Lloyd Johnson, VP of research and development for Aqua-Aerobic Systems, sat down with Water Online Radio for this live interview from the show floor at WEFTEC 2011 in Los Angeles. Johnson talked about the value of water, the need for technology investment, and the challenge of communicating water issues. Listen or read on to learn more.
Todd Schnick: All right, we’re back and we’re broadcasting live from the Los Angeles Convention Center and the tradeshow floor of WEFTEC. I’m Todd Schnick, joined by my co-host Todd Youngblood. Todd, we have been non-stop from the get-go.
Todd Youngblood: Non-stop, and we’ve got a guy coming up now, the title of R&D in there.
Todd Schnick: Scares me to death.
Todd Youngblood: That’s a little intimidating for me. I guess we’ll survive.
Todd Schnick: Yeah. We will. We’re wrapping up the second hour. We’re really excited to have the VP of research and development for Aqua-Aerobic Systems. Welcome to Water Online Radio, Lloyd Johnson.
Lloyd Johnson: Thank you.
Todd Schnick: Well, it’s great to have you. Before we get into a conversation, why don't you take a few minutes and tell us a little bit about yourself and about your organization?
Lloyd Johnson: Sure. My background has been in the manufacturing sector of wastewater and equipment manufacturing for the last 35, actually going on 40 years. And it’s been with a variety of companies throughout that work history.
From an education standpoint, I’ve got a Bachelors of Science in civil and environmental engineering and a Masters of Science in product development. So, it’s a good coupling of education and some experience, and excellent chances to work with some great companies.
Todd Schnick: Tell us more about Aqua-Aerobic, what are you guys out there doing for your market?
Lloyd Johnson: Actually, Aqua-Aerobic Systems is a private company, and we may get into that a little bit deeper in a minute. But it’s a company that’s been dedicated to equipment manufacturing and supply of equipment in the wastewater industry. It has a very rich history in the terms of product development, but primarily focused on serving customers with a very cost effective solution, as best we can do it.
Todd Schnick: Lloyd, what makes you guys different? What sets you apart from other companies in your industry?
Lloyd Johnson: We’re a company that, as I mentioned, is private, and as a result of that we’re able to really focus. And I think focus is one of the key elements of our success. But it is also tied into products that can be pulled together in a variety of ways for customer solutions.
Adaptability and flexibility are some of the key issues that we tried to address working with our customers, building one product onto another in such a way that you can provide a solution not only for today but for tomorrow.
Todd Schnick: Lloyd, what is the greatest water-related challenge facing our environment?
Lloyd Johnson: It’s a variety of challenges. But I would say, the key – and it was really articulated well this morning in the Opening General Session – is that “Water’s Worth It.” We’re really faced with a communication challenge throughout the world, and here in the United States it’s equally as challenging.
And that is bringing the water into focus for its true value. And values can be measured in a variety of ways. But, overall, water is worth it, and there has to be an investment – not like personal investments, but technology investments to really serve the needs of a resource that’s very important.
Todd Schnick: Lloyd, what other trends are you seeing, you know, what’s coming down the road at us?
Lloyd Johnson: There is a variety of trends, and trends are usually driven by, you know, something. And in one case we can look at the demographics that are taking place, not only here in the United States but throughout the world, one of which is the migration of people to metropolitan areas. And it’s unfortunate that as these people move about, it’s into areas that lack water or are very water constricted. So, it’s a nice environment, but the constriction of water means we really have to focus on managing it well.
And on a global basis, you find – as was mentioned today in the Opening General Session – about 1 billion young people die every year for the lack of water. So, it’s one of those things where we really have to pay attention to the management of it. And then regulatory things like nutrients, is a key issue that we’re facing today, which was driven by regulation.
Todd Youngblood: I want to go deeper into something you just mentioned a few minutes ago. I was really struck by you saying the biggest problem we have isn’t anything environmental or funding, but it’s a communications breakdown. I mean, that’s fascinating. Tell me more about that.
Lloyd Johnson: It really is. As a people, basically we’ve communicated a message over time that basically says water is used and you throw it away. I mean, that’s no longer applicable.
We really have to change our mindset in terms of approaching the community, educating the community, and taking on – even as a technology supplier – the responsibility of educating people as it relates to a very precious resource.
Todd Schnick: Lloyd, even if you can change people’s mindset. When I think of just the massive size of the infrastructure and the capital investment, I mean, that just slows things down inherently, does it?
