Adrianna Quintero, founder of Voces Verdes

Six Figures: Founder of Voces Verdes speaks her mind to save the environment

Adrianna Quintero started speaking her mind at a very young age. When she was in the fifth grade, she says her school wanted to cancel the science fair for her grade, so she staged a protest.

“We spread the word and told the students to walk out of class and sit on the bleachers,” she remembers while laughing. “It was scary, but we got it. I learned early on the power of speaking your mind and following what you think is right. We went out and asked for it — pretty loudly.”

Today, at 43, she is just as vocal about what she believes in. As a senior lawyer of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the founder of the non-profit Voces Verdes, she is currently protesting for a cleaner environment and getting more Latinos to join her cause along the way.

“Growing up, it was really important to me to play outdoors and be outdoors,” says Quintero, who was born in California, but when she was 8, her family moved with her to their native Bogota, Colombia. “It gave me a broader perspective of the environment and the beauty of it, and how pollution can really get out of control.”

RELATED: [VIDEO] How nature opened a young man’s eyes to a new world

After graduating high school in Bogota, Quintero moved to Miami for her undergraduate degree in communications. It wasn’t until after law school, that she started to do work for the environment which had pulled at her heart since her youth. After spending some time litigating in court, she says took an opportunity at the NRDC office in San Francisco in 1999. For the past 14 years, she’s been making sure the government adheres to environmental laws and don’t miss their deadlines.

“Since 2004, I’ve been trying to focus on how we can get Latinos part of the environmental debates going on in Washington,” says Quintero, who also wrote a report the same year called “Hidden Danger, Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community” with the then-Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and another one on air pollution in 2011. “I think a lot of people assume that we, as Latinos, don’t really care much about the environment, but I find the opposite is true…It’s a cultural value we carry with us.”

After years of reaching out and connecting the dots between the Latino organizations and individuals who care about the environment, Quintero officially formed Voces Latinos — a non-partisan organization which connects more than 50 Latino organizations, and business and community leaders with government decision-makers on climate and clean air issues — in 2009.

“When we started bringing individuals to Washington, the response was incredible,” says Quintero. “People are still very excited to have us weigh in on issues. And as the last election showed, it’s really critical for us to raise our voice about the environment, because the impacts are going to affect us all — especially the Latino community.”

She explains how in the Southwest, for example, there are a lot of Latinos, and drought has been a big problem for those working in agriculture. In urban centers, like Florida and New York, we’re seeing hurricanes and record temperatures.

“It’s important for us to be part of that conversation and loNBC Latinook out for our families and future generations,” says Quintero. “It involves meeting with people, being creative…and breaking through a lot of stereotypes…I feel it’s very important to serve the community — it allows me to put my experience and knowledge to work for the greater good of the planet.”

She says a typical day for her starts with getting her kids (who inspire her), ages 7 and 11, ready for school. Then she has a conference call to identify what’s happening in Congress and the White House to determine what needs to be focused on. She then reaches out to her partners and lets them know what’s happening, and then makes sure to find out what’s happening in Latino politics — in order to identify new supporters, partners, and update the Web site.

“Most recently, in the light of Hurricane Sandy and the record temperatures we had last year, Voces Verdes has called on President Obama to tackle carbon pollution where it begins — coal power plants,” says Quintero, explaining burning coal is one of the precursors of climate change and global warming. “We’d like President Obama to know that the Latino community has stood by him, and we’re calling on his administration to take action, and really use the law to help control climate change.”

She says Voces Verdes now has meetings planned in Washington in February.

“Our next step is to meet with administration officials to show them that our commitment to this is very real,” says Quintero. “Eventually we want to move away from dirty fossil fuels like coal. This is one of the first steps. It’s not necessarily shutting them down, but what our group wants is strong rules on how much pollution they can generate. We want them to clean up their act, basically.”

She says there’s no better time to do this than right now.

“We’re excited to show [the president] we’re supportive of him,” says Quintero. “We know the administration really cares about the issues, and we want to make it clear that when it comes to climate change, Latinos care — poll after poll has shown that … I want to elevate our role in all forms.”

Next on her agenda, she says she wants to get more youth involved and educated about environmental reform, and teach them to not be afraid to speak their mind and use their voice.

“I found it’s one of the most powerful tools we have,” says Quintero. “It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do, but I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without it…”

%d bloggers like this: