Despite the enthusiastic support for ecology that becomes evident in polls, Latinos remain woefully underrepresented within the green building community. Having attended many green building conferences, I have yet to meet more than one Hispanic colleague. Several groups across the United States have been trying to change this, making an effort to communicate the environmental and energy-efficiency message across the language and cultural barrier that often defines a green divide. Now that we know the Latino opinion on ecology, it’s one that should not persist.
Among those trying to close the gap is Conservation Conversations, a Minnesota nonprofit providing bilingual energy-efficiency education and conservation resources. They work with utility providers primarily as well as corporations and foundations that want to reach Latinos with an energy-efficiency or conservation message. Its stated goals include helping the Latino community reduce its energy use and carbon footprint by 10%. Low Latino participation rates in green initiatives, such as tax credits and recycling, do not reflect apathy or misunderstanding of the message, so much as ineffective attempts to reach this community through Anglo avenues, such as websites and social media.
“To start, there are many Hispanic communities, and no single message will reach all of them. You have focus on each individual group, Mexijanos, Puertorriqueños, Cubanos,” says Cristina Fernandez, product marketing manager for Conservation Conversations, “and this ultimately requires going to the community in person.” Soccer is an excellent vehicle. Conservation Conversations enlisted the popular Chicago Fire, which has a huge Hispanic fan base. “We reach the community through them—even when the crowd does not want to listen to us, they see us at the games over and over again, and gradually they become interested in who we are and what we’re saying,” she says.
Networking in the Latino community occurs in person. And this applies to English-speaking Hispanics, as most of the community is at least partially bilingual. “My main thing is don’t assume all Hispanics speak English, and don’t assume they all speak Spanish. The more you tailor the message to the specific community, the more your message will reach the people you want to reach. Once the seeds are planted in the community and in the family, the message will spread,” says Fernandez. “Word of mouth is the vehicle for marketing. Spanish people actually spend time with each other, the community is not built online or on the air, it’s built person to person and especially within the family. This is changing, of course, but for now, it’s still that way. The Latino internet is the interpersonal.”
Other organizations working to educate Latinos about energy efficiency, climate change, and the environment include the Colombian organization CLACE (Latin American Center of Arts, Science and Education), which provides multicultural and bilingual education to residents of green, solar-powered housing authority apartments in Boulder, Colo. The National Latino Coalition on Climate Change was created specifically to address the “… grave, urgent and growing challenge surrounding climate change,” says organization literature, by the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc., the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and the Hispanic Federation.