A Two-State Association of Water Professionals Takes on a Clean-Water Branding

The newly branded Clean Water Professionals of Kentucky & Tennessee looks to start a movement to lend the industry greater stature and more respect.

Shannon Lambert
Shannon Lambert

It’s often asked: Why do people in the wastewater professions often suffer from a lack of respect among the public?

Part of the reason may be simply the use of “wastewater” as a descriptor. Utilities and individual professionals are slowly coming around to that realization. Among them are professionals from Kentucky and Tennessee, who recently rebranded their Water Environment Federation Member Association.

That’s right: The Water Environment Association of Kentucky and Tennessee is now officially called the Clean Water Professionals of Kentucky & Tennessee (CWP-KT). Valerie Lucas, executive director, observes that the organization strives to protect the planet, protect people and make play possible by being the stewards of the two states’ many lakes, rivers and streams.

The branding change is part of what organization leaders call a Clean Water Movement to restore dignity to the profession and put members at the forefront of environmental advancement, economic expansion and community development. CWP-KT also offers resources to utility partners to encourage a culture shift that emphasizes clean water.

Valerie Lucas
Valerie Lucas

Lucas and Shannon Lambert, president of CWP-KT and chief operating officer of the Barge Design Solutions consulting engineering firm in Nashville, Tennessee, talked about the movement in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: How would you sum up the reason for this rebranding and movement?

Lucas: It’s time to explain what we really do. Most workers in our field know that above all else we are about clean water, so why do we still call ourselves wastewater professionals? We don’t waste water — we clean water.

TPO: How did your group decide to make this change?

Lucas: It began a couple of years ago when we started advocating for water in Washington, D.C., as part of NACWA/WEF fly-in. We formed an ad hoc committee to talk about a name change, and it became clear that we needed a better descriptor of what our members do every day.

TPO: What process was followed after the decision was made to change the name?

Lucas: We hired Melissa Zoeller, a marketing professional, and Sally Estes, a design expert. They heard us talk about what we wanted and what we envisioned for the future of water. They observed that we had a “shame bubble” around our profession and didn’t understand why, in view of everything we do to improve the quality of life.

TPO: Did you look to any other outside resources for advice?

Lucas: I reached out to Mark Jockers, who is government and public affairs director at Clean Water Services in Oregon and who was instrumental in their name change. I asked him for advice about what kind of language they use and how they talk to their customers. 

TPO: Is there any special symbolism built into the organization’s new logo?

Lucas: We made our logo very intentional. There are three interconnected water drops to represent our mission statement, which includes advocacy, education and innovation. We incorporated all the colors of water because we had not done a great job of telling the story of water and the water cycle. The arrow represents that we are the future of water.

TPO: At the most basic level, why is it important to use different language in talking about the profession?

Lambert: Most professions and most industries don’t describe what they do in terms of the raw material they start with. They describe what they do based on the finished product. Our sector produces clean water. That’s the end product, and that’s what we should associate ourselves with.

Lucas: When we emphasize wastewater, it’s like ending the story with “once upon a time …” instead of “happily ever after.” If our story were a fairy tale, it would be like identifying with the frog instead of what the frog ultimately becomes, which is a prince. If we want people to change their minds about how they think about water, then as water professionals we have to change our language first.

TPO: How has the Water Environment Federation responded to the new branding?

Lambert: They were very supportive, and they have promoted what we’ve done to other Member Associations.

TPO: Was there any resistance to the name change from the membership?

Lambert: There was a lot of history with the old name, but in the process we went through, we identified those who might have the strongest connection, reached out to them and explained the why behind the change. They got on board fairly quickly.

TPO: Who were the people most attached to the old name?

Lucas: Mostly they were folks who had been a part of the association for the longest time. We still have members who recall when we were the Pollution Control Association. One of our long-standing active members, Bob O’Dette, who is also a WEF Fellow, sent the nicest email when we reached out to him. He was proud of the name change and sent us a picture of a colleague of his in Michigan who changed his facility name to “clean water” in the late 1970s.

TPO: What are you doing to reach out beyond the CWP-KT membership?

Lambert: We’ve reached out to several Utility Partners who have signed on to the Clean Water Movement and are helping to lead the initiative within their organizations. It will help us to have the support of some of our states’ leading utilities.

TPO: Are those partners making changes along the lines of those your group is making?

Lambert: We believe so. We see some changing their facilities from wastewater treatment plants to water resource recovery facilities. They’re making those kinds of changes to their language.

TPO: Can you elaborate on what the Clean Water Movement consists of?

Lucas: We have an introductory packet for anyone who wants to be part of the Clean Water Movement. We’re developing one-page educational pieces that utility leaders can give to their team members: How do you introduce yourself at a barbecue? Did you know that one-third of our workforce will be retiring? We also did interviews with our officers and committee chairs during last year’s Water Professionals Conference about why it’s important to change our name. We put those out on our YouTube channel. Our push for 2020 is to have a road show where we visit utility boards and talk about why it’s important to change our language.

TPO: What is your experience in talking about your profession in social situations?

Lambert: I’ve worked on the drinking water and wastewater sides. When I’m in social setting and people ask me what I do, my tendency has been to talk about the drinking water side. There is no reason that should be the case other than the way we’ve always portrayed ourselves and the language we’ve always used. It doesn’t portray us in a great light.

TPO: What impact do you see the new language and mindset having on recruitment?

Lucas: I’ve had many women come up to me and say they really like the logo, the color scheme, and the idea of protecting human health and what we do to clean the water. This name change and identity change will help recruit more women into the field. Right now, only about 15% of the water workforce is women.

Lambert: The younger generation is driven by making a difference in what they do. The brand change we’re making will help us connect with them better. They’ll be more likely to view the water sector as a place where they can have a great career and make a difference.

TPO: How do you intend to support your members in spreading the clean-water message?

Lucas: We hope to provide our members with the materials, encouragement and resources they need to talk to the public. We feel our utilities have connections with their customers, and we want to help them communicate broadly to the public.

You can learn more at www.cleanwaterprofessionals.org or www.facebook.com/cwpkt.org. You can follow the organization on Twitter at @cwp_kt, join them on LinkedIn and watch testimonials from members by searching on YouTube under Clean Water Professionals.


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