Starting Anew

Green Bay’s clean-water agency launches a new identity to foster more positive public perceptions and reflect a growing role in resource protection.
Starting Anew
From left, NEW Water Executive Director Tom Sigmund, communications and education coordinator Tricia Garrison, and treatment manager Bruce Bartel.

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A clean-water agency’s name sets the tone for the way public perceives it. So when agencies call themselves “sewerage districts” or “sewer commissions,” the public gets the wrong idea. That is, people think of the raw material, and not the end product.

The Green Bay (Wis.) Metropolitan Sewerage District is among agencies that have created new identities that better reflect their ultimate purpose. While GBMSD remains its legal name (at least for the time being), it is now known to the public as NEW Water.

The NEW reflects both its job, which is the reNEWal of water, and its area of service, which is NorthEastern Wisconsin. The identity embodies the agency’s broadening role in water quality, which includes reaching upstream into the watershed in efforts to help regulate phosphorus loadings to Green Bay and the Fox River.

NEW Water reclaims water and promotes pollution prevention and water conservation in a 285-square-mile area in and around the City of Green Bay, serving some 217,000 residents. The agency owns clean-water plants in Green Bay and De Pere that together process an average of 38 mgd.

Executive Director Thomas Sigmund, P.E., treatment manager Bruce Bartel, and communications and education coordinator Tricia Garrison talked about the rationale behind the agency’s new identity, and the steps they have taken to introduce it to employees and the public, in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What was the basic thought process behind changing to this new identity?

Sigmund: As we look at our mission going forward, this new identity contains elements of the “Water Resources Utility of the Future” report released last February by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). I served on the task force that developed that report.
Our agency was looking at itself and trying to determine how we would fit within the concept of the utility of the future. The way we looked at it, wastewater and sewerage are not what people want to talk about. What they want to talk about is water in its broadest sense. That will become even more true as we move out into the watershed and talk to stakeholders about issues that are important to them.

TPO: What is the purpose of increasing outreach into the watershed?

Sigmund: At our two treatment facilities, we do an excellent job of removing nutrients — other pollutants as well, but nutrients are the main concern, and in particular phosphorus. We are well below our current permit limit on phosphorus, which is 1.0 mg/L. But the state’s new phosphorus rule sets a limit of 0.2 mg/L or lower for point sources, and there is a total maximum daily loading for phosphorus and sediment for the Lower Fox River.

These new rules do provide some flexibility with provisions for adaptive management. That’s an opportunity for NEW Water and its customers to find more effective and lower-cost ways to manage nutrients from the entire watershed that discharge into the river. As we talk to people in the watershed about managing nonpoint sources of phosphorus and suspended solids, we’ll be having conversations with people who may not be direct customers of our facilities. We’ll be talking about water, watersheds and water resources — not sewage. We see our role changing, and we see our new brand as one of the best ways to communicate that.

TPO: What are the potential costs of complying with the new phosphorus rules?

Sigmund: We’ve done engineering studies looking at the cost to comply with the rules. If we were to comply by building new coagulation, filtration, disinfection and pumping systems at the plant level, that would require $230 million in capital, in today’s dollars. While we haven’t fully identified the cost to comply through adaptive management, we believe it will be much less. We can do it more cost-effectively by working with others in the watershed, rather than by building new facilities at our plants.

TPO: Were there other reasons behind the new identity?

Bartel: We need to attract more younger people into this industry. Younger folks tend to be environmentally conscious, and a name like NEW Water, compared to a name related to sewerage or wastewater treatment, might be a nudge to get those people interested.

Sigmund: We’re about improving water quality — transforming what had been a waste into something valuable to the community. Who doesn’t want clean water? The message for younger people is: You’ll be involved in the very complicated and challenging task of creating clean water. As part of any branding, you try to make yourself attractive to the talent pool you need in the future. This is a great opportunity.

TPO: How would you describe the process you followed to arrive at the new name?

Sigmund: We hired a local consultant, called Element, to assist us. They did market research. They interviewed our staff, our customers and other stakeholders to get a sense for who we are and where we should go. They summarized the work they had done and offered some options in terms of a name and logo that might communicate our identity. From there, we worked with our staff, testing out some of the ideas. We also asked our five-member appointed commission for their insights. Then last December we went to the commission with a final recommendation on the new name and logo.

