Sustainable Success

March 5, 2015
Water treatment companies see returns on investments in sustainability

About the author: Larry Deutsch is director of communications for the Water Quality Assn. Deutsch can be reached at [email protected] or 630.505.0160.

There is a misperception among some in the business world that a company cannot be both cost conscious and environmentally conscious. A new wave of companies, including outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia and craft brewery New Belgium Brewing, however, are shattering the old notion that profitability and sustainability are mutually exclusive. The same movement is taking hold in the water treatment industry, according to Stuart Mann, sustainability certification supervisor for the Water Quality Assn. (WQA).

“Companies in our industry are beginning to see that sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, but also typically produce a positive return on investment over the long haul,” Mann said. 

Sustainability, he explains, is largely about reducing waste and improving efficiency. Sustainability efforts by manufacturers can result in long-term cost savings throughout the value chain, including raw material/energy inputs, waste disposal, worker productivity, regulatory compliance and risk management.

In addition to improvements in efficiency leading to greater return on investment, companies also can leverage an environmentally friendly brand image, which is becoming increasingly important to consumers. The Sustainability Certification Trademark verifies to both retailers and consumers that a product has been manufactured according to industry standards for recognized best practices in environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

A product may be defined as sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. These needs are further delineated as encompassing responsibility for the
“three Ps” of sustainability: people (the safety and welfare of production workers and consumers), planet (the continuing health of our ecosystems) and profit (the economic realities that the product must fulfill a need and perform as expected). Furthermore, the product must be offered at a competitive price.

Reaping the Rewards

Just one year after becoming certified to WQA/ASPE/ANSI Standard S-803 – Product Sustainability for Activated Carbon Water Filtration Systems, 3M Purification Inc. is already reaping rewards from its investment.

“Achieving the WQA sustainability certification for numerous 3M Purification products has allowed us to assure customers of our core commitment to sustainability practices—in this case, being the first water industry manufacturer to receive this important certification,” said Mark Howlett, marketing manager for 3M Purification. “Customer retention, appreciation and growth have direct relationships with our ongoing product and manufacturing investment. We will continue our leadership in life cycle sustainability so that our customers know they can rely on 3M to help [reduce] their environmental footprint.”

3M Purification is part of what Mann describes as the “first wave” of program participants. These companies had been employing sustainable practices long before WQA offered the sustainability certification option. For them, the certification was more about demonstrating and affirming what they were already doing, rather than making a fundamental change in business philosophy.

“Now we’re starting to see a second wave of companies, which are beginning to address sustainability for the first time,” Mann said. “They are actually applying our standards as their blueprint for how to become more sustainable. It’s a great sign that this initiative is taking root and actually driving environmental improvement within our industry.”

Omnipure Filter Co., which is currently in the final stages of certification to WQA/ASPE/ANSI S-803, is at the forefront of this second wave. Like their counterparts at 3M, Omnipure employees are quickly noticing bottom-line benefits that they can attribute directly to their sustainability efforts.

“Working toward WQA sustainability certification has helped us analyze some of our activities and processes in a manner that has highlighted opportunities [to] improve our impact on the environment, as well as cut costs,” said Brent Simmons, vice president of Omnipure.

WQA’s Sustainability Certification Program continues to grow. WQA has been accepted into a pilot program to be in the first group of certification bodies accredited for Environmental Labeling by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In addition, the WQA/ASPE product sustainability standards S-802 (for raw activated carbon) and S-803 (for drinking water treatment systems) recently became accredited by ANSI. Mann notes that these are the first published standards of their kind applicable to the water treatment industry. Furthermore, the scope of the WQA/ASPE/ANSI S-803 standard will soon be expanded to cover water coolers/fountains and ultraviolet treatment systems.

About the Author

Larry Deutsch

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