From the President: Why Do You Do What You Do?

December 20, 2018


“What do you do for a living?”

It’s a common question that comes up pretty quickly in a conversation with someone new. This is a great conversation starter because it is generally innocuous, unlike questions on, say, politics, or one’s favorite judge on “The Voice.”

Getting to the heart of why we work for water

Try following up this question with another: “Why do you do that job?”

Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

I like doing this when I meet someone new and I’m feeling inquisitive (and perhaps little mischievous). I get all sorts of answers, from practical reasons such as, “there was a job opening” or “it’s a family business”; to more intentional responses such as, “I’m passionate about it”; to grandiose proclamations such as, “I want to make everyone, everywhere happy.”

Often, my follow-up question throws people for a loop. I regularly hear that the individual needs more time to think about the question, and I rarely get a response from this new acquaintance. It seems the concept is not something many people think about consciously.

As you read this, I suspect you are pondering how you would answer these questions. If you ask what I do for a living, I respond that I am an environmental engineer. If you ask why I do this job, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) makes it easy for me to answer: because water’s worth it.

Rallying around the WATER’S WORTH IT message

At WEFTEC® 2018 in New Orleans, Jenny Hartfelder, WEF immediate past president, relaunched WEF’s WATER’S WORTH IT® campaign. This was welcome news to many members and WEF Member Associations (MAs) who had grown to truly identify with that message. So, it’s worth repeating: WATER’S WORTH IT.

This message resonates with so many of us because it is more than just a campaign. It is more than a slogan. It is our rallying cry, our raison d’être, or reason for being. We get up every day and go to work, and we volunteer our time to WEF and MAs because WATER’S WORTH IT.

At its core, this broad-based messaging campaign helps bring attention to the importance of clean water and the infrastructure that supports it as well as the essential work of water professionals. It reveals how our actions, attitudes, and the things we most value are so closely connected with water. Read more about this People–Water Nexus in my October column, “From the President: Activating the People–Water Nexus.”

The goal of the WATER’S WORTH IT campaign is to have the public make a connection between the essential services water professionals provide every day and the things it values most:

  • health and safety,
  • a clean environment,
  • a strong economy,
  • stable job growth, and
  • quality of life.

The campaign is built on five pillars that explain the “why” of WATER’S WORTH IT:

  • our respect,
  • our effort,
  • our passion,
  • our health, and
  • our future.

Together, the five pillars justify how water is a precious, limited resource that needs our care. WEF created a colorful website that describes each of the five pillars in detail and provides fact sheets and messaging materials that you can download and use at your organization or MA. Find these resources at

Click to learn more about the WATER’S WORTH It campaign.

Like all good messaging campaigns, WATER’S WORTH IT can be viewed on several levels and reaches multiple audiences. Decision-makers are encouraged to support infrastructure investments now to secure our future. The general public is asked to build a foundation of awareness about the value of recovering resources from used water, and the necessity of accepting water reuse as common practice. And water professionals are asked to communicate the value of water with our actions.

Although water professionals live the WATER’S WORTH IT message every day, I believe we are the most important audience. In his book “Start with Why,” organizational consultant Simon Sinek contends that the most inspiring organization, “thinks, acts, and communicates from the inside out.” Successful organizations start by knowing why they exist and operate, letting their actions come from that core belief.

Individuals can act the same way. If we each start by understanding and accepting why WATER’S WORTH IT, this will drive our behaviors and actions. Our actions will communicate our core beliefs outside of our organizations. Others will gravitate toward our cause and pick up on the message that WATER’S WORTH IT. They will do so not because they care about our organizations or the water sector, but because they care about themselves. They will want to be associated with something bigger than themselves, something that has a reason, something that can boldly answer their question, “why?”

Why do you do what you do? Be prepared with a response, because I may ask you some day.

— Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

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