From the President: Gaining Insight, Influencing the Organization, and Setting a Course for the Future

October 29, 2015


Paul Bowen, WEF President 2015–2016

Paul Bowen, WEF President 2015–2016

About 6 months ago, I met with several Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) young professionals to talk about how the WEF president could help develop the future generation of water-sector leaders within our organization. During the discussion, they asked several thought-provoking questions that I want to share, along with my answers, to help WEF members get to know me a little better and understand my vision for WEF.

Exploring accomplishments

One person asked what I considered my greatest professional accomplishment as well as my greatest accomplishment within WEF.

With encouragement from my graduate school professors, I joined WEF — it was known as the Water Pollution Control Federation then. Membership was a way to stay current through technical journals. After graduate school I taught at the University of Oklahoma (Norman). My doctoral advisor strongly suggested that I join the Research Symposium of the WEF Program Committee.

Being a WEF member has given me the opportunity to interact with a broad scope of engineers and professionals. Not only do I have the opportunity to work alongside these individuals, but also I have been able to gain valuable insight into my peers’ ability to see simple solutions to complex problems. I’ve tried to keep that focus throughout my career.

When I was a chair of WEF’s Program Committee, I collaborated with staff to develop the concept of midyear-planning and paper-sharing for WEF’s educational events. This lead to cross-functional sessions and positioning the best papers into the technical program. A second standout moment occurred when I helped integrate Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely (SMART) objectives and metrics into WEF operations while serving on the WEF Board of Trustees. To hear WEF staff and other trustees talk about this type of metric and embrace its application has been rewarding.

Throughout my career, my employers, Metcalf & Eddy Inc. (Wakefield, Mass.) and now The Coca-Cola Co. (Atlanta), have supported my involvement in WEF. In all three areas of my professional career — academic, consulting, and industry — I’ve had the opportunity to work with outstanding professionals to complete numerous, diverse projects such as leading the Coca-Cola system [the company and its bottlers worldwide] to 99% compliance with wastewater treatment requirements. Each has allowed me to grow professionally and influenced me by providing different perspectives.

I am still working on achieving the greatest accomplishment in my career — reducing the water-use ratio, or the amount of water we use per liter of product produced within of the Coca-Cola system. The goal is to get the ratio below 2.0. We’re on track to achieve this milestone in the next couple of years. Reaching it will signal that we’re producing more beverages than wastewater.

Bringing new ideas and members into WEF

Another question was asked about the role WEF’s Board of Trustees members play in bringing new ideas and members into WEF. I believe that one of the most important roles for board members is to set the direction of the organization strategically. Establishing a long-term vision and goals enables WEF members to embrace the direction in which the organization is headed and provides a sense of purpose for their membership.

Water professionals want to be a part of the solution. Strategic vision allows board members to be innovative in developing programs and advancing technical trends. For example, the innovation WEF has exhibited in developing and advancing the Stormwater Institute shows the type of visioning that initiates more ideas and attracts new people into the organization.

WEF’s role is primarily one of education and expertise. We offer our members high-quality technical knowledge and provide information, opinions, and guidance to inform decision-makers. WEF volunteers should become water ambassadors to share knowledge and communicate guidance to the public and public officials at every level.

Setting goals for the future

A final set of questions focused on the goals for my time as WEF president and my vision for collaboration with other organizations in the next 5 to 10 years.

I want to focus on young professionals, long-range planning, and sustainable utilities. I believe WEF can do more to enhance the value of membership for young professionals by including scholarships, mentoring, expanded leadership roles, and increasing efforts at inclusion.

In addition, WEF’s long-term vision and strategic goals provide direction for the organization. Long-range business planning with a 3 to 5 year horizon gives programs continuity and direction, which allows staff and volunteers to gain momentum toward goals.

I also would like to see more effort around the concept of sustainable utilities and not just the water and energy nexus but all resources such as finances and personnel. I would like to focus on how water resource recovery facilities get the most from the resources they recover. Sustainable utilities need to encompass more than water and recovered resources; they need to look to ways to develop as businesses that operate to return value to their customers.

WEF is a global leader in wastewater, stormwater, innovation, and knowledge sharing. WEF has established alliances with Singapore PUB, Stockholm International Water Institute, Korea Water and Wastewater Association (Seoul, South Korea), and the International Water Association (London), to name a few. I see WEF expanding its alliances and collaboration with other professional organizations. Collaboration will be the key to continued success. Future partners will come from areas where collaboration builds strength in innovation and technical knowledge sharing.

Serving as your WEF president is an honor and quite humbling. I look forward to working with you as we strive to meet our objectives for the coming year. Thank you for your support of WEF and the work it does.

Paul Bowen, WEF President 2015–2016

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