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Guest Voz: When it comes to the environment, Latinos not the ‘sleeping giants’ Corporate America believes

By Nayelli Gonzalez

(Editor’s note: The following is a condensed version of the full report published by Saatchi & Saatchi The Myth of the Sleeping Giant: Why Latinos are the fastest growing segment the sustainability industry has (n)ever seen)

When I think of the reasons my dad drives a hybrid, fills his groceries in reusable bags, and never leaves the lights on in an empty room, advertising doesn’t exactly come to mind. Marketing and advertising don’t quite explain why, as a child, I grew up eating home-cooked meals made of fresh, unprocessed ingredients; I can still taste the flavors of my mom’s homemade salsa verde enchiladas covered with queso fresco, all whipped up by hand.

My parents, who migrated from Mexico City over three decades ago and now proudly call themselves Americans, would never claim to be “green” or “environmentalists.” Yet, some of their habits tell a different story.

My parents are representative of millions of Latinos across the United States who are preservationists at core: they hold an inherent respect for nature, are mindful of future generations, and want to live in healthier, cleaner environments.

And it is their children and grandchildren, a younger, more social and tech-savvy demographic, who are shaping the next wave of tastes, trends and traditions of this country. Will that future be green?

It depends.

Green or not, the future of this nation is brown.

The myth of the “sleeping giant” – a metaphor politicos have used for decades to suggest Latino political and economic potential, and also imply a state of slumber – is an apt way to explain why corporate sustainability engagement of Latinos has been dormant. Similar to politics, Latinos’ interests in all things green, eco, or environmentally responsible has been viewed as latent or even nonexistent by most businesses, though the reality is quite a different story.

It is time to unravel this myth.

Myth #1: Latinos Are Not Environmentalists

At its core, environmentalism is about protecting natural resources through actions, large and small. For many Latino families, sustainable behaviors are quite the norm – even if those actions are not always publicly evident or replicas of the ‘typical’ American environmentalist.

Walk into most Latino homes, and you’ll find signs of deep cultural connections to nature, especially in the kitchen. Most Latinos in this country grow up eating home-cooked meals made with fresh produce, a mix of herbs and spices found in their country of origin, and from recipes passed down from previous generations.

The connection between Latinos, religion and family is also significant. The Sierra Club and the National Council for La Raza (NCLR) released a report this year that reveals that 93 percent of Latinos surveyed believe they have “a moral responsibility to take care of God’s creations on Earth” and believe in their family’s ability to curb pollution through energy conservation.

Myth #2: Latinos Don’t Want to Buy Green

About 13 to 19 percent of adults in this country consider themselves stewards of the environment who proactively purchase socially and environmentally responsible products. They are what the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) calls the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) segment, and this market is estimated at $290 billion.

Are Latinos LOHAS?

By the looks of green marketing and advertising efforts, one would think not. But according to NMI, 4 percent of LOHAS consumers (that is, of the 13 to 19 percent) are Latino, and that number is sure to grow.

Myth #3: Spanish-language Ads Are the Only Way to Reach Latinos

Sustainability marketing in the U.S. by and large exists in an English-speaking world. As with any other audience, understanding what matters to the Latino consumer segment on a deeper level is what’s critical to craft effective messaging. Language is one tool to reach Latinos – it’s a tactic, not the strategy that will help companies connect with this audience. And companies should know that Latinos are becoming increasingly bilingual, pointing to the fact that Spanish-language advertisements are not the only way to reach Latinos.

As the new majority-minority, Latinos in the United States are rising giants – and they are here to stay. The more than 50.5 million Latinos in this country are not only shaping many aspects of American life, from government and society to popular culture and sports, they are also driving businesses to understand their buying behaviors and preferences.

Unfortunately, that same attention is not being placed on encouraging Latino consumers to buy greener products that will help them live healthier, more sustainable lives.

Companies that want to remain relevant to consumers and grow their businesses sustainably into this century must learn how to speak to Latino consumers compellingly. And to do this, companies must learn how to understand the diverse cultures that influence the rich tapestry of Latino tastes, preferences and behaviors.

Nayelli Gonzalez is a senior strategist with Saatchi & Saatchi S North America and the author of The Myth of the Sleeping Giant: Why Latinos are the fastest growing segment the sustainability industry has (n)ever seen

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