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Dressing for the anthropocene: mitigating climate change through cooler clothing

Panel: 2. What's next in energy policy?

Deborah Poskanzer, USA
Alan Meier, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA
Chinmayee Subban, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA
Margarita Kloss, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA


Dressing for the Anthropocene: Mitigating Climate Change through Cooler Clothing

Deborah Poskanzer*, Alan Meier†, Margarita Kloss†, and Chinmayee Subban†

Wearing cooler clothing could reduce the energy used for mechanical cooling.

As the world gets hotter, we are caught in a dilemma between the need to maintain thermal comfort, while at the same time reducing the use of air conditioning (AC) as a source of GHG emissions. AC has been, and will continue to be, a major driver of growing electricity demand. Space cooling in buildings accounts for 10% of world total electricity use and 12% of building CO2 emissions.

A threefold growth in emissions for space cooling by 2050 is projected, an increase that will be difficult to offset even in optimistic efficiency/decarbonisation scenarios. This growth rate need not happen. Forecasts of energy demand, and climate policy in general, have ignored the energy savings potential of changing the way we dress. Dressing in cooler clothing would allow thermal comfort at higher indoor temperatures, mitigating the anticipated growth in electricity demand. The impacts of these modest changes should not be underestimated: every 1°C higher AC setting saves about 10% of a building’s cooling energy budget, or about 4% of a building’s total energy use. Japan’s Cool Biz initiative asked office workers to dispense with ties and jackets during the warm season, and set AC temperatures at no lower than 28°C. Despite enforcement only in government owned buildings, these measures are estimated to have avoided 2.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2012, or about 0.15% of Japan’s baseline scenario emissions.

The Japanese private sector is also adopting these practices, and Cool Biz has nearly become the baseline. But even greater savings are possible: a recent study estimated that the introduction of ‘localised thermal management systems’, such as advanced thermo-adaptive textiles, could lower US GHG emissions by at least 2% by reducing the need for building cooling.

Unfortunately, government, research, and commercial sectors are not aligned to realize the energy saving potential of cooler clothing. For example, although there are a number of ‘thermo-adaptive’ or ‘meta-cooling’ textiles coming to market in the near future, these materials are marketed towards productivity or athletic performance rather than general use.Textile manufacturers and apparel makers have not widely recognized that advanced cooling textiles could be marketed more widely as an energy savings measure (allowing higher indoor temperatures while maintaining thermal comfort), thereby increasing sales.

Governments actively regulate and label energy consuming appliances, but there is no mechanism for conveying apparel energy information to the consumer. Finally, apart from a few studies, rigorous data connecting the dots between individual thermal comfort, building energy savings, and overall GHG reductions is scarce. Our display depicts a future scenario in which the energy saving potential of cooler clothing is realized. Its central feature is a timeline of events and initiatives—occurring between now and 2050— that move the world towards a different way of dressing.

The transformation occurs on two fronts, both a change of materials— that is, familiar styles rendered in different textiles— and a change of fashions, in terms of less formal clothing, or less clothing altogether. Recognizing that broad and enduring social change is usually more difficult than technological change, we pay particular attention to the use of social policy levers, market restructuring, and cultural leadership in promoting new, cooler fashions.

*Independent, Berkeley, California, USA

†Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, USA


Download display as pdf: 2-178-19_Poskanzer.pdf