Smith Alumna Conducts Workshop on Reducing Waste

Hira Humayun '17

Features Editor

Smith alumna Jacquie Ottman ’77 conducted an interactive workshop on getting rid of waste on March 31. Organized by Smith’s environmental science and policy department, this workshop began promptly at 7 p.m. Ottman is a nationally renowned expert on sustainability, a self-proclaimed “waste reduction catalyst,” author of award-winning book “The New Rules of Green Marketing” and a founder of and of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., a green marketing consultancy firm.

Ottman began by asking, “How many people hate to see things go to waste?” The attendees, mostly Northampton community members and a few Smith students, raised their hands. Program coordinator for environmental science and policy Anne Wibiralske introduced Ottman and mentioned that Ottman was one of the panelists at an alumnae panel that took place the day before.

“I am totally delighted to see you all here tonight,” Ottman said. She gave a quick overview of what the workshop would entail after offering personal anecdotes relating to how she became interested in sustainability and waste reduction. She said the aim of the workshop was to find “brand new ways we can reduce waste even further in this world.”

Ottman prompted everyone in the room to introduce themselves, and then she explained why she started her website: “We are going to create newer, more efficient lifestyles for people.” She went on to explain that the website was established as a platform for people to share their waste-reduction strategies. The workshop reflected just this; it aimed to raise consciousness about waste and why we waste, demonstrate the power of ideas and teach the audience some creative thinking skills, which they can use to implement waste reduction methods in their own lives.

The workshop formally began with a PowerPoint presentation that posed questions to the audience regarding waste, why we do it and the composition of our waste, along with statistics backing her claims. After presenting facts and figures that portrayed a bleak situation regarding waste and the money involved, Ottman gave her audience signs of hope by presenting the waste reduction initiatives of some countries.

Ottman later divided the audience into four groups, giving each one time to think about solutions regarding what houses at Smith can do in terms of waste reduction projects, how Smith (or Northampton) harness the collective skills of its students, faculty and administration to reduce waste, what else can be done to reduce food waste and how to better utilize Neilson Library to loan things other than books.

The groups collaborated on generating solutions that are not only implementable at Smith but also in the larger Northampton community as a whole. Ottman walked around the room, listening to each group’s discussion before asking the audience to reconvene.

A member from each group shared the ideas their group generated. Some ideas included increasing the accessibility of compost buckets in all houses and asking restaurants if they compost. Another group proposed the utilization of collective skills and sharing resources. This could include having  sewing skills, supplying materials to repurpose clothing and opening swap shops for international students who otherwise often need to buy new winter clothing. Others suggested pooling leftover food to have at community gatherings.

Ottman concluded the workshop by saying, “[Waste is] a global issue with local solutions,” as she encouraged the audience to begin this anticipated change at the individual level. “The turnout was pretty close to what we expected,” said Wibiralske. “[Ottman] was part of an alumni panel about Smith women in the environment and the department.”

The workshop was well-received by student attendees. “It really helped me rethink what I’m using and why I’m using it,” said ShuMing Huang ’15. “I did not know people can make careers out of this.”

Ottman herself was pleased with the result of the workshop. “This was the first time I did the workshop,” she said, and she went on to explain her satisfaction with the turnout from the community, which allowed Smithies and Northampton citizens to learn from one another: “There were very nice ideas here tonight, and the people who came were very passionate about the issue.”