To reduce carbon footprint, Malaysia mandates less A/C for govt offices

Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
To reduce carbon footprint, Malaysia mandates less A/C for govt offices Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (right) and the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, both wearing batik shirts, speak at a meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Aug. 3, 2023.
[Courtesy Prime Minister’s Office]

Malaysia has decided to increase the temperature in usually frigid government offices in a bid to save energy.

And to offset any discomfort that this may cause in the tropical country, the government has relaxed the employee dress code, giving civil servants the option to wear cooler – and more colorful – batik clothing to work on most days.

Air conditioners in government offices and premises will now be set at 24-25 degrees Celsius (75-77 degrees Fahrenheit), Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the minister of Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change, announced on Tuesday.

“The decision that has been reached takes into consideration the climate of this country as well as the government’s commitment to achieving a net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target as early as 2050,” he said in a statement.

“[It] is as part of the government’s efforts to save energy, and support energy efficiency initiatives while also stimulating the Malaysian batik industry. … This commitment involves reducing the carbon footprint resulting from electricity consumption practices.”

The minister said that keeping in mind “local climate realities” – steamy and scorching weather – the government had given its employees leeway in what they could wear to work. Earlier, casual batik wear was allowed – encouraged, even – but only on Thursdays.

“The Cabinet also agreed that all civil servants have the flexibility to wear batik attire during working hours, not limited to just Thursdays as previously practiced.”

Civil servants typically wear suits or a jacket in the office, as the air conditioning in government buildings is set very low, one civil servant, who did not wish to reveal her name for privacy reasons, told BenarNews. 

“I usually wear a pashmina to warm myself up in the office and meetings room, because I cannot stand the cold A/Cs,” she said, referring to a shawl made of very fine cashmere wool. 

But in addition to changing the dress code, the Malaysian government has now also made it mandatory for civil servants to wear batik attire every Thursday, which previously was optional.

“In order to continue supporting the Malaysian batik industry, and to ensure that it remains a heritage and a symbol of Malaysian identity, the government agreed that all public officials are required to wear Malaysian batik every Thursday, and are encouraged to wear it on other working days,” said a government notice this week.

Batik is the art of decorating fabric – cotton, silk or linen – using wax and dye, which has been practiced for centuries in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, although it is said to have originated in Indonesia.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had a fondness for batik-print shirts and current Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is sometimes seen in one on more relaxed occasions.

‘An exemplary effort’

The government’s move met with mixed reactions.

Shafwan Shukor applauded the initiative on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“I want [the government] to completely eliminate the culture of ties and blazers. …Batik [is] the way forward. Even wearing polo T-shirts should be acceptable. This is suitable for Malaysia’s climate,” he wrote. 

On the same platform, Jasmin Irisha said it was a smart move as it “merges local culture and climate adaptation.”

But some public doctors are hot under the collar over the move, calling mandatory batik on Thursdays ridiculous.

“By right, doctors have a uniform – white coat,” an unnamed doctor in Klang valley told CodeBlue, a Malaysian healthcare publication. 

“Asking doctors to wear batik is just silly.”

BenarNews contacted Minister Nik Nazmi to find out if the government would impose a penalty on those who didn’t wear batik on Thursdays.

“We will focus more on positive measures to encourage this,” he told BenarNews.

Malaysia has planned to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050, but due to its rising population and energy consumption these goals could be a tough ask, said a March report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Southeast Asian nation currently generates a little more than 1% of its electricity annually from renewable sources, with coal and gas making up a majority of its power output, the report said, Reuters news agency reported in March.

Still, the environment ministry’s move to reduce the use of air conditioners in government buildings will make a difference, said climate activist Renard Siew Yung Jhien.

“Even though the act of maintaining temperatures 24°C- 25°C seems like not much, it is a step in the right direction. It is an exemplary effort which should be applauded and hopefully this would encourage others to follow suit,” Renard, a climate advisor at the Centre for Governance and Political Studies, told BenarNews.

“What can be done further is to explore the mandatory design of new buildings in accordance with the Green Building Index (GBI) – a rating tool to provide developers and building owners to design and construct more green and sustainable buildings.”

The built environment, including construction and operations, he said, contributes to 40% of global carbon emissions.


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