Canada

Cold offices bad for productivity and the environment

Heading to work in the summer can often mean dressing in layers, pairing sandals and shorts with sweaters and leggings. But not only are overly air conditioned offices affecting our summer fashion choices, they're part of a larger environmental issue.

Overly air conditioned workplaces being called out by environmental researchers and Pope Francis

Studies have found office workers are less productive in cooler temperatures. (Frerieke/Flickr)

Heading to work in the summer can often mean dressing in layers, pairing sandals and shorts with sweaters and leggings.

But not only are overly air conditioned offices affecting our summer fashion choices, they're part of a larger environmental issue.

Jose Etcheverry, an associate professor in the faculty of environmental studies at York University and co-chair of the Sustainable Energy Initiative, says cooling down offices in particular is a big problem.

"They use way more energy than they should," he said.

"The energy comes from dirty sources and we have this vicious cycle that ends with people freezing in their desks in the middle of a hot summer. This is happening in many, many places around the world; it's not just here in Canada."

Researchers aren't the only ones taking note of this trend toward global cooling. The Pope recently referenced air conditioning in his environmental encyclical.

In the letter to high-ranking members of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis called air conditioning use in wealthier countries "self-destructive" and something that's affecting climate change unnecessarily.

An in-depth New York Times report not only condemned the use of air conditioning as an environmental problem, it cited multiple studies that find workers are less productive in cooler temperatures.

So how did we get here? Etcheverry's focus lies in the design of buildings. He said architects and engineers don't join forces as often when they're designing buildings, and energy efficiency takes a back seat.

"Usually buildings are built by architects that have an aesthetic idea in their mind and engineers try to adapt that aesthetic idea to the building that they are servicing."

Etcheverry added that prioritizing aesthetics over functionality can lead to problems, which are compounded when engineers aren't rewarded for creating efficient buildings but are punished if something like a cooling system isn't working well enough.

Etcheverry said there are more examples today of eco-friendly buildings, but not enough, and reducing energy usage needs to be a priority. 

"We need to use the resources in a more efficient and conservative manner and also ensure that the sources of the energy that we use come from renewable energy … so we're not destroying the planet for something as simple as air conditioning."

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