Sounding Off: ¿Cómo se dice “green” en espańol?

A recent EcoPulse survey showed that Latinos are not only the country’s fastest growing consumer group, but are arguably the greenest group, as well. 

The survey demonstrated that Hispanics are significantly more likely to search for green products than their non-Hispanic white or African American counterparts — and are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products! They’re also more likely to say they felt “personally responsible” to change their daily habits and purchases to positively impact the environment and have had conversations with their kids on environmental topics.

Yet despite these findings, two prevalent misconceptions persist within the waste reduction community: first, that the Hispanic community doesn't recycle because they don't care about the environment; and second, that to educate the Latino community, translations of existing recycling outreach messages are sufficient. Some even suggest that the viability of the “green” message in the Latino community is simply a result of immigrant economics, i.e., due to high-priced utilities in their native countries, Latinos are used to turning off lights and washing clothes/dishes by hand. 

As Graciela Tiscareño-Soto notes in her book, Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, “Whether driven by poverty, wisdom of our grandparents or the social consciousness of our parents, or perhaps all three, we are not people who waste much. We hold onto things until we can either reuse them or find a new home for them…”, “being green” is less of a lifestyle statement and more about a matter-of-fact application to real life. Marketing “green” behavior to Latinos, particularly those who may be less acculturated, is all about uncovering what your audience is currently doing in terms of green practices… and addressing the habits that are most prevalent or may need correcting.

Hispanics, in so many ways, are the original recyclers. I can remember going into my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a child. She didn’t have a dishwasher but she had the little wire rack that you set your dishes into to drip-dry. She would wash out bread wrappers, turn them inside out to dry on that rack, then stuff them away by the dozens into a drawer. I don’t recall that she ever purchased food storage bags for leftovers, but rather, relied upon her recycled “stockpile.” I remember when she passed, it was hard to throw all those wrappers away. I could hear her saying, “What if ...?”

Latinos have been doing that forever, but it’s not labeled as “green” behavior. It’s just what you do. Even the Spanish word for recycle, “reciclar,” is not frequently used. So how do you leverage that knowledge, those insights, into a behavior-changing campaign? You might, for instance, point out the ease of participation — talk about how it’s something that they’re already doing. “Look at you! Pat yourself on the back; you’ve been recycling all along. How cool is that? You’re not only doing the right thing for your family, you’re doing the right thing for the earth.” And, following that line of thinking, perhaps it becomes a subtle representation of cultural pride, and the ability to care for family, to care for resources that, maybe, you don’t have in abundance.

Like any other behavior-modification campaign, a “green” campaign focused on Latinos should identify common environmental attitudes and concerns; leverage culturally familiar concepts, terms and images; and finally, explain the benefits of pro-environment behaviors.

So the next time someone asks, “¿Como se dice ‘green’ en español?,” you will know the answer is not, “verde!”