Shades of Green: A Primer on Environmental Translation

Scientific Translation Services

Academic researchers are surrounded by several miniature models of wind turbines

In quite a literal sense, the natural environment touches every part of our lives. It connects all we do, and affects everything from single-celled organisms to complex, multinational global agreements that bind billions of people. It provides the products we consume and the air we breathe. It predates us and will exist long after we do not.

Environmental translation thus takes on particular importance.  However, when dealing with the environment, an academic translator will face a wealth of challenges. We will catalog and explain the many types of texts that fall in this expansive category of “environmental translations,” and explore some of the challenges associated with translating them.

What Is Environment Translation, Anyway?

In its simplest sense, environment translation is the translation of any documents that relate to the environment itself, environmental effects and phenomena, or how public and private actors impact the environment. Many types of documents fall under this broad definition.

Beyond the obvious importance of caring for the environment, being eco-friendly is extremely important in the business world today as well.  Consequently, many companies produce texts related to the environment intended for a global audience.

Document Definition Translation

Corporate Documents

Environmental Report or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report

These reports discuss an organization’s responsibility for the impact of its activities on the environment.

The scope of these reports is broad, encompassing everything from energy conservation to public works projects, to economic and social concerns the company addresses.

These reports are published annually and correspond with a company’s traditional annual report to its investors or shareholders.

Usually, these documents are not highly technical; the writing is straightforward and designed for investors rather than experts in the field.

Corporations are concerned with their image in terms of being ecologically conscious. They are particularly focused on the message being transmitted in these documents. By extension, they are concerned with having an appropriate translation. These documents need to be worked on by a translator who knows how to write about complex environmental issues in layman's terms.

Marketing Literature

Corporate press releases and other documents that relate to environmental concerns, issues, developments, and other topics.

Similar to an environmental report, the audience is the general public.  Marketing literature should be easy to read. Usually, it does not require any particular technical expertise. It is important to use a translator who specializes in marketing for this material.

Internal Documentation

These documents may include internal employee guidelines, environmental standards, or other procedures.

The degree of complexity of the relevant documentation impacts the technical knowledge required to translate these documents.  Depending on the type of industry and guidelines, they can be quite technical in nature and require particular expertise on the part of the translator.

Material Safety Data Sheet (“MSDS”)

These documents describe the toxic properties of chemical products.

MSDS include instructions on how to handle toxic chemicals and provide detailed troubleshooting measures in case an accident or error occurs.

These documents are vital to companies that deal with chemical products or biohazards.

This type of translation requires advanced understanding of chemistry, both in the target language and in the original language. Be sure to use a professional or academic translator who specializes in the field.

Certification Documents

Companies that produce certain types of products, including consumer products, may require or may opt to have those products certified by a third party.

Certifications include: ISO 14000 standards; Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive in the European Union; the Forest Stewardship Council; Energy Star certification; and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Certification for buildings.

Because many of these programs are global, translation is nearly certain to be required by multinational companies. The certification process, including documents to be translated, can vary significantly by country and by language. Professional translation services are extremely important when seeking to receive international certification.

Non-Corporate Documents

Research Paper Translation

Research papers that relate to the environment, energy, and related disciplines serve as the foundation for change, progress, and growth.

Often, these research papers use a variety of statistical and other research methods to more powerfully demonstrate their point.

Topics that are often covered in cutting-edge academia include carbon emissions, climate change, environmental technology, environmental law and regulation, and water conservation, among many others.

Just as the academic field of the environment is broad, so is the type of translation skills required when dealing with academic translation of texts relating to the environment.

Many of these pieces are technically complex, dense, and are at the vanguard of research on technical environmental topics. Translators must be well-versed in language and statistical analysis, and must be up-to-date on changes and developments regarding the topic.

Educational Materials

Private companies, schools and universities, charities, and many other organizations publish a wide range of educational materials that relate to the environment.

Because educational materials may be disseminated to a wide variety of individuals, the translator must know not only the material and target language, but must be acutely aware of the target audience in order to produce the optimal translation.

With the future of our world dependent on green solutions, environmental topics form the basis for significant international conversation and change.  Professional, specialized, academic translation services can continue to foster this growth.

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