Office Clothes Are an Impediment to Green Transportation

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It's time to rethink how we dress for work.

When I first saw the headline, "Your Business Casual Attire is Destroying the Planet," I assumed it referred to microplastic pollution or something along those lines. But upon closer reading of the article, which I found on Outside Online, I realized the author was making a rather different – and very interesting – point.

What people wear to work affects the transportation they use to get to work. When someone insists on wearing 'workplace attire,' which typically means snugly tailored trousers, button-up tops, pencil skirts, suit jackets or blazers, mid-length dresses, and whatever else, it makes them less inclined to hop on a bike or walk any real distance. In an effort to preserve the look – and perhaps for ease of movement as well – they get into their cars instead.

Eben Weiss argues that this has to change. He thinks it's absurd that people have to worry so much about their clothes:

"You’re a person going from one place to another, not a liver en route to a transplant, and there’s absolutely no reason you should have to keep yourself at the optimum temperature at all times — apart from our culture’s ridiculous fixation on wearing 'business casual' clothing while operating a computer for a paycheck, that is."

If people dressed somewhat differently for work, they could still look tidy and professional, while also being more inclined to use human-powered energy to get there. Traffic and congestion in urban areas would be reduced, personal health and fitness would improve through daily exercise, and office environments might not have to be aggressively heated or air-conditioned the way they are now. Even productivity might be boosted as a result. Weiss continues:

"Now we’ve got a wildly inefficient fossil fuel-burning infrastructure built almost entirely so people can wear neckties without getting sweaty, or heels without having to walk more than a few feet at a time. In fact, I’m willing to bet that at least half the for-hire car traffic in New York City is due entirely to shirt and shoe choice."

In order for this to change, however, workplace standards have to evolve and become more flexible. This is not an unrealistic expectation, considering that "it wasn’t that long ago that jeans were only for mining and T-shirts were underwear." There are plenty of in-between clothing choices that would allow one to ride a bicycle comfortably and still look neat for work. Weiss is not suggesting Lycra body suits, but rather something like cotton t-shirts and sandals, both of which are excellent biking gear.

It makes me think of my TreeHugger colleague Lloyd's articles on walking, and how it is a form of climate action. He wrote recently, "What we have to do is everything we possibly can to encourage walking. That means making our streets more comfortable for walking, even if we have to take space back from parking and from roads and make our streets more like they were before." This is all true, but it also requires you to buy a decent, comfortable pair of shoes that makes walking a pleasant thing to do. The same goes for pants and shirts when hopping on a bicycle. What we wear dictates how we move.

What do you think? Would you be more inclined to cycle to work if you dressed differently from the norm?