But what about examining people's behavior? Do these attitudes translate into pro-environmental actions? And if so, are there cultural differences in those practices?
In today's Wall Street Journal, there was a story that suggests rather dramatic cultural differences in handling waste. The article focused on a reporter's personal account of handling her garbage in Japan. Not knowing the cultural norms in her area, she inadvertantly placed her trash in her neighbor's garbage spot. Not a big deal, right? WRONG! This is what she found posted on a door one morning:
As she was soon to discover, Japan handles its garbage very seriously. For example, residents must sort their garbage into 34 categories. (Don't worry about remembering all those categories, there's a 48-page booklet that explains the garbage rules.) Residents must also place a blue net over their garbage so that crows don't eat the garbage. And garbage must be thrown away in clear plastic bags so that people know who's recycling and who isn't.
But what was most striking to me was the peer pressure that residents placed on each other. (Case in point: The public shame this reporter felt when she read the note posted on the door.) It appears as though folks in Japan have a shared belief that it takes teamwork to handle garbage properly. And they make sure everyone is doing their part to make this system work efficiently.
From a cultural standpoint, there seems to be significant differences between Japan and the U.S. when it comes to handling waste. I imagine we could learn a lesson or two from the Japanese. As one of the quotes in the booklet stated, "Resources when separated, but garbage when not separated. Think more!"