Direct Potable Reuse is a hot topic in areas where alternative sources of water are becoming scarce. There is a lot of fear in the industry because customers are not likely to accept this solution readily, due to our learnt attitude towards faecal matter, also known as the Yuck Factor.
Cultural Differences in Direct Potable Reuse
Water utilities have tried a wide range of strategies to convince communities to encourage drinking recycled water. The general advice is to educate customers about the process. One of the rules of social marketing is, however, that rational appeals to change attitudes are not very useful. Clear examples of this practice are the many anti-smoking or anti-speeding ads that use emotional appeals to modify the viewer’s attitude towards smoking or speeding.
Some commentators recommend using euphemisms for recycled sewerage such as ‘impaired water’ instead of polluted water. Some of these are weasel words and should not be used as people see through the ruse.
Singapore is one country which effectively implemented Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). However, comparisons with Singapore are not straightforward since due to cultural differences between this country and Anglo-Saxon countries. Salient differences in culture can be identified using the system defined by Geert Hofstede:
- Power Distance: the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
- Individualism: the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members
- Masculinity: the level of interdependence a society maintains among its members.
- Uncertainty Avoidance: The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these.
- Pragmatism: the extent to which people attach more importance to the future, fostering pragmatic values towards rewards, including saving and capacity for adaptation.
- Indulgence: the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses.
The data shows that the cultural profile of Australia and the USA are very similar. There are, however, notable differences between the cultures of Singapore and Australia/USA that need to be taken into consideration when comparing Direct Potable Reuse acceptance in these countries.
The Power Distance level for Singapore is almost double that in the other countries. Power distance influences the acceptance of government initiatives, such as DPR. The higher the level of Power Distance, the more likely a proposal is accepted.
The level of Individualism in Singapore is much lower than in Western countries in general. A small degree of individualism would make acceptance of initiatives such as DPR easier to implement because of the perceived public benefits. In Western countries, the high level of individualism complicates social marketing due to a large number of segments that need to be targeted to obtain coverage over a whole population.
The Masculinity dimension is almost the same in all three countries, which has thus no impact on differences in acceptance.
The low level of Uncertainty Avoidance predicts that people in Singapore feel much less threatened by the novelty of DPR than in countries with a high level.
The high degree of pragmatism in Singaporean society points towards a future-oriented view of water resources that includes thrift and a sense of saving for the future. This dimension is much less in Australia and the USA.
Finally, the Indulgence dimension is not very different between the countries
This comparison shows that firstly, understanding the value system of the consumers in the service area is essential to be able to craft an effective campaign for the acceptance of Direct Potable Reuse. Secondly, it shows that we cannot use an example used in one location and transpose that approach to another location.