So this is why you’re always freezing at work

I have a cardigan reserved specifically for the freezing temperatures in office buildings in the summertime — something warm and neutral that can kind of match everything and stave off at least a bit of the cold. I’ve worked in offices where women buy fleece blankets to wrap around themselves in the summer and wear pants and boots when it’s 80 degrees outside.

Apparently my experiences aren’t unusual. A newly published study from Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, two (male) scientists in the Netherlands, determined that office buildings have been using a formula to set the internal temperature that’s based on the physiology of a 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds, according to the New York Times. That temperature is definitely not going to be ideal for many women, who on average are smaller and have more body fat, and thus lower metabolic rates.

Office temperatures have become a (pun intended) hot topic this summer as more and more women bring the phenomenon of shivering at their desks to the public’s attention.

Last month, the Washington Post published an article about it. The author went around to men and women eating lunch outside in Washington, DC. All the women said they were thawing out in the summer heat from their chilly offices, while none of the men said they thought their buildings were cold.

Kingma and van Marken Lichtenbelt’s paper shows that women are warranted to complain. The formula used to determine air conditioning levels is not ideal for women, who make up more of the working population than they did when the formula was made in 1960s.

They found that women’s average metabolic rates are 20 to 32 percent lower than what the standard temperature-setting chart says. These discrepancies lead to as much as five degrees of difference in preference between men and women.

The study also notes that there are differences based on clothing choices. Women may bare more skin in skirts or dresses, while many men wear suits.

But telling women to just cover up isn’t only problematic: It’s bad for the environment. The study was published in Nature Climate Change and recommends that offices “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort.”

By keeping temperatures too cold—and using space heaters to keep warm in extreme cases—offices are using up energy and emitting loads of carbon dioxide. By keeping it a little warmer in offices, companies can save money and help the planet.

It may be difficult to figure out exactly how to enact change, though. The researchers suggest specifying the formula more to include factors like actual metabolic rates—which also differ by factors like age—to determine the right temperature for each building.

But as the Washington Post article slyly suggests, maybe there’s an easier solution. Simply turn the temperature up a few degrees and tell the men to wear short suits. Perhaps it’s finally their turn to adapt to the environment.

(Image via NBC)


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