Jacquelyn Ottman’s new online community will help conscious consumers curb wasteful behavior.
By Michelle Hardy
“Eco-friendly” products are bought in vain when they aren’t used and disposed of efficiently. Such disruption in the green product life cycle is all too familiar to Jacquelyn Ottman—green marketing expert, author, and adviser to Fortune 500 companies. Now, she’s determined to help well-intentioned consumers make the most of their purchases with her latest endeavor, the WeHatetoWaste.com online community.
There’s no shortage of grim statistics on wastefulness, but for me, food offers the best illustration of our desperate need for communities like WeHatetoWaste. I learned from the Natural Resource Defense Council’s recent study that from farm to fork to landfill, 40% of food goes uneaten in our country—a country where 15% of people are food insecure. The average US household of four throws away approximately $1,350 to $2,275 annually by discarding uneaten food. At restaurants, 17% of meals remain uneaten.
I think of how often I scrutinize food purchases, carefully weighing each product’s ecological claims, and I compare that behavior to the little regard I give to portion measurement and food preservation. I know now that once I send leftovers to landfills, it doesn’t matter if I bought them at an organic farmer’s market; I’ve still added to the uneaten food causing 23% of our country’s methane emissions.
This sort of holistic accountability, says Jacquie, is critical to the success of the green movement. With WeHatetoWaste.com, she wishes to remind consumers that they’re responsible for the fate of each product that passes through their hands and their home—and that they deserve to reap the full benefits of those products.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Jacquie on her new website launch, so read on to learn how her waste-hating community plans to help members save money, time, and resources.
Your background is in green marketing, the success of which depends on people constantly buying new things. How has that experience influenced or challenged your ideas on reducing waste?
Preventing waste and buying greener goods are very complementary. Buying green is an important part of the equation, but we need consumers to use those same greener products in non-wasteful ways. We need them to turn off the Energy Star-rated lights when they leave the room, turn off the water when they brush with Tom’s of Maine natural toothpaste, and make sure the recyclable Coke cans actually get recycled.
Of course, avoiding waste also means not buying anything that you don’t need, no matter how green it might be! So this could lead to communications like Patagonia’s now famous Black Friday ad, “Don’t Buy This Jacket”. It could also lead to new business models. For instance, members of the “collaborative consumption” movement (also known as the “sharing economy”) like to tell us “the greenest product is the one that already exists.”
For me, waste is actually an old emphasis. I’ve been allergic to waste ever since I was 4 years old and my brother and sister called my Junky Jacquie because I used to drag home “treasures” like old board games and other toys, from the neighbor’s trash. Some of the projects I’ve enjoyed working on in my nearly 25 years as a green marketing consultant involved some form of efficiency — advising Energy Star on marketing strategies, or being a juror for Heineken’s recent Sustainable Packaging Challenge.
Waste prevention is increasingly important in a world that’s going to have to feed, clothe and house nine billion people by mid-century. We’re already seeing tremendous shortages of fresh water, precious minerals and food. With the WeHatetoWaste.com blog and website, I’m hoping to change the culture around waste. I’d like to help make it cool to prevent waste and preserve resources — change the paradigm around Jimmy Carter and the sweater, if you will.
In your opinion, which industries have the greatest unrealized potential for reducing waste? Which industries are failing to capitalize on strategies like collaborative consumption, digitization, new business models, etc.?
There are many areas within the broad swath of consumer products (my particular area of expertise) that could benefit from reducing waste, among them:
Food preservation, storage and creative use of leftovers: I look forward to the day when bringing your own collapsible doggie box to restaurants becomes as ubiquitous as using refillable water bottles. And then there’s the opportunity to use all the leftovers from our own tables. A blogger of ours just published one of the first cookbooks I’d ever heard of that’s focused on leftovers. It’s called The Refrigerator Files: Creative Makeovers for Your Leftovers. Similarly, Tamar Adler recently published An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Grace and Economy, which inspires readers to make the most of their food by employing creative recipe strategies.
