What Exactly Do You Do?

There’s a simple, honest, effective answer to this question that more operators and others in the industry should consider giving often

During a past life in advertising, I represented a company that made a safety device for loading docks — in essence a hook that held a semi-truck in place at the dock, so the driver could not pull away while a forklift was depositing a pallet load inside.

They called the device the Dok-Lok vehicle restraint (in fact, they still do, and it’s hugely successful). The accidents this product prevents are truly catastrophic. Picture a 5-ton forklift and load tumbling out the back end of a truck, the operator falling off onto the driveway below, and ...

It’s not a pretty picture. One of this company’s salespeople had an interesting way of telling what he did for a living. When asked, he’d say, “I save lives.” And it had the advantage of being true.

Notice he didn’t say anything about loading docks, or trucks, or forklifts, or factories, or warehouses. He stripped it right down to the essentials. It made people take notice, and once they did, he could tell them more.

So, as a wastewater treatment operator, what do you do for a living? You already know the answer: You make clean water. Now, how often do you say that when someone asks about your profession?

Not so delicate

A while back in one of these columns, I asked readers how they answered when people said, “What do you do?” I called it a “delicate subject” — because if you used words like wastewater and sewage, you might trigger the “yuck reflex.”

But now I wonder: Is the subject really delicate? It isn’t if you give a simple, honest, effective answer. Yet among the readers who responded to that column, not a single one reported answering, “I make clean water.”

I suppose that’s because, like anyone else, treatment operators get too close to what they do. You spend the days dealing with headworks, aeration basins, lab tests, microorganisms, RAS, WAS, BOD, NPDES. Pretty soon the idea of what it’s all for recedes in consciousness.

Or maybe operators see a comment like “I make clean water” as an oversimplification. As corny. As a euphemism. As something that trivializes what is after all aprofession that takes education, training, and practice.

But perhaps it’s time to leave all that aside and bring that idea — “I make clean water” — back to top of mind, and keep it there. And say it often enough that people remember it.

Say it everywhere

Because you know what actually happens (with most people anyway) when you say you run the wastewater treatment plant. Why do we suppose what we once knew as AMSA (Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies) is now NACWA (National Association of Clean Water Agencies)? Surely not because the word sewerage evokes pleasant images.

The industry is about clean water. It always has been. It grew up, after all, under something called the Clean Water Act. Those two words, “clean water,” are the best friends people in the business have.

If I ran a treatment plant (or should I say “clean water plant”?), I’d encourage the people on my team to tell the public, “I make clean water.” I’d have those words on T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, pickup trucks, business cards, notepads, pencils. And I’d have a sharp little graphic to go along: water droplet, fish, rainbow, river.

Of course, I don’t run a plant, but I do write each month for tens of thousands of people who do, and once in a while, some take notice. So, what about this idea? Any takers out there?


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