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Innovate Not...Because I Can't Possibly Reach a National Market.


Innovate or Die (part 3). Although innovative stormwater quality product offeringsdescribe the image which deliver higher performance and reduce costs of compliance are desperately needed in public infrastructure and private development, they are few and far between. As we said a couple of weeks ago, the reasons why are numerous; let’s take a look at another one.

If we expect new solutions, the stormwater market urgently needs industry to be engaged in a competitive effort to win sales and market share by delivering a better product than their competition. In most industries, markets are a ‘survival of the fittest’ affair in which companies rise and fall on the strength of their latest and best answers to customer needs. It’s that continuous, grinding, competitive drive that brings about better and better solutions, and it’s desperately needed in our industry.

The reasons why this industry is an anomaly with respect to innovation are legion, but I believe these are particularly important:

There’s no real incentive for manufacturers to develop a better product.

If a manufacturer can make a nice profit on an ineffective product and no one really knows the difference, or requires more, why should he/she invest big dollars in developing something innovative? How would the market recognize the better product if a manufacturer made one? Without a national water quality standard to meet or exceed, who’s to say which product is best? Worse yet, without a viable, nationally recognized verification program in place to prove/disprove the manufacturer’s claims, who’d believe it anyway? How do we get industry fully engaged in a competitive battle when we don’t even have a battlefield?

The ‘patchwork’ quilt of state, regional and local standards insures that only the least effective products make it to the national market.

Without national standards, we’ve inadvertently fostered the development of a patchwork quilt of state, regional and local standards that for the most part, make the marketing of all but the least effective, ‘lowest common denominator’ type products impossible on a national basis. This de facto national system of stormwater standards is built on so many layers of duplicated effort that it boggles the mind to think about the waste and inefficiency involved. (Think of the incredible things that could be accomplished with the funds that would be freed up if local governments could extricate themselves from the standards business.) The ‘quilt’ is made up of overlapping, inconsistent and often conflicting standards, even across adjacent city and county lines and most of them involve an ‘approved’ products list that is rarely updated and has no ‘backdoor’ for the timely approval of innovative systems. It’s obvious why the limited range of stormwater products that is available to us nationally is as anemic as it is.

Limited regional verification programs and approved testing protocols are counterproductive.

Developed to operate in the vacuum created by the lack of national standards and a nationally recognized verification program, state and regional verification programs do their best to fill regional needs. Their efforts are well-meant, but they deeply complicate the matter of getting a new product to market nationally. Testing goals, methods and protocols aren’t consistent from program to program and they are only accepted on a limited basis, typically only by jurisdictions within the same or nearby states. Given the disdain with which laboratory testing is generally held, which is a result of early stormwater industry history, the primary verification approach is field testing. Valuable, but extremely limited in the ability to extrapolate likely results in locations other than the one in which the testing was done, these tests are extremely expensive and generally require up to two years to complete. A manufacturer considering taking a product to market may face a year of travelling and negotiation to get these verification processes going, and must engage in at least six separate programs scattered across the country. The typical cost of verification in each region is likely to be $200,000 to $500,000. Do the math, and then factor in the cost of waiting another two years for the results. Can we really wait that long to get new methods and materials into play in a market desperate for better, more cost-effective answers? Is this really a path we can reasonably expect innovators and manufacturers to take?  

There are limited, if not non-existent, distribution options for products which require a solutions-oriented sales effort.

For all the reasons we’ve discussed above, and in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we have an ‘or equal’ sales culture in the stormwater industry. “I’ve got a product that’ll meet the spec, but I can give it to you at 10% less,” are the words most used in stormwater related sales calls. Effective when selling against line item bid specs for interchangeable parts like geotextile or pipe, it’s not an approach that works when selling solutions, where problems must be identified and answers developed based on an intimate knowledge of the client and of the systems and issues involved. It’s the difference between selling paperclips and customized accounting software. Our marketplace struggles with this approach. If you have a new product to get to market nationally and have the money and time to persevere through the trials and tribulations described in this blog, you’ll get to the marketplace and realize that there are few organizations prepared to sell it. This too must change.

Put yourself in the shoes of the individual or company with a great new idea that could potentially be a ‘game changer’ in helping our country conquer urgent stormwater problems. Would you take on the incredibly frustrating, expensive and time consuming gauntlet described above? In the stormwater industry, change has been resisted at every turn, because we’re not equipped to deal with it. As a result, it’s come rarely, and only in bits and pieces. If we don’t find a way to eliminate the obstacles to change, and specifically to getting industry involved in a competitive battle to develop the better stormwater ‘mousetrap,’ we have very little hope of meeting the challenges we face. The results of our failure will be a plague on our grandchildren if we don’t start making serious progress now.





These points are all right on. Since money talks, the 'industry' will probably continue on the same path(s) mentioned by Bob. The only solution I can see is for the EPA to recognize the inherent problems Bob has discussed and provide money for appropriate research. The second would be for industry to 'do the right thing' and support appropriate research without bringing in 'junk' to skew the results to their products. And third, for the EPA to 'allow' and 'promote' proven patented products and technology, and clarify that 'or equal' is OK and valid, and that 'or equal' has to be proven by the original type testing (and not just 'claimed' to be 'equal' by a manufacturer). In this 'politically correct' society, dumbing everything down subbstantially hurts the environment and thus we, the citizenery over the long term.
Posted @ Friday, April 13, 2012 8:46 AM by thomas carpenter, CPESC
Good points. Standards are needed to protect the integrity of the pool of controls already in use. But there certainly is a need to promote innovation to improve the quality of that pool. Either the permitting areas need to get bigger to reduce the number of technology evaluation programs, or USEPA takes it on entirely. The latter may not happen very soon.
Posted @ Tuesday, April 17, 2012 6:28 PM by Adam Fischer
Adam, I believe there are several other scenarios beyond EPA taking it on entirely that would work. As you know, EPA made an effort to move in this direction with the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) program. It's not worked out for a variety or reasons, but the basic idea was a solid one, and absolutely necessary in my opinion, if we're to have any chance of reaching our stormwater goals.  
In my opinion, the best alternative would be a verification program developed and run by a nationally oriented, science-based, third party organization, that would be recognized by (and monitored by) EPA. Two possible scenarios come immediately to mind.  
In one, a highly respected, water focused organization with deep experience in water-related science (think WEF, WERF, NSF, etc.) takes on this challenge. This group would manage the program, develop protocols and testing regimes and either by contract or internal capacity, conduct the verification testing, which would be recognized nationally. 
In another scenario, the stormwater focused programs at the leading universities around the country who are now doing local/region verification are joined together in a 'consortium' overseen by the EPA. In this scenario, all universities in the consortium would use the same protocols and testing regimes, and the verification of any one of them would be accepted equally and nationally. 
There may be other workable scenarios as well, but we've talