executive impact

Culture and sustainability

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By Mike De Jong for EURObiZ Japan

Communication is vital to success in the corporate world. Developing language skills and learning to speak with local people opens doors to understanding and cooperation. But speaking is not the only way to communicate effectively. Valerie Moschetti of the French construction firm Saint–Gobain believes that knowing when to refrain from speaking is also important — especially in Japan.

“This is the inherent aspect of our culture,” says Moschetti, who is also chairperson of the EBC Construction Committee. “We tend to [interrupt] a lot when the other person is speaking. If you are meeting with somebody who is important to your business and you just speak yourself, what is the interest with the [other] person?”

Moschetti, who is fluent in four languages, believes that Westerners are too quick to put thoughts into words. She says a vital skill to learn in Japan is to understand the function of silence and listening.

“Very often, when I have colleagues coming from abroad, I try to brief them before meeting with Japanese people and say, ‘Please, don’t speak [immediately] when somebody stops [conversing]. Just allow him to have about five seconds, and you will see he will continue his speech and you will learn many things. If you think it’s your time to speak, maybe you are wrong,’” she cautions.

“It’s really important to let [them] speak and to understand silence. Silence has meaning in Japan, whereas we may feel uncomfortable with it in a Western environment.”

Moschetti’s cultural awareness comes from a variety of sources. Born in Lebanon to French expat parents, she grew up in Algeria and later France. As an adult, she gained valuable insight into business culture, working in locales like the Ivory Coast, South Africa and Morocco. A student of Intercultural Management and Japanese at university, Moschetti came to this country to conduct research for a graduate degree. But, even though she has been here now more than 10 years in total, Moschetti still considers herself a student of Japanese culture.

“Yes, I’m still learning,” she admits. “You cannot say you are a specialist of Japan, or another country, because you always have things to learn. I don’t think yet that I understand Japanese culture fully.”

As co-head of External Affairs for the French building materials giant, Moschetti also runs the company’s sustainability programme, guided by the philosophies of “innovation, energy and the environment”. While she believes Japan is strong on innovation, she says the country could do more to promote sustainable living.

“We must put the focus on energy-efficient construction,” she says. “In Japan, you have a lot of wooden houses. But the problem is, people are used to living without comfort — comfort as we mean in Europe. In winter [here], it’s freezing. In summertime, it’s really hot. You have to use a lot of [energy].

“With a little bit more insulation and ventilation — because they both go together — you could conserve more comfort inside the house. And you can still have air conditioners and things, but you will use them less. We have to show that it’s possible for people to live in better conditions, especially with the ageing population.”

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving towards creating more sustainable living. By 2020, the government has mandated that all new homes must comply with an insulation standard. But Moschetti says it’s not enough. For example, in Europe, that would be a decades’ old benchmark.

“This is the 1999 standard, which corresponds to the year 2000 standard in Europe,” she points out. “So for us, there is still much improvement to be made. It’s a minimum. But we really want more.”

The current rage in European building surrounds energy-positive, or “passive housing”. This is where homes are completely energy-neutral, producing as much energy as is being consumed. This is possible through the use of various eco-friendly innovations.

“You have solar panels, and you build your house in a green way … and try to cover your needs with very small energy production,” says Moschetti. “If you use good insulation, then you don’t have so much need [for electricity].”

Moschetti is hopeful that energy-efficient housing will one day take hold in this country.

“Japan has the technology to really be able to reach that goal. We don’t understand why the Japanese government is not more ambitious. Really, everything is here. High technology is here. Low technology, too; I mean, insulation. It’s possible. You just need the impulse of the government.

“In Europe, since the first oil shock [in the 1970s], we’ve had so many awareness campaigns about energy-efficient houses, on saving energy,” she adds. “Everybody [there] knows about insulation. Here, nobody knows.”

Moschetti’s job coincides with her own personal commitment to the environment and building a sustainable world. She believes that this personal belief makes her work more satisfying.

“Yes, sure. I like doing this because we speak a lot today about global warming. Better-insulated houses emit less CO2 and they consume less energy. So we are completely in this fight against global warming. So when you do something which is good for society, I think it’s good for yourself, too,” she says.

