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