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Why the sustainability industry needs to engage Latinos

<p>Companies that aren&#39;t speaking to Latinos with their sustainability messaging are not being heard by the fastest-growing demographic in the nation.</p>

When I turn on the tube to Telemundo or flip the radio dial to my local Spanish-language station, many times it’s as if I’ve been transported to the twilight zone, crossing over to another dimension of time and space -- especially when it comes to green business. While I’ve encountered sustainability campaigns (think Coca-Cola’s Arctic Home and General Electric’s Ecomagination) in mainstream, English-language media, I haven’t seen such campaigns shared across Spanish-language stations. 

This isn’t because Latinos in the United States don’t care about sustainability. It’s because companies are not making a concerted effort to speak to Latinos with their sustainability messaging. And this means their messages are not being heard by the fastest-growing demographic in the nation -- and an increasingly relevant consumer market. 

Over the past weeks, many have been talking about the rise of Latinos’ influence in this country -- from political pundits (left and right) to the media. (Side note: a study recently released by Conill, a Saatchi & Saatchi-owned Hispanic advertising agency, highlights the many ways Latinos influence American culture, too.) Yet, this conversation has not spilled over to the world of green business.

Why aren’t green businesses talking about how to engage a population that is projected to grow 167 percent and constitute one-third of the U.S. population by 2050?

I recently wrote a report released by Saatchi & Saatchi S that explores why this might be the case.The report, The Myth of the Sleeping Giant: Why Latinos are the Fastest Growing Segment the Sustainability Industry has (N)ever Seen, uncovers the untapped potential of the U.S. Latino market in sustainable business and provides insights on how to engage this increasingly influential demographic. Some highlights from the report follow.

Today, 16 percent of our nation’s population and one in five children is Latino. By 2050, two in five children will be of Latin American origin, according to some projections. While much of the business world has taken note of this significant trend, increasing advertising dollars to target this market, the same cannot be said of corporate efforts to engage Latinos around environmental sustainability.

Partly due to myths, misunderstandings and misperceptions of Latinos’ connection to the environment, corporate sustainability efforts have failed to properly engage Latinos in the U.S. 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.

Before dispelling some myths and diving into Latinos’ relationship with the environment -- and describing how companies can effectively leverage that connection -- it is vital to understand why the Latino market is becoming one of the most lucrative demographics to target.  These numbers start to tell the story:

  • 1 in 4 American newborns is Latino
  • Every 30 seconds a young Latino turns 18
  • The Latino population is growing at three times the rate of the overall population in the U.S.
  • At 50.5 million, the U.S. contains the second largest number of Latinos on the planet, second only to Mexico
  • 13 percent of U.S. residents speak Spanish at home
  • Latinos accounted for 56 percent of U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2010
  • The Latino population is projected to grow 167 percent from 2010 to 2050

More than growing in sheer size, Latinos’ purchasing power is also on the rise. In 2012, Latino consumer purchasing power is estimated at $1.1 trillion,  9.5 percent of the U.S. total. By 2015 it is expected to grow to $1.6 trillion -- a 48 percent increase, compared with about 27 percent for the entire nation. It’s also interesting to note that the per capita income of U.S. Latinos is higher than any one of the highly coveted BRIC countries, and the Latino market is currently estimated to be larger than the entire economies of all but 14 countries in the world.

Many businesses are becoming savvy to the rise of Latino buying power. Coca-Cola’s former Chief Marketing Officer and current Chief Sustainability Officer, Bea Perez, for example, was once quoted as saying that 86 percent of the company’s market growth through 2020 would come from multicultural youth (especially Latino) consumers, and that targeting Latinos was part of the company's growth strategy. In 2011, a mix of Fortune 500 companies, including the likes of Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s, AT&T, Toyota, and General Mills, spent $5.7 billion to target Latinos in the U.S., indicating a serious commitment to reach this audience.

That same dedication to the Latino consumer is absent when it comes to how companies engage Latinos around environmental sustainability. The same companies mentioned above have also demonstrated a serious commitment to becoming more sustainable, but they have not effectively engaged Latinos along the way.

There is a real disconnect between the rise in the Latino population’s size, influence and purchasing power and how many companies are reaching this community around sustainability. It's time for savvy companies to pay attention, and start working to bridge this divide.

Click here to read more of the report.

Image of puzzle pieces provided by ixpert via Shutterstock.

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