for water and waste water agencies
Increasing Trust, Support and Investment
Despite growing success, managing the brand of recycled water presents multiple challenges, including the following:
The Source-Quality Connection
The fundamental challenge in branding recycled water is that people tend to associate water quality with its physical source. The assumption is that mountain spring water is great and water from the toilet is forever deadly.
Water professionals understand that making water fit to drink is a function of testing, source water protection, and water treatment. This brings up an important point. The source of drinking water quality is the utility.
Becoming the source of quality should be a branding strategy for all utilities, but especially those involved in recycled water.
When the utility is the source of quality, the physical source becomes irrelevant. Water utilities can learn form Aquafina on this one. They emphasize there multiple-step treatment processes to make the fact that their water comes from a municipal source irrelevant.
Naming of Recycled Water
Recycled water is named based on where it came from, not what it is used for. We certainly can't hide where it comes from, but labeling based on source rather than use is a missed branding opportunity.
Recycled water is actually multiple products with multiple uses, including irrigation water, many different grades of industrial water, and water for replenishing potable supplies.
The product should be named and promoted based on its acceptability for the proposed use, and never defined as solely for non-potable uses.
Recycled Water is Unnatural
Historically, man and his waste have fit into the natural order of things.
However, industrialized man with massive amounts of waste, which includes a multitude of man-made contaminants, does not fit into the natural order of things. So wastewater is not only branded as waste, but as unnatural or toxic waste.
Arguably, this is one of the reasons why people respond positively to natural treatment processes as part of the overall water purification plan.
Confusing Communication PracticesWhen we post purple signs that say "Recycled Water, Do Not Drink," we are implying that the water is not drinkable because it is recycled water, rather than because it was purified to be acceptable only for irrigation. This practice brands recycled water as non-potable when we know that recycled water can be treated such that it is more pure than the water coming down the river.
Recycled water should be described as reused water that is purified to the level necessary for its use, whether for irrigation, high pressure boilers, or for replenishing the potable water supply. Utility managers have found themselves describing recycled water as acceptable for non-potable uses, only to find themselves promoting indirect potable reuse just a few years later. A well-thought-out branding strategy helps us avoid confusing our audience.
In summary, utilities can successfully manage the brand of recycled water by following some simple advice:
- Define recycled water as multiple products with multiple uses.
- Emphasize that the water quality is "manufactured" or tailored for the use, such as replenishing potable water supplies.
- Become the source of quality by demonstrating your commitment to diligence, carefulness, and increasing knowledge. These values are demonstrated through your testing protocols, water purification processes, and your willingness to go beyond regulations.