Carleton-IBM partnership tackles mountains of coffee cups

CoLab10X design thinking sessions bring together students, faculty and professionals to solve community issues through an interdisciplinary approach. (Photo provided)

When Yinyan Zhang saw a campus trash can overflowing with coffee cups, she knew where they would ultimately end up.

“It’s something we often ignore,” said the sustainable energy and policy grad, “but it is also very true that any garbage we generate is going to have an adverse impact on future generations.”

Zhang is particularly interested in reducing waste sent to landfills. She recently had the chance to put the problem to a new design workshop on campus.

On April 21 and 28, a group tackled the overabundance of trashed cups on campus within CoLab10X. The “design thinking” session brought together students, faculty and local professionals to solve community issues through an interdisciplinary approach.

CoLab10X is a collaboration between the 1125@Carleton living lab and IBM’s Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS).

Cathy Edwards, managing director of the lab, said she and Carleton alum Marcellus Mindel, head of CAS, saw a natural fit. They created a space where academics and citizens could engage each other to solve social problems without the competition of a corporation.

“When you do traditional research, there’s a start and an end to it,” Edwards said. “CoLab10X is much more of a curation. It’s a living, breathing, active project.”

The joint initiative allows students to learn practical design skills and also work within 1125@Carleton’s mission to bring together multi-talented minds from many backgrounds to exchange ideas.

The IBM Design Thinking Field Guide is the starting point for all CoLab10X workshops, and the sticky note is its primary tool. “Design thinking” includes searching for a solution to a problem only once the issue is fully understood and every potential fix is considered.

On Thursday, April 21, nine people from different disciplines participated in Zhang’s workshop. They went down a list of design thinking activities from the field guide. The “hope and fears” activity asked each team member to write down their anxieties and optimism to get them on the same page. The group drew a “stakeholder map” and, by assuming students are the main coffee and tea drinkers on campus, also an “empathy map” that focused on a hypothetical student they named “Eliza.”

Whether they suggested a recycling program, incentives to use reusable cups, or perhaps even the elimination of paper cups on campus altogether, each solution had to be observed through Eliza’s perspective. It was also examined as more than just a Carleton or an Ottawa issue. It was framed as a global problem the world needs solved.

Zhang is also involved in another program run by 1125@Carleton called the Born Social Fellowship. In partnership with RECODE, Impact Hub Ottawa and the Carleton University Students’ Association, the fellowship is based on “born global” operations — companies focused from inception on the global market instead of the domestic.

Eleven fellows were chosen to develop sustainable development ideas that would focus more on an impact on the world rather than on a business model.

Deanna Devereaux and Monique St. Pierre, two other Born Social Fellows, created the program “Give ‘N Go” that ran through April as students moved out of residence. It involved repurposing unwanted appliances, furniture and personal items that were donated to charitable organizations like Refugee 613 and the Canadian Community Support Foundation for distribution.

Zhang, Devereaux and St. Pierre all joined the fellowship to reduce waste. They were trained through January to March on complementary skills like creative thinking, leadership skills, design tools, and business development. This coaching always kept design thinking as the foundation and end users as the primary stakeholders.

Out of sight and out of mind is too often the case when it comes to urban waste. But with the right kind of thinking and the help of a concerned community, Zhang hopes to transform the overflowing trash can into a historical footnote for future generations.

This entry was written by Joseph Mathieu and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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