Environmental engagement among Latinos: an exploratory study of environmentalists in the greater Chicago area

  • Sarah M. NaimanEmail author
  • Tania M. Schusler
  • Jonathon P. Schuldt


Despite evidence that culturally heterogeneous groups are more effective in generating creative solutions to complex problems, environmental organizations in the USA remain predominantly White. In particular, Latinos—the largest and fastest growing minority group in the USA—remain underrepresented in the environmental sector despite expressing higher levels of environmental concern than other racial and ethnic groups. We sought to understand motivators and barriers to Latinos’ environmental engagement through semi-structured interviews with Latinos participating in environmental projects and organizations in the greater Chicago area. We describe four key themes that emerged from the interview data: meanings of terminology, experiences as Latinos in the environmental movement, barriers to Latino participation, and opportunities to increase Latino involvement. Experiences and perspectives reported by interviewees suggest that social-psychological and structural barriers contribute most substantially to Latino underrepresentation in the environmental sector. In light of these barriers, we discuss outreach strategies—including reframing environmental messaging around core terms and dismantling structural barriers to participation—that environmental organizations may wish to consider in their efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.


Environmental engagement Civic participation Diversity Environmental justice 



We are especially grateful to the individuals who shared their experiences as Latinos in the environmental movement. This research would not have been possible without their contributions. An Institute for Environmental Sustainability Fellowship through the Loyola Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program funded data collection and analysis. We also thank members of Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit for valuable feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental SustainabilityLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of CommunicationCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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