Businesses around the world are struggling to answer the question of global warming and carbon footprints: Sustainability has become a hot topic. But while businesses and individuals in the U.S. have been moving closer to becoming green, reducing waste comes at a cost both literal and figurative. Most people would be surprised by how strongly attitudes differentiate between American culture and other countries.
Issues of global warming and environmental sustainability often become particularly acute for expats living abroad. While overseas, individuals may find themselves in countries which may have strict guidelines on recycling, water usage and energy consumption. While living in the Netherlands, it took me several months to adjust to using the low energy light bulbs. It was frustrating at first but then I realized when going up a flight of stairs or looking in the closet for a couple of minutes that I did not need a hundred-watt bulb. (Also, the longer I kept the light on, the brighter the bulb got.)
In countries such as Europe and the United Kingdom, becoming more sustainable and green is more of a societal choice, and is enforced by the government. Companies and people both are expected to participate or risk being fined for not complying with the laws. In other words, each person is held accountable to do his and/or her share.
By comparison, going green is more of a culture or life-style choice in the United States. We are given the opportunity to pick and choose which parts of the green efforts or using organic materials we will participate in. As many of us are acutely aware, we may not be able to go green in all aspects of our lives. However, we can take small steps to contribute.
As an example, several airlines now offer passengers the ability to purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the CO2 generated by flights. (Offsets are normally monetary contributions to environmental projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases in proportion to the amount of carbon generated by a singular activity such as flying.)
In international terms like flying, we can still make that choice, but it’s important to recognize that, in other countries, there isn’t a choice: It’s built into regulations there, into the societal fabric. You’ll find that there is no sustainability debate at all.
So don’t be surprised if your international business partners look at you askance when you complain about the enormous hits your business is taking in order to effect a more sustainable bottom line, or if they just shrug when you tell them about having to separate out your recycling. They just don’t think about it there, and maybe, we shouldn’t either.
Maybe it should just be a no-brainer.
Sharifah Masten is an expert in international events. Her company, Protocol and Meetings by Design, Inc, can help you to plan an event that works in any country. For more, click here.