“If you do something that you are convinced is good for the world and for the future, then you do it with pleasure. And maybe you are more convincing to other people.”


Time spent working in Japan: 10 years altogether (2 stays).

Career regret (if any): Not making an earlier move from para- governmental to private sector.

Favorite saying: “Build bridges instead of walls and you will have a friend.” It’s fundamental for my job!

Favorite book: One Thousand and One Nights for its diversity and because you can read it at different ages to find different meanings.

Cannot live without: Herbs and spices, because they make you travel on a single plate.

Lesson learned in Japan: Listen to silences in a conversation and be patient but tenacious.

Secret of success in business: Build strong relationships and trust, and understand relations between different stakeholders.

Favorite place to dine out: The new フレンチ割烹 (French Kappo) Dominique Corby, in Akebonobashi.

Do you like natto? Every morning … don’t you?

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


10 Comments
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There is a lot of wisdom by keeping silent and people who tend to say very little are often the ones you should pay closest attention to because they're the ones with the wisdom. They're the ones who have had great accomplishments and the reason why is because they're the ones who usually do most of the listening and learning. More words can clarify, explain, and persuade. However, sometimes more words are just annoying and is just a way to show off what you know or what you've done. In the end many people tend to forget that their is an art of active and constructive listening, and it is a vitally important one.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

“Build bridges instead of walls and you will have a friend.”

Very good advice, anywhere.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

People here are taught in school to keep quiet and listen to the teacher, their elder. Nothing to ponder there. Kids in American schools are taught and are made to, actually forced to express their opinions. So the Japanese business man going to America has to do the opposite of what he does in Japan. I think they know that, although cannot do it very well.

I do not know where this woman lives or has visited in Japan, but old housing was made to work with the seasons.

Newer housing from the last 20-30 years ago are insulated. Last ten years, everthing built with double glazed. I think she is making conclusions on misinformation.

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Newer housing from the last 20-30 years ago are insulated.

Many different levels of insulation. Very low level on japan.

last ten years, everthing built with double glazed

I don't think that's true.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

For the most part housing here is made as CHEAP as possible & I mean that in more than just the costs, lots of low quality materials are used, insulation is a joke, storm windows(double panes of glass) is a new idea here!

Insulation & ventilation typically are many many decades behind(its the cheapo factor!).

And most modern housing is disgustingly DISPOSABLE, where else in the modern world is housing MEANT to depreciate from the day its finished being built as a matter of course!!

And yes she is right about COMFORT, Japan could & should be doing MUCH better in all this.

At least finally we have more options now, but still a long way to go!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have lived the past 20 years in Hokkaido . most of the new houses here are very well insulated . housing has however a very short life span i.e.; a house is considered old anything over 20/30 years . I assume one of the reasons for this is that each generation in turn has to build their own house which provides work and is good for the economy, not unlike the auto industry here . Yes I would agree with Valerie in japan what is said is often less important than what is not said. there is good and bad, strengths and weakness in any culture . You can look for the rust or look for the paint . If you really feel that something needs changing you will achieve very little from the outside , the only way to change anything is from the inside , the only way to get inside is to understand the language and culture . I love japan otherwise I wouldn't be here, that said I am not japanese nor do I wish to be. Paul Young -wherever I lay my hat thats my home . Sting- Russians love their children to

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Silence in Japan got us LDP dominance, Abe and the end of Article Nine. I say raise our voices.

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Yeah, how many thousands of articles have been written about this kind of topic? There are differences in the world. But there is too much obsession over it 'round these parts. I don't even know what the "western environment" is. It sounds a bit made up. Maybe this is why my students think Japan is one way and everywhere else is the other way. Just propaganda.

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Not much new here.

I did iike what she said, “You cannot say you are a specialist of Japan, or another country, because you always have things to learn. I don’t think yet that I understand Japanese culture fully.”

Hell, I am was born and raised here and I know I am no specialist even now. I am always learning something new. And not understanding Japanese culture fully is a great acknowledgement. Hell, 99.99999% of us do not understand our own culture fully. So, don't feel bad (which I don't think she does. Humble, yes).

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