May 262011
 

Sustainability has become a popular buzzword in business these days. It now seems that every major corporation releases an annual sustainability report to their stakeholders or participates in “green” initiatives. In addition, many in the design and innovation industry have embraced sustainability as significant part of their work. The impact of sustainable business practices in West Michigan came to my attention a few years ago when, as part of a class in my MBA studies, I had the opportunity to tour a Grand Rapids, Michigan manufacturer. The company is considered a local leader in environmental practices, touts a legacy of recycling and other sustainable systems, and produces environmentally friendly products for customers.

This experience inspired me to consider how Hispanic populations view sustainability. Are there Latino leaders within the sustainability movement? How have issues about the environment impacted Hispanics? Is there a correlation between “being Latino” and “being green”?

In her new book, Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, author and entrepreneur Graciela Tiscareño-Sato looks to answer some of these questions. Although I haven’t had the chance to read it yet (on my summer list), initial feedback and reviews appear to be positive. The book examines ten innovators within the sustainability movement who also happen to be Latino. Tiscareño-Sato claims that Latinos have a “historical and cultural bias to conserve and reuse resources” and hopes to show how “Latinos are applying their hard work, talent, education, innovative thinking, culturally-engrained environmental advocacy, and creative spirit to improve America”. Latinnovating looks like a positive step in connecting Hispanics and sustainability. I hope to write a book review post in the near future.

Last month, a blog post at WiredLatinos.com claimed that “Latinos are green by nature”, especially those individuals that are immigrants and maintain connections to their nationalities of origin. The author explained that living in a county like Mexico, one is typically raised in a traditional living environment that includes home remedies, cooking with fresh ingredients, and a respect for nature. Being green, according to the author, “is not a trend, a fad or a ‘buzz word’, for us it is a way of life”.

Again, I am reminded of the class tour I mentioned. A representative of the manufacturer proudly showcased one of their most popular products. It was a rain barrel for home owners to collect storm water to re-use for irrigation. I instantly recalled a story my wife told about her modest upbringing in Puerto Rico. As a little girl growing up in the mountains, her father would often toss a barrel on top of the roof or under a drain pipe to collect rain water. He did this our necessity. Even though his family had running water, conservation was key with limited resources on the island. The collected water was used for a variety of needs such as watering vegetables that would eventually become food on the table. Many families also invested in solar panels that were connected to their water sources to have warm water in their homes.

What should marketers be paying attention to with these insights? Dr. Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing at Florida State University, recently reported on a multi-cultural marketing study by the college that indicated Latinos and other minorities have a deeper concern about the environment compared to non-Latino Whites. He recommends that “products and messages directed to Latinos and other minorities are likely to have stronger resonance if they address how a company is doing something for the environment, and that their products are green”. Similar to my wife’s story, Dr. Korzenny also recalls growing up with frugality in his native Mexico and hypothesizes that individuals who have experienced the negative effects of environmental neglect may have a stronger propensity toward sustainability.

Getting back to my story about the class tour, eventually we engaged in a discussion about how we in the U.S. can use sustainable methods to assist other nations around the world. The thought was those of us with means should be leaders for those that live in countries where weak infrastructures and economies inhibit sustainable living. It was a noble thought. However, I mentioned we should also consider these relationships as learning experiences as much as philanthropy. What can we learn from other individuals like my father-in-law about “living green”? Here in the U.S., we shouldn’t assume that we are the unequaled leaders of sustainable practice. Yes, we certainly have the resources, but there are definitely others around the world, especially in Latin America, that have been “living la vida verde” for quite some time.