Australia in leadership position with water

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Friday, 20 April, 2007

At the recent Ozwater conference, visiting US brand expert, John Ruetten told delegates that Australia is leading the world on water sustainability.

Water is critical to our lives. We often talk about people undervaluing water and environmental issues yet water is critical to industry and the economy. Traditionally, we have been the silent service which has, over the years, allowed the political situation to determine the level of investment; in other words, what's palatable politically.

Resource Trends is focused on branding, communication and investment, which means we are looking at the water and wastewater industry and asking how can we improve the dialogue we have with the community in terms of what investment is needed? I strongly believe that in the past we got into a systematic under-investment situation in that we didn't know how to get enough investment into water and environmental issues.

As citizens of the world, we can be aggressive at responding when we need to, especially when it becomes a necessity - then you find people respond very quickly. With corporations there is still the urge to internalise benefits and revenue and externalise risk along with the belief that sustainability is costly. We are trying to say that environmentalism is a sustainable way to run your business. However, there has been progress in this area and right now there is a big shift globally towards climate change. Our President, who is a bit of a slow mover, to put it kindly, mentioned climate change in his last address so it's on the political agenda in the US.

What's happening in Australia in terms of climate change and drought will continue to accelerate the view that this is real, it's serious and we need to be addressing it.

With the advent of desalination and from what we have seen in Perth, the right response for Australia is in the season of investment. It's a very reliable future and that's what the industry should be selling to the Australian public. When people see how much it will cost them per month, then I think they will want it as it's still relatively inexpensive.

With indirect portable re-use (IPR) it's always going to be viewed as provocative and to a new audience there is always the yuk factor. Trust is important because if you look at society as a whole then you find we make decisions based on trust. It can be difficult because we are not identifying who we are trusting to do this successfully. When we orientated our best practices for IPR, we based it around four major trust building objectives. We looked at four categories where we could build trust, which were related to water reliability, water quality, managing conflict and understanding the politics of the situation.

It's clear that the water world has a lot to learn about how to represent the value of what they do and I think being able to represent that value is going to be more and more important. The issues are going to get more critical and the competition for dollars will get stiffer but it's a challenge for our company to help the industry get to a new place.

We see ourselves as market driven environmentalists; in other words, we can do everything we need to do for the environment and sustainability with the right investment. If it simply means getting a lot more value out of the same amount of resources, then it's legitimate to compete for those dollars.

John Ruetten is president and cofounder of Resource Trends, a strategic marketing firm committed to increasing investment in water and the environment. He is a member of the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AWWARF) project team and has just completed a strategic manual for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies entitled 'Building the Water Utility Brand'.

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