Water Footprint, Water Sector Marketing

A Unified Voice in the Water Sector?

I just read an interesting article in American Water Intel [December 2011 Issue] I wanted to share titled, “American Water Execs Plan Push for Cohesive Industry Voice.”

According to the article the initial idea is being spearheaded by American Water ‘s CEO Jeff Sterba and backed by Xylem CEO Gretchen  McClain, Pentair CEO Randall Hogan, and supposedly 5 others who we will term the “Elite 8.”

While strategy has not been publically hashed out, Sterba said,

“A good approach would be for water companies to come to agreement on several key issues and then press water-related trade associations to make those desires heard. As of now, the various industry groups (such as WEF, the American Water Works Association and the National Association of Water Companies, among others) lack a cohesive message, Sterba said.”

These are being speculated already:

“Two likely focal points for such a campaign could be promoting the intrinsic value of water and spreading the awareness of the sad state of the US water infrastructure.”

They are facing an uphill battle however because,

“The business is split between water and wastewater companies, utilities and equipment providers and public and private firms. That dissonance, combined with the public’s tendency to undervalue water as a commodity, has left the water business divided and unable to reach out effectively. That in turn has led to a lack of investment in the sector.”

Not to mention that the Water Industry is not like Energy (which is where Mr. Sterba’s frame of reference originates). Michael Deane, Executive Director of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), cautioned,

“The water sector’s fragmentation is so complete that comparing it to other industries is unwise. The power business is 85 percent private utilities…meaning a consensus would be much easier to come to in power than in water.

Thinking a bit further ahead the tactics will certainly play an important role in determining the success of this effort. Grundfos North American President Jes Munk Hansen said,

“If it’s an open invite to everyone to join, it will die. You need to find the cream of the crop. There are hundreds of small pipe and pump manufacturers and water companies with their own agendas. They can’t make decisions…It has to be on that level. I cannot stress that enough.”

What the industry does seem to having working with them is that it believes they can forge an alliance to amplify their voices:

Source: American Water Intel

My Personal Thoughts:

Both focal points are consumer focused. The first, mainly how can we re-frame water from a “right” as opposed to a service like we see with Oil? The ability to change this perception will conceptually allow a utility to properly value water and charge rates according to the market value. Will consumers not freak out at such a sudden rate increase? How can this be eased in and if not, how can we make sure this hard pill is swallowed for the longer term need.

This ties in to the second focal point of the dire state of the water infrastructure in the US.  Just look at the following documents and you can see how scary this is (pay attention to the estimate figures in Dollars, the need in terms of pipes being replaced vs the rate at which they are currently being replaced).

This could lead to an “Epic Fail” in the delivery of quality water:

  • ASCE Water Report – Failure to Act:

http://www.asce.org/uploadedFiles/Infrastructure/Failure_to_Act/ASCE%20WATER%20REPORT%20FINAL.pdf

  • USEPA Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment 4th Report to Congress 2007:

http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/needssurvey/pdfs/2007/report_needssurvey_2007.pdf

I personally don’t come from the water industry (I am a lowly finance guy turned internet MARCOM fan), and my knowledge is quite limited, however, I am the exact type of consumer that this campaign needs to target.  I think it would be wise rather than throw all our eggs into the Association basket to review how Al Gore brought the issue of Climate Change: Global Warming to the forefront.  We need a champion and a tagline. I don’t happen to agree with the need for only a few to take part in this. In the world of the internet one voice can easily amplify an idea “virally” to reach millions.  Why not have as many people speaking on these two focal points as possible? The goal is to raise awareness, right?!

The idea of our “water footprint” is a good idea to rally behind. How can we leverage this catchy idea into a campaign that utilizes social media and the common consumer to spread this?  Maybe a TedTalk? Facebook Page? Linked In Group? NGO? Website devoted to knowledge using visually stimulating infographics, videos, etc?  Maybe a Blog….oh wait, we have one!

If anyone is interested in contributing to this cause, has connections to the “Elite 8” or wants to be a visionary. Get in touch with me. I will gladly give you a platform to push these ideas forward.

Noah Morgenstern

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About noahmorgenstern

Entrepreneurial Warlock, mCouponing evangelist, NFC Rabbi, Innovation and Business Intelligence Imam, Secular World Shaker, and General All Around Good Guy

Discussion

4 thoughts on “A Unified Voice in the Water Sector?