Lloyd Johnson: I don't think so. I believe that, incrementally, we can provide input. As an example, in our company we have a great investment in training programs and to bring customers in, where we train them about our products, train them about our capabilities, but it’s also a time that we basically can provide information as it relates to the value of water.
An example would be in the case of virtual water. Virtual water is something that goes totally unnoticed. It’s the amount of water it takes to produce a product – like a shirt, or a cup of coffee, or some cream. And a cup of coffee requires a couple hundred gallons of water to produce.
Todd Youngblood: I require a couple of hundred gallons just in the coffee intake I do on a given day. Todd Schnick: Well, I know that. Well, I’m trying to figure out how a shirt has anything to do with water?
Lloyd Johnson: Well, when you think about it, you know, it takes water to grow the material, especially cotton and things like this. And so, there is a huge investment put into the products from a water perspective that really has gone somewhat unnoticed.
Another example would be the lettuce you buy at a store. Historically, they would grow lettuce to a large head, chop it off and leave a huge amount of leaves in the field. And, nowadays, someone has figured out that if you take baby lettuce – that people actually prefer – and it’s harvested 100%, there is no leftover. And as a result of that, you’ve taken all of the water and used it more appropriately.
Todd Youngblood: We’ve done a lot of interviews at various WEFTECs, I’m blown away by this concept of virtual water. That’s kind of freaking me out right now. I’m trying to get my head around that concept. I love that idea.
Todd Schnick: Well, it is neat idea. And frankly as I’m sitting here, it occurs to me … I’m going through a couple of different examples in my head. What would it take to make the laptop? What about the radio equipment, how much water is involved in there? It really is a mindset change, which is exactly what Lloyd’s been talking about.
Lloyd Johnson: And when you look at the aspects of … well, you said your computer. When you look at the chips, and the amount of water that it takes to clean the various components on the electronic side of it, but it’s not only the cleaning that takes place, it’s the quality of water that it needs to be done. It’s probably one of the highest levels of treatment for water. It’s to the point where its no longer usable from a human perspective.
Todd Schnick: Wow.
Todd Youngblood: Lloyd, you mentioned capabilities a minute ago. Let’s go deeper into Aqua-Aerobic Systems’ core abilities in the area of wastewater. Tell us more about that?
Lloyd Johnson: Our core capabilities really rely – we rely – on focus, our people. And through that we develop products that are appropriate in the biological area, the filtration area, and then the ability to connect these in such a way that we can produce a multi-barrier system that meets, again, needs for our customer today and also in the future.
So, there is adaptability and flexibility tied around our approach. And that’s done through training, that’s done through product development, product enhancement, and supporting our customers.
Todd Schnick: Lloyd, what are Aqua-Aerobics’ goals here at WEFTEC? Is it lead generation, launching new products, market education, identifying new partners? What are your goals here?
Lloyd Johnson: Our goals primarily, really, relate to managing, working with our customers, and relating to customers – building customer relationships. That’s one of our key components. It’s something that we rely on as a company.
We’ve mentioned earlier, we’ve got a training program that we’ve had in place for over 35 years. And through that we bring people in, train them on our products at full-scale operation, and then start a relationship that we try to maintain, not only today but into the future.
Todd Schnick: And that’s a theme I’m hearing coming out here: this collaboration, sharing of information, sharing of knowledge. That seems to be a very, very common theme among all our guests.
Lloyd Johnson: Collaboration, working together, is a way of solving things. We basically do things incrementally. There are times and opportunities that may come along once in a while that are total shift – a totally new concept that can catch on, but those are few and far between. But if keep working at it incrementally and have a focus as a collaborative group, and then have the will to execute, it’ll get done.
Todd Schnick: All right. We’re out of time, Lloyd. Before we let you go, share with the audience how they can contact your organization and learn more about your work.
Lloyd Johnson: Sure. We’re in the South Hall, in booth 2059, Aqua-Aerobic Systems. We’ve got a nice staff of people there who are key to our success. And then our online address would be www.aqua-aerobic.com. We have a great website.
Todd Schnick: Outstanding. Lloyd, it was a pleasure having you. Thanks for joining us.
Lloyd Johnson: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure for me as well.
Todd Youngblood: Thanks a lot, Lloyd.
Lloyd Johnson: Take care.
Todd Schnick: Okay. That wraps this segment. On behalf of Todd Youngblood, I’m Todd Schnick, Water Online Radio will be right back.