Garrison: We did involve our staff. We asked their feedback throughout the process, and we incorporated it into the rebranding. For example, we sent around a few fun surveys, asking: What are the top 10 words that come to mind when you think about what we do? What colors come to mind? It was very illuminating, and it showed just how proud and dedicated our staff really are.

TPO: What is the significance of the NEW in NEW Water?

Sigmund: In this area, NEW is often used for Northeastern Wisconsin by entities that are somewhat regional in their reach. One example is NEW North, an organization that is looking to create a positive business climate. While we have been the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, we also have facilities in De Pere, and we serve customers across 17 municipalities, so we are bigger than just Green Bay. We looked at having “clean water” in our name, but in the end we settled on NEW Water as something very simple and appropriate.

TPO: Sometimes initiatives like this are seen as empty exercises in image polishing. Was there any resistance to the new identity among the agency staff?

Sigmund: There’s always a concern about whether it’s a good use of money. People say, “We’ve had this name for 81 years — why do we need a new name?” But we’ve had a lot of very positive comment.

Bartel: I’ve been here 28 years, and other people have been here longer than that. You change the name of the company and they question why you’re doing it — and they should question. Some of our folks in the field said, “We are what we are. We’re a sewage plant, a wastewater treatment plant.” But if you talk to them and explain why, they say, “OK.”

At our facilities, we take in raw material, which is wastewater, but what we produce is clean water. Most businesses don’t talk about their raw material. They talk about what their finished product is.”

TPO: How have you gone about rolling out this new identity to your stakeholders and the community?

Garrison: We felt our audience first and foremost was our own staff. We wanted them to know before anyone else. Tom (Sigmund) gives regular briefings to our staff, which we hold over a number of days so that everyone on different shifts can attend. At one of these, Tom explained the re-branding and why we were doing it.

We had a couple of branded items printed up in advance, including a lab coat with our new logo on it. Tom’s size wasn’t available — it came up about to his elbows — but he was a good sport, and he wore it for the presentation. To build excitement and let people have a little ownership of the brand, we’re creating a branded item for every staff member. They can choose a polo shirt or a duffel bag. We had sample items at those employee briefings so everyone could see up close how the new identity would look in execution.

We also created a one-page pdf document that we shared with the whole staff so they could share it with others to explain the new name and what it means.

TPO: What was the response from members of the community?

Garrison: We issued a press release to the local media, and we had a very positive article in the Green Bay Press Gazette, which is our main local newspaper. Tom sent a letter to all our customers and our vendors.

We also had an exhibit at a fair sponsored by the Einstein Project, an organization that provides science kits to public schools in this area. We did water filter demonstrations with the kids and talked to the parents about what we do. We had a banner. We had a nice array of employee volunteers there who wore the branded lab coats. We had a one-page flyer, pencils, calculators. We had about 5,000 visitors to our booth.

TPO: What will the marketing effort look like going forward?

Sigmund: It’s going to be ever-widening circles. We know the launch didn’t hit everybody in our service area, but we’ll continue to reach out through events and other opportunities to let people know that we are NEW Water and what our mission is. As we get into the summer where people are outside and closer to the water, we will have more opportunities to do that.
I think once we’ve been able to deliver our message and people think about water, most will say, yes, that makes sense. Water is our biggest resource in this community — the river and the bay — so having a broad-based conversation about water is only natural.

TPO: It seems you’ll be significantly raising your profile in the community.

Garrison: Yes. For decades, people have said the Green Bay Met was the best-kept secret in town. People didn’t know what we were doing here, and for a lot of our staff, that was just fine. We’ve provided quality service for over 80 years, and now we have a new, rejuvenated mission. We need all hands on deck for this because water quality is one of the biggest concerns of our century.

I think it’s a worthwhile exercise because it restores people’s excitement, especially when we’ll be taking on new tasks with adaptive management. As we go out into the watershed to forge partnerships where we’ve never done that before, it will help for people to better understand and buy into what we’re doing.

When I talk to colleagues, I hear stories about how they’re telling their friends and families. Word travels fastest by the grapevine, and as people spread the word through their own networks, we’re only hearing positive feedback. It’s getting people to buy into the mission more than ever before. We’re proud to keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re excited to take it up a notch.


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