Last week I had the opportunity to share my perspectives on social equity, Latinos and the sustainability movement at the Go Green Conference. While we still need to change behaviors in the Latino community, it is important to also change perspectives within the sustainability movement. If you’re interested in learning about what I mean when I say “changing perspectives,” continue reading…
Sustainability and Latinos
By Mando Rayo
When you think of sustainability, the environment and going “green”, what comes to mind? Is it the conscious-minded people who chooses alternative transportation, recycles and grows their own veggies? Or is it the person who lives in the city but has agriculture in their family history, tends to multiple chickens and roosters and rides their bicycle to and from work because they have no alternatives? I think of the latter.
Even though you can’t help but walk through a minefield when making generalization about any demographic and/or ethnicity in America, there are certain realities that I invite you to ponder; new information that will make you at the very least reconsider the assumptions you make when running into certain sub-segments of the Latino market.
Let me expand.
Culture, Traditions and History
Among Latino and other sustainability is a very familiar concept, in fact, it’s goes back many generations. My grandparents and their grandparents before them, farmed and cultivated their lands with vegetables, fruits and the foods they needed to feed their families and make a living. In the kitchen, they developed and passed on traditions to the next generation including reusing plastic bags and foil paper and creating new dishes from a hodge podge of leftover items. These practices, often starting out of necessity, have become traditions and part of our culture. Among Latinos and especially those in low-income communities, you have to save where you can in order to provide for your family—you have to conserve. While many Latinos may not label themselves “green,” they actually are; they just don’t do it by definition, they do it because it’s a part of their culture.
Choice vs. Necessity
Is the construction worker who rides his bicycle to work going “green” or does he do it because of necessity? How many of us are afforded the choice to leave the car at home and ride our bikes to work or for recreational purposes? Do you consider people in low-income communities as environmentally-friendly because they ride the bus? You could. A lot of us, including myself, are afforded these choices but many Latinos and African-Americans that are living in poverty do not have the luxury to make these choices. For Latinos living in these conditions, it is a matter of necessity; the necessity to get to work, make a living, getting by and providing for their families. With necessity comes ingenuity. We see it in its simplest form by recycling plastic bags and foil paper, by washing and reusing them, or by repurposing old aluminum cans or glass jars for tools and containers and even art projects. While some Latinos, especially older generations, may not consider themselves environmentalist, many of them have been doing their part through culture and traditions.
Sustainability and the organized environmental movement for the large part has been part of the mainstream. The poor and multicultural communities have not been part of this organized movement not because they’ve been intentionally excluded, but simply because not enough relationships and connections exist between these groups. Latinos and most multicultural communities do care about sustainability and doing their part to be “green”. However, they do it in their own informal way, rooted in cultural traditions and understandings. What organizations and businesses need to do is begin the process of understanding how these issues affect and are relevant to Latino communities. If they truly want diverse insights, perspectives, influence, connections, advocates, and $171 billion of Texas’ Latino buying power the organized environmental movement needs to take time to understand their needs, wants and aspirations. It’s about meeting their necessities, your organization/business’ needs and meeting in the middle or reaching the sweet spot. Once you hit the sweet spot, you can move forward together.
There are real connections between sustainability and Latinos. As we continue this work, we have to change perceptions as well as behaviors and start connecting the issues in more meaningful and relevant ways that include culture, traditions and experiences.
There are definitely situations in which these same Latinos, due to either lack of information or out of pure necessity are engaging in practices negative to the environment. These are opportunities for both nonprofit organizations and the business world as far as educating and empowering these individuals to take environmentally-friendly decisions.