  1. Noah,

    No doubt there is a need for more infrastructure funding in the water and wastewater industry. This is a wonderful opportunity for the industry to blame Congress or various Presidents, etc. But if we take up this area of discussion, perhaps the chief causal agent for the capital shortfall has been industry itself. That is, officials elected at the local governmental level have not consistently and incrementally raised rates and fees to fund capital replacement needs. Capital has been raised to fund new development as it would be shameful to be unable to provide service to a new development, but as for replacing the plethora of water mains, pump stations, treatment works, etc., ad infinitum, let’s kick the can down the road and let someone else work out the problems. Does this sound a familiar problem? So that is where the discussion really needs to begin, with all fingers pointing internally to industry “non-best” practices.

    If the water industry practiced proactive asset management and capital projects planning with the customer in mind versus the developer, I have no doubt that we wouldn’t be having a problem to discuss. There’s nothing intrinsically unique about the capital needs of the water industry versus other capital-intensive industries with the exception that “leaders” have the ability to defer improvements and replacements indefinitely. That’s the real problem if we’d only admit it.

    Posted by John B Cook | January 9, 2012, 2:36 am
  2. Hi John,

    Great insights, as always. Who can we reach out to for more “Truth Telling?” What are your opinions for rallying together?

    I want to re-post here a few discussions from the American Water Works Association Group on this issue:

    This has been an interesting topic for me on a public relations front. I have seen great examples of how to market the industry well by George Hawkins at DC Water. Check Out his inspirational video here: http://wp.me/p1JQvn-14

    I’d love your thoughts on how to address:

    The public’s view of water as a right vs. commodity
    How to address the public when speaking of a “buried asset”
    Can promoting smart water management, and energy conservation be the way?
    Can turing data in knoweldge by utilizing instrumentation, sensors, analytics & dss work?

    Best Regards,
    Noah Morgenstern
    ————————————————————————————————–

    Alan Roberson • This is a great idea – but it’s easier said than done. The drinking water “community” covers a broad range – drinking water systems, consulting engineers, manufacturers, researchers, regulators, etc., and they have all have different interests and different points of views.
    ——————————————————————————————

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for the comment. I understand that their are a multitude of interests and stakeholders here. Do you think, however, that there is a common (hopefully a few common) interests between all of them? Mainly to raise awareness of the work, and effort behind creating a system where someone can simply expect or take for granted that clean water will come out of their shower head or faucet; and the food and products they purchase use a heck of a lot of water to produce? People are in awe of what they can see. In most cases, in my opinion, the drinking water community is overlooked as it’s assets are “burried” and no one understands the water usage in the industrial sector. The inter-dependencies are astounding.

    I would be willing to think that the ideas of water scarcity, smart water management related to the water-energy nexus, and reducing one’s water “footprint” could be ideas which have the power to be spread through wonderful marketing campaigns from all stakeholders.

    I mean, look at the Water4People campaign and the support even a movie star (Matt Damon) has thrown behind providing clean quality water to the worlds impoverished nations. It shows that drinking water supply on a global scale is an issue people can rally behind.

    I think the drinking water industry needs a spokesman (similar to a Matt Damon or an Al Gore who can lend star power and platform) and many interested parties to talk talk talk, and spread the ideas of the state of our water infrastructure, the people that tirelessly work everyday to make sure the US still has quality water, and the technologies that are created and installed to optimize, reduce inefficiency, conserve energy, and protect against contamination.

    I think its our job to make Water Cool.

    Id love to hear more opinions, and start the rally cry. Who is with me?

    Best,
    Noah Morgenstern
    Waterqualityandsecurity.wordpress.com

    Posted by noahmorgenstern | January 9, 2012, 7:43 pm
  3. Noah,
    We have to realize that water is under fire from the Oil and Gas companies. Fracking will decimate our clean water supplies across the globe. We have to make the public aware of this. Look at what is happening in the eastern part of the USA and other places. Google Fracking.

    I have been in the water business in agriculture (extensive and intensive) for 40 years in Africa, India and the USA and realize that the public does not understand the fragility of our clean water supplies. It is not only the householder but agriculture as a whole including crop and livestock production – our food supply – that needs clean water!

    How can we get all these diverse organizations together to not only upgrade our water distribution facilities but to recognize that they may not have any clean water to distribute in the near future?

    Sincerely,
    Peter Fynn, PhD.

    Posted by Peter Fynn | January 12, 2012, 11:13 pm
  4. Count us in!

    Alan Heymann
    Chief of External Affairs
    DC Water

    Posted by Alan Heymann | January 13, 2012, 5:58 pm

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