The Future of Wastewater

How Social Media Could Be The Key To Its Evolution



The Power of Social Media

With the rise of social media and handheld smart phones, our world has never been more connected than it is today. From a push of a button we can instantaneously and simultaneously send messages between friends and loved ones, whilst being from other sides of the globe. Social Media apps like Facebook have the potential to connect millions of people together and can bring certain topics that normally fall into obscurity into to the spotlight.

Social media is part and parcel with personal relations. Public relations (PR) describes the actions a business or organization takes to shape perceptions of its brand and develop relationships with its customer base, target audience, partners, and other important stakeholders. The benefits of good PR include but are not limited to: earning trust, building brand awareness and establishing valuable relationships. When social media is cleverly used it can connect brands, organisations and movements to its intended target audience, whether for paying customers or the wider local community; opening an alternative with the possibility of higher audience engagement and lower costs than traditional advertising. Simply put, a successful social media campaign interacts with users on a “relatable” level that:

  • Build brand/cause awareness
  • Promote a product/service
  • Create a sense of community

Prompting people to actively create and participate in a well-thought out social media campaign can help getting the message across clearly, initiate the desired interactions, and therefore intended changes in awareness, attitudes or behaviour. It unites people around a common interest or experience, and ideally, creates a trend.

Humans Gonna Human

Humans. We are social beings, tend to live in multi-person households and hence, communication is a big part of our everyday life. It makes that we are drawn towards more social interactions and why it comes to naturally to us, but what why do we follow trends? What makes the activity, knowledge and attention placed on “trendy” topics important to us when this information/action might be conveyed or practiced by an unfamiliar person or organisation? Is it mind control? relentless bombardment of media? Or is it instinct?

We are Socially Inclined

Just like we did tens of thousands of years ago, we still large groups similar to tribes. We contribute, interact and want to be apart of this larger identity, Afterall it makes us feel good and we have survived because of our ability to band together. This affected our psychology and lead to us social drives that results in our complex but almost predictable behaviours. An article by Psychology Today goes through some of these reasons and it has less to do with tin foil hats and more related to instinct.

“In our evolutionary past, our ancestors were under constant threat. Keen awareness of others helped our ancestors survive in a dangerous and uncertain world. Modern humans have inherited such adaptive behaviors”.

– Julia Coultas, University of Essex, quoted from Psychology Today

We look for approval and follow the crowds – We Chose Popular

Most of us do not have time to increase our knowledge of all merchandise and research every advertised item to measure its usefulness. Confirmation of ones idea/method creates a sense of satisfaction or reassurance that this idea/method has been tried and tested before.

Oh Donkey..

Can Social Media Reconnect or Form Communities to Support Environmental Causes?

Depending on where you live you have most likely been exposed to some sort of campaign that fights for equality and sustainability, usually sponsored by a charity or government department. If you live in Western Australia, you might remember the Keep Australia Beautiful Campaign with slogans like “Do The Right Thing”.

Source: Keep Australia Beautiful

Effective marketing can raise awareness, encourage movements and establish regular social practices. This is especially useful for environmental causes that need the attention more than ever. Putting a spotlight on these causes can alter an individuals’ behaviour to one that is more appropriate and sustainable. The aim is not about forcing an idea rather to inform, educate and facilitate opportunities for action. Social Media is a platform for marketing strategies and one that is a staple choice as it is more personal and increasing in accessibility around the world. Consisting of useful features that can create more effective and focused approaches towards target audience and location, allow for more funding towards the causes and less being spent on advertising. Advertising is still a necessity for environmental causes as with developing technologies and emerging industries, comes with new and equally complex environmental problems. The world today is highly complex and social media can help provide the right information to relevant persons in an economic and psychologically effective way; leading to a greater awareness and improving our relationships between one another, the environment and other causes that are important to us. Social media made saving the environment (and hopefully one day our climate) cool again.

Wastewater was Born To be Famous

The same can be said about wastewater, social media can help lift wastewater challenges into the spotlight and bring upon positive and necessary changes into public perception, drive advancements in technology and compliance. In a previous post, I discuss how changing public perception could lead to a rise in innovation if wastewater challenges were treated like the space race. Currently, the wastewater industry (private or public) is an under-appreciated and under-utilised sector, with many benefits for sustainability including:

  • Providing safe potable or fit for purpose non-potable water that reduces pressure on current water supply and provides a climate independent source of water
  • The flexibility of being a government owned facility or a decentralised private system
  • Removes excess nutrients that otherwise flow into and choke our water ways (estruaries, rivers, dams)
  • Provides a renewable energy from organic material removed from the recycling process
  • The resource’s and infrastructure put into wastewater treatment serves as a reminder the value of water and preserving the water cycle

Wastewater has been under-acknowledged by the public for some time now and this needs to change. Campaigns to support the overall agenda of wastewater don’t get much traction and certainly don’t usually becoming “trendy”, largely to do with public’s value and perception of wastewater.

Fighting to improve wastewater innovation and support isn’t as glamourous when compared to protecting the rainforests or cute panda cubs facing extinction.  The public is not to blame  – abundance of forests is a no brainer to most of us as it provides the air we breathe and deep down we have a moral guilt and a sense of empathy/nurture within us to feel bad about endangered species (especially cute ones, it’s true!). The benefits of wastewater technology incorporation and development aren’t as evident to the average person and tend to fall on deaf ears, I mean making energy from poo? And we still get clean water whilst reducing our environmental impact on waterways? You got to be kidding me, its almost too good too be true!

This is why more attention needs to be placed on this, because wastewater is an untapped resource awaiting some smart person who could improve our waste to energy ratio by 30 times current efficiencies or encourage countries and individuals to recycle water at appropriate levels of capability. Everyone can contribute to water recycling some way or another (such as utlising grey water, recycling and reconnecting to the water cycle!) by simply making changes to water usage.

Social media can inspire social movements and awareness programs that aim to fill this gap; to make water recycling the norm and embellish the pursuit of solving wastewater problems. A world where the water is never wasted, under-valued and a “space-race” approach to wastewater innovation and merit is established in appropriate societal context.

So, let’s inspire the new generation of wastewater engineers, lets solve our wastewater challenges to make ours and the environments life better. Improvements in wastewater engineering paves a path for sustainable development where our industry and public focus on improving themselves to provide a sustainable community that practices responsible production/consumption, also minimises climate-vulnerability and environmental impact on water ways, leading to clean water and renewable energy.

It is time for wastewater to leave the place “where the sun doesn’t shine” and bask in the spotlight, #MakeShitGlamourous!

Published by rafenewsome

Civil Engineering University Student at UWA. On a journey of learning towards wastewater and willing to contribute to education.

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