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Creative Marketing: Why Embrace WQA Certified Sustainability?

For more than a decade, there’s been an ethical cloud hanging over so-called green or environmentally preferable drinking water filters and home systems based on carbon filtration. It’s a cloud of uncertainty and suspicion that was finally lifted with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) March 16 announcement that the Water Quality Association’s (WQA) Sustainability Program was officially accredited to operate a Type-1 environmental labeling product certification program under standards ISO 14024 and ISO 17065.

With that, WQA became the first certification body in the world to achieve ANSI accreditation to certify and label products for environmental consciousness. This means that for qualifying POU equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers, there’s a new path to manufacture, sell and install certified sustainable drinking water products, ones bearing this label.

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Why sustainability instead of green?

In November, 2006, I walked the Greenbuild Show in Denver, CO with then WQA Executive Director Peter Censky. (Greenbuild is the annual trade show representing the wildly successful Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] building certification program put forth by the US Green Building Council [USGBC], which rates buildings [not products] on a list of sustainability attributes, including energy and water efficiency [but not water quality]).

While seeing little potential for WQA to work with USGBC on building water issues, Censky provided encouragement to those members interested in forming a small task force of WQA member manufacturers to explore development of a green labeling initiative for water improvement products. In 2009, initial label designs were presented at WQA’s annual Mid-year Leadership Conference near Chicago, IL. Pentair’s Sam Karge posed the question: “How can we make it easier for a consumer to comparatively look at all of the available home water treatment products and decide which is a better or worse choice, according to the criteria for which he or she is looking?” Karge expressed hope that WQA could develop a green labeling format using existing product data based on ANSI standards and apply it in a consistent labeling format. That October, the same task force showed a draft green label to two California regulators attending a Pacific Water Quality Association meeting.

Avoiding ‘green washing’

But to pursue a green labeling program before addressing an environmental certification scheme was soon seen by others as being akin to putting the cart before the horse. Any green labeling program not backed by a recognized certification program could be exposed to ‘green washing’ (the practice of making unfounded, misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims) criticism from environmentalists and consumers. In the last several years, some companies avoided making environmental claims for fear of being accused of green washing. Over the same period, the term green began to often be replaced with sustainable.

How would the WQA react? In order to meet mounting demands from manufacturers, consumers, retailers, regulators and environmental groups, in 2010 WQA members and its board directed the development of a voluntary certification program for sustainable water products. A product can be defined as sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations, according to WQA. These needs are spelled out by the three principles of sustainability:
1. People: the safety and welfare of production workers and consumers
2. Planet: the continuing health of the world’s ecosystems
3. Profit: the practical realities that the product must fulfill a need, perform as advertised and be offered at a competitive price

In other words, WQA believes that certification to a recognized sustainability standard will help assure that qualifying products meet this emerging market need and enjoy success in the marketplace.

More of a journey than a destination

In a recent phone interview, Stuart Mann, CWS-VI, WQA’s Sustainability Certification Supervisor since late 2012, assisted WC&P International to trace the association’s path to developing a robust and evolving environmental certification program. According to Mann, early members of the Environmental Labeling Task Force began meeting via conference calls. By early 2012, the task force began developing an environmental standard, which was approved the following year after extensive testing.

Soon, WQA hired PE International, a respected consulting firm (now called Thinkstep), which provided technical expertise to develop two sustainability standards for the POU industry:
1. A standard for activated carbon filters
2. A standard for systems that utilize activated carbon

Next, WQA partnered with the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), leading to approval of private standards in 2013. ANSI accredited the standards in 2014. Said Mann: “WQA foresaw the day when industry environmental standards would be expanded to include water softeners and RO systems. The approach would be to start with the filter system standard and broaden it to include UV and reverse osmosis. This involved creating a modular system standard that incorporated more than one technology. Currently, we have finished drafting a module for UV systems. Next up is a module for dispensers, coolers and heaters. Another module in the works is one addressing the safety considerations of electrical components in hybrid drinking water systems. These three new standards will be entered in a pilot testing program and submitted to ASPE for ANSI accreditation.”

WQA is currently busy recruiting voluntary members for a new product standard development group to evaluate water softeners and ionic resins. “This should result,” says Mann, “in new standards for both by the spring of 2016. First, we will write a standard for raw resin, then a standard for a water softener or filter cartridge that includes ion exchange resin. Once accomplished, we will have defined environmental standards for water softeners and filtration cartridges with resin.” Mann reports that the development of environmental standards for RO membranes and for systems that integrate RO will commence in 2017. “I have regular conference calls with the members of the task force, every other week.”

A snapshot of the program

The WQA Sustainability Certification Program is the first of its kind in the drinking water treatment industry. The Sustainability Certification Mark (www.wqa.org/Programs-Services/ Product-Certification/Sustainability-Certification/Trademarks) verifies to retailers and consumers that a product has been manufactured according to industry standards for recognized best practices in environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility. The mark is a symbol that represents achievement in the field of sustainability. It supports profitability by helping to identify products as safe for both people and the planet. Once a product has been certified, the company may display the Sustainability Certification Mark on websites, marketing materials, packaging and the product itself, ensuring that products maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

WQA’s program offers two main standards:

WQA/ASPE/ANSI S-802: Sustainable Activated Carbon Media for Drinking Water Treatment

This standard covers raw activated carbon media products. Manufacturers interested in certifying drinking water treatment unit (DWTU) systems to S-803 (see Benefits of WQA Sustainability Certification) are awarded vital credits for sourcing activated carbon certified to S-802. Certification to this standard helps a company establish market preferability with DWTU customers. The first two carbon manufacturers to qualify are Jacoby Carbons and Kuraray Chemical Company, Ltd.

WQA/ASPE/ANSI S-803: Sustainable Drinking Water Treatment Systems

This product standard is currently scoped to drinking water treatment systems (and components) that utilize activated carbon, string-wound and/or PP/PE filters. WQA is currently in the process of expanding this standard to cover UV treatment systems, RO systems and dispensers/fountains (including heaters/ coolers/carbonators). Eventually the standard will cover all common treatment system technologies. Hybrid systems need only certify to this single standard. As we go to press, two WQA member manufacturers have achieved WQA Sustainability Certification for Systems: 3M Water Filters and Omnipure Filter Company. Go to www.wqa.org/Find-Products#/ to search for specific products certified to WQA’s sustainability standards.


About the author

David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at dmartin@ lenzimartin.com

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