Environmentalism & Water Treatment

March 29, 2011
Sorting through environmental terminology

About the author: Pauli Undesser, CWS-VI, is director of regulatory and technical affairs for the Water Quality Assn. Undesser can be reached at [email protected] or 630.929.2514.

Over the years, the term “environmentalism” has morphed through various phases and subcategories, creating a whole new paradigm that confuses most of the general population. To the average person, terms such as environmentalism, “environmentally friendly,” “sustainable” and “green” seem to be used interchangeably. The director of the Green Business League, Michael Richmond, described the muddled understanding of these terms as “that ugly green color that we made in kindergarten when we slurred all the colors into one big blob.”

Although the various terms seem to mean the same thing to the general public, when reading the specific definitions, one realizes that they are indeed unique. The confusion may stem from the fact that all of these terms have the same goal—improving the negative impact of humans inhabiting Earth.

Regardless, when defined properly, the water treatment industry wonders how their products fit in to help attain the overall goal. This article will provide definitions for a few key terms and explain how some water treatment products can aid to reduce the negative impact on Earth due to human activity.


First, one must understand that environmentalism is the broadest term, meaning the reduction of negative human impact on all things natural. Environmentalism is divided into subcategories such as sustainable, pollution reduction and conservation. Water treatment devices have a place in each of these subcategories.


The term sustainable is generally defined as a process capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment. In the water treatment industry, this would refer to technologies including, but not limited to, aeration, distillation and salt-free scale reduction devices. Aeration technology brings water into contact with air to improve water quality and taste. Distillation heats and cools water in a specific manner by which contaminants are removed. Lastly, salt-free scale reduction devices reduce hardness in water without the input of additional contaminants to the environment. Each of these processes provides cleaner water for consumption in a sustainable manner because they do not increase contaminant waste discharge into the environment.

Pollution Reduction

Pollution reduction is probably the easiest term for the general population to understand in relation to water treatment products because it is a main reason people know the water treatment industry. Regardless, not everyone will make the connection that water treatment is a means to pollution reduction. In essence, pollution reduction is the removal of contaminants that would otherwise be consumed or released into the environment and adversely affect living organisms. Consumers want cleaner water and will seek out technologies such as, but not limited to, activated carbon and reverse osmosis. Both types of devices remove various harmful contaminants from water, preventing them from being consumed and causing adverse effects.


Like pollution reduction, conservation is also pretty well understood by the general population. However, the connection to the water treatment industry may not be as clear and concise as the previous two subcategories of environmentalism.

Conservation is generally defined as the protection, preservation, management or restoration of living organisms and natural resources. Water treatment devices not only aid the conservation of water through contamination removal for reuse, but also conserve energy through scale reduction.

It was recently confirmed that hardness in the water supply, even municipally treated, for household water heaters can decrease water heating efficiency by up to 24%, in turn increasing the energy required to heat water to the desired temperature. Furthermore, new research shows that reduction of hardness in the water supply to household clothes washing machines allows the decrease in temperature used to clean clothes to the same degree as hard water at higher temperatures. Water softeners are the main water treatment technology used for the reduction of hardness.

Overall, water treatment technologies provide multiple ways to support environmentalism by providing a means to cleaner water with processes that are sustainable, reduce pollution and conserve water and energy. To further strengthen environmentalism, the water treatment devices should be products that are certified by an accredited third-party certification agency to a national standard such as NSF/ANSI standards. The NSF/ANSI standards incorporate testing to ensure that products themselves do not impart harmful contaminants to the water and that they perform at an adequate level for the removal of contaminants to maintain public health and safety.

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About the Author

Pauli Undesser

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