From The Editor | August 29, 2016

A Foundation For Water's Future


By Kevin Westerling,

A Foundation For Water’s Future

The president of the Water Environment Federation discusses key organizational initiatives to improve the fate of the water/wastewater industry.

Paul Bowen wants to build a legacy. The director of sustainable operations at The Coca-Cola Company has served for the past year as president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and has successfully achieved a number of objectives, but most importantly he has forged a path for future success. His vision and methodology for meeting objectives, buttressed by performance metrics and accountability, have been embraced by WEF staff and will be sure to influence the organization’s operations — as well as water industry professionals and water quality itself — for years to come.

“It’s about setting goals, objectives, and milestones so that you know where you’re going, how to get there, and how to measure your path to success,” related Bowen. “It’s about metrics.”

This philosophy is embodied at WEF by the creation of a three-year business plan that will set a new organizational standard — and likely produce better results, as processes are evaluated and adjusted for effectiveness. It’s an approach common in the private sector, where Bowen has already established a legacy at Coke; under his guidance, the soda giant is on course to be water-neutral by 2020.

Bowen ends his one-year term as president of WEF at the culmination of the 2016 Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) in September, but his three-year plan ensures that his influence will endure. In fact, Bowen shared with me three initiatives of his tenure, detailed below, that he believes will have lasting impact.

The Three-Year Business Plan
“What the plan does is allow the organization — an organization that changes leadership every year — to maintain its directio n and achieve the results we want without zigzagging course,” Bowen explained.

The directives of the three-year plan are to:

  • Develop an engaged membership that is representative of the multiple practice areas of the water environment industry.
  • Provide a broad range of professional content and programming that is relevant and widely valued by the water sector worldwide.
  • Generate an increased public awareness of the value of water, leading to increased funding to protect water quality.
  • Establish the conditions that promote accelerated development of innovative technologies and approaches in the water sector.
  • Operate a sustainable business that supports our mission and enables WEF to seize new opportunities in the emerging water sector.

Calling On Young Professionals
Bowen acknowledged the challenge of replacing the retiring workforce of the water industry, adding that “Millennials have a tendency to be less involved with organizations.” To counter this and build for the future, he has led WEF’s efforts to recruit young professionals (YPs) and convey the organization’s value in a more concise and productive way. “We want to make sure that we get them thoroughly engaged to better convey the benefits that WEF can bring.”

For example, WEF has partnered to help YPs and other professionals from the U.S. attend major water events in Germany and Singapore, and likewise brought foreign YPs to WEFTEC. “We’re a global organization,” noted Bowen. “We have partnerships with the German Water Association, the International Water Association, Singapore PUB, the Korea Water Association, the Japanese Sewage Works Association … so we’re always trying to figure out better ways to integrate the membership and to add member value by these partnerships.”

Part of the benefits package could also include education funding, according to Bowen. “We’re looking at a scholarship program and how we can use that to further engage YPs at all levels, whether they’re in consulting and need to go back to college or whether they’re operators who need to go to school for their next license or certification.”

Wastewater Utilities As Sustainable Businesses
Bowen also urges wastewater utilities to generate revenue by evolving into “wastewater resource recovery facilities.” WEF has created guidelines for achieving this by publishing the Energy Roadmap and the Nutrient Roadmap, with the Water Reuse Roadmap set to debut at WEFTEC 2016. Next up, if Bowen’s proposal is carried out, will be a Sustainable Business Roadmap for utilities.

He provided a number of examples of how wastewater utilities can draw revenue, including patenting and commercializing innovative processes, selling recovered nutrients as fertilizer (see our next story), recovering and monetizing precious metals, and selling treated water as a fit-for-purpose product to agricultural or industrial users, especially in water-scarce areas.

“The whole idea of generating revenue is to help with capital expenses, to offset potential rate hikes, and to provide education for employees as needed,” said Bowen.

Spoken like a true public servant, despite his day job at Coca-Cola — or perhaps because of it — whichever hat he wears, Bowen seems destined to establish a positive legacy.