As a seasoned green marketing professional (she literally wrote the books on it), Jacquie Ottman has made a name for herself working with companies to develop and market sustainable products sustainably. This month, Ottman officially launched her newest venture, We Hate To Waste, a blog on living a waste-free lifestyle. I spoke with Ottman just before the holidays about the role the blog, brands and waste-haters play in helping us all live more efficient lives.
You’ve successfully built your personal brand as a green marketing expert over the last 25 years. Why the sudden focus on waste?
JO: It’s actually not a sudden focus. I’ve literally hated waste all my life, though I only put the pieces together as an adult. About 10 years after founding J. Ottman Consulting (JOC), it hit me that I hated waste. I realized there were all these connections in my life — I was the recycling head of my high school in the early ‘70s; I went to the first Earth Day; and when I was four, my brother and sister started calling me ‘Junky Jacquie’ because I was taking board games and things out of the neighbors’ trash and dragging them home! So I realized that that was my pathway into the environmental movement.
To this day, I still walk along the streets of New York City and picking up stuff to bring home, and I just cringe when I see how much New Yorkers throw away. So at the end of last year I decided I would like to focus the rest of my green marketing career specifically on waste prevention, just reflecting my personal passion.
How did that lead you to start a blog?
JO: I’m intrigued by all that we can do with the Internet and social media these days; as just one example, businesses now are literally mining social media conversations to get insights for new products. I love new product work and I started JOC with a mission of helping corporate America design the next generation of products with the environment in mind. But in [my] 25 years doing this, corporate America mostly needed me to help market things they were already doing or products they had come up with on their own. So I’ve always been chomping at the bit to do more new product work. Nothing would satisfy me personally more than helping businesses generate ideas for new products that would help consumers lead more resource-efficient, less wasteful lives. And I like to write, so I kind of put two and two together and decided I was going to do a blog as a way of getting started — incorporating my own take on living a less-wasteful life.
I live in a one-bedroom apartment in NYC and live a certain kind of urban lifestyle, and it might be interesting for people to know what I do, but I realized the potential to turn this into a movement — to broaden it to a variety of people in a variety of lifestyles sharing their stories on what they do to reduce waste.
Who do you see as your target audience — those who already hate to waste, or those who don’t yet think about it? Do you have thoughts on how to engage/incentivize the latter through your site?
JO: Great question, Jen! I believe we need to pursue a staged process in order to create a movement. WHTW is a consumer-curated blog — for waste-haters by waste-haters. First, we want to aggregate a community of waste-haters so we can put all in one place a broad spectrum of stories and tips that people can use to reduce waste in their lives. And once we make it cool for them to share their stories, the people they influence will follow.
JO: The site serves a number of needs for me, personally and professionally. You know how they say if you want to learn, teach? Well, if you want to learn, host a blog! My colleagues and I can learn from the ardent waste-watchers what their unmet needs [are], and use those insights as inspiration for new products, services and communications. So it’s like we're inviting the 'lead users' to a focus group knowing that our ultimate intent is to develop products and solutions for everybody.
Now, anybody, including our competitors, can come to the site and do the same thing, and that’s fine — we want to start a movement. But only we can show our subscribers concepts for new product ideas and engage them in open innovation for new product concepts. Who better to talk to than ardent waste-haters who are going to be very discriminating about water-saving showerheads? Eventually I’d like to aggregate the learning into a book for consumers.
Marketing historically is about selling more and designing for obsolescence, but I think that’s turning around right now. Companies such as P&G, Coca-Cola and Unilever are realizing that conserving precious resources is strategic to their business and it makes sense for them to encourage consumers to conserve water or electricity, for example. Corporately, of course, it reduces risk when their consumers wash their laundry in cold water instead of hot.
There’s all kinds of opportunities out there for new products that complement a waste-free lifestyle — products that save so many resources over the course of their lifecycle that it offsets the environmental impact of making them in the first place. So, we’re not trying to add more stuff to the world; in line with what we’ve been doing at J. Ottman Consulting for the past 25 years, we want to see better stuff get out there.
Are there any brands that you think are doing a good job of trying to help their consumers prevent waste?
JO: I like Levi’s Care Instructions for the Planet. They are acknowledging and showing consumers that a lot of energy goes into drying blue jeans. And I give a lot of credit to P&G for coming out with a cold water version of Tide. That was a major decision given the iconic nature of the brand and its close association with cleaning.
What other opportunities do you see for brands to help their consumers reduce waste in their daily lives?
JO: Outside of reducing regulatory risks, in these times especially, brands have an opportunity to equate wasting less with saving money. 40% of all food grown in this country goes to waste; the average household throws away about $1000 in food each year. Rubbermaid, for instance, has a Produce Saver container that keeps food fresher longer.
What energizes me about WeHateToWaste.com is the potential to gain insights into opportunities for new product development and communications that can encourage people to use the products they do buy more responsibly —like turning off the water when they brush with natural toothpaste, not just buying the toothpaste — and to give our community an opportunity to work on actual challenges for our clients. In fact, we have a strategic alliance with a crowdsourcing platform to connect our subscribers with a vehicle for sharing their ideas — and getting rewarded for them.
I’d like to send a message to the world that we are now focusing on waste prevention and resource conservation, so if you have a project related to that, come to us. Anybody in the SB community who wants to work with us on this, or if anyone else wants to do joint projects or blog with us, all are more than welcome!