Water conservation: I predict that in the future, we’ll not only be taking shorter showers but also fewer showers thanks to technologies that enable waterless bathing, waterless hair “shampooing”, and waterless shaving. We’re already seeing clothes that don’t get dirty quickly, and Unilever is currently marketing a dry shampoo.
Energy conservation: Smaller, more efficient homes equipped with furnishings that do double duty (I’m personally inspired by LifeEdited.com) should help to cut down on energy needed for lighting, cooling and heating. Another big opportunity is getting consumers to turn that water down to cold when they do the laundry. I’m excited about the “Washright” campaign in Europe and am looking forward to the possibility of something like this coming to the U.S. First we have to dispel the myth that clothes aren’t as clean when washed in cold water.
What are your favorite examples of conventional products redesigned or reinvented to make it easier for consumers to minimize waste?
I like the idea of using natural principles, like gravity, to help us use up all of the contents of the products we buy. I was glad to see that Seventh Generation has now turned its dish washing liquid upside down. It will save me all the trouble I’ve been going to when I used to set the Palmolive bottle on its head overnight, so I could get those last drops down to the cap where they can be easily accessed. Another simple idea: I’d like to see many more reclosable/resealable packages that help to keep foods fresh longer. Too much food still goes to waste while it’s in the fridge or the cupboard.
What are some of your favorite waste-reducing strategies that also save time and money?
We have seven of them that we use to organize the posts on WeHatetoWaste.com. They include:
Reduce (e.g., make do, do without, maintain your possessions)
Quality not quantity (e.g., buying one Rolex rather than several Timexes)
Getting the most from the products you buy before you recycle or throw them away, (e.g., re-purpose, reuse, buy secondhand, get all the mayo from the side of the jar)
Food preservation and conservation (e.g., preserving food as long as possible, making over the leftovers)
Resource Conservation (e.g., turning off the water when you brush)
Efficient Lifestyles (e.g., smaller footprint homes, living close to work)
Recycling and Composting (e.g., last resorts to the examples above; recycling packages with no more useful life, turning food and other waste into soil)
Your website seemingly appeals to people already loyal to the green movement. What are the key benefits of mobilizing a converted audience?
A lot of waste prevention occurs in private (No one sees me dropping the unused bar of hotel soap in my bag. — OK, I’ll admit that I do that!). Diehard “Waste haters” have zillions of tips that we’ve invented that we can pass along to others. So we want to make it safe for these Waste Haters to come out of the “waste closet,” if you will, and start the ball rolling to uncover and share these many ideas.
The community’s ideas will in turn inform our work at J. Ottman Consulting and ripple out to the world at large. We can tap into the creativity of our WeHatetoWaste.com subscribers by discussing our clients’ initiatives, meanwhile exposing our clients’ products to some very mindful and influential consumers.
How does one become a WeHatetoWaste.com blogger—one of the people you call your “Waste Watchers?”
It’s easy. We want to make our blogger community as large and diverse as possible so we can explore a full range of ideas on reducing waste in all kinds of households. Anyone who would like to blog for us can send a sample post to me at info (at) greenmarketing DOT com, and we’ll edit it, if necessary, and then post it with the individual blogger’s bio and head shot. We even have editorial guidelines that we’re prepared to send would-be bloggers to make it easy to share one’s stories in a way that will be very readable. Of course, anyone can comment on the posts and subscribe to receive free posts as they’re published.
We’re also very anxious to explore the potential for videos to communicate with a much wider audience. We think a lot of waste-hating activities are quite amusing, so videos could be entertaining as well as instructive.
Jacquelyn Ottman is founder and principal of New York City-based J. Ottman Consulting, expert advisers on green marketing and eco-innovation to Fortune 500 sustainability leaders as well as several U.S. government eco-labeling programs. The author of four award-winning books on the subject, her latest is The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett Koehler, 2011) and named one of the top Sustainability Books of the year by Cambridge University (UK).