When Cultural Values Impact Environmental Behaviours
Research shows that for concerns on environmental issues to translate to the adoption of environmentally friendly behaviours, cultural values in a country plays a determining role
Bhutan takes great pride in its rich culture and identity, which it has managed to preserve while making unprecedented progress in working its way out of poverty. Committed to its stand that economic progress should not take precedence over the nation’s unique culture and pristine environment, Bhutan takes a holistic approach to development by balancing economic growth with social development, environmental sustainability and cultural preservation.
The landlocked Himalayan kingdom’s model of governance emphasises what it terms “Gross National Happiness”. According to this approach, development should improve the happiness and well-being of its people and keep its natural landscapes and resources intact. It is this very quality that has played
a pivotal role in leading the country to achieve its current carbon-negative status – a remarkable distinction attained by only one country in the world.
Restricting tourist numbers by charging a daily fee, investing in electric vehicles, and exporting energy from hydropower projects have largely contributed to its carbon negative status. Bhutan has also opted out of economically viable projects threatening their commitment to uphold the constitution that demands at least 60 percent of the country’s natural forest cover remains.
Although it is a small country, Bhutan has demonstrated how much can be achieved when people are grounded by a strong culture that promotes the idea that progress can be enjoyed but not at the expense of the natural environment.
“Residents sort their trash into raw food waste, cooked food waste, recyclables like plastic and paper and general waste, and then bring them down to iconic yellow garbage trucks that patrol the streets several times a week along with recycling trucks”
Besides the three R’s of waste minimisation, the Japanese are familiar with a fourth: respect or mottainai. Mottainai is a Japanese term that means “what a waste” or “don’t be wasteful”. Practised in the Japanese culture for centuries, it expresses the feeling of regret one experiences when resources are being wasted and not used to their fullest potential – what the Japanese view as showing disrespect. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy, the concept that promotes a way of life that shows respect for resources creates in people an awareness of the need to live sustainably for the environment they are a part of.
Although it has been argued that the culture has been on the decline in Japan with globalisation and a population that is increasingly becoming consumerist, there are communities that continue to practise it, like the small town in the country’s southwest called Kamikatsu, which aims to become zero-waste by 2020. This appreciation for our limited resources is an attitude the global population needs to adopt to address the issues the world faces today.
Although Taiwan thrived from the industrial boom, it was known as the "garbage island" as it struggled with its waste management. Vast amounts of trash were polluting the environment and recycling rates were as low as 5 percent.
Today, the situation has changed drastically and the country’s recycling rate is as high as 55 percent. This is largely attributed to its unique waste disposal and collection system, which cultivates responsible consumption and disposal among its citizens. Residents sort their trash into raw food waste, cooked food waste, recyclables like plastic and paper and general waste, and then bring them down to iconic yellow garbage trucks that patrol the streets several times a week along with recycling trucks. In addition to the loud classical music blasting from these vehicles, there are even mobile apps that alert users when they are nearby.
Punishment and incentives are also built into this system. It is compulsory to purchase special blue bags to dispose of non-recyclable waste and those who contravene this code of conduct will be warned, fined or even publicly shamed. In Taipei, monetary value is added to one’s mass transit card when you use the smart recycling booths to recycle bottles or cans. The city’s EcoARK Pavillion built from 1.5 million plastic bottles is yet another testament to how waste is put to good use here.
Taiwan has successfully involved its people in managing its waste and its achievements can feasibly be replicated around the world.
TOP Taiwan’s yellow garbage trucks collect trash sorted by its residents OPPOSITE PAGE TOP Every household in Japan is required to seperate trash for recycling and disposal OPPOSITE PAGE BOTTOm An improvised rubbish bin in Thimphu, Bhutan