a bit warm despite the heavy refrigeration in the room. The President, however, looked cool and comfortable as he spoke for almost an hour and took questions from the audience.

Sometime during the speech, my thoughts turned to the role of the Barong Tagolog in energy conservation. Why do we still wear wool business suits and ties in August? Or July? Or any other time when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees? Frankly, the President looked much more formal than anyone else in the room. He was also by far the most comfortable person there. And if we had all dressed as appropriately for the weather as he did, the facility manager could have cut his air-conditioning bill at least in half that day.

Think about it. Would we turn up our thermostats so we could wear shorts and t-shirts when it is freezing outside? Then why do we continue to wear inappropriate clothing that requires us to over-cool our buildings when it is hot outside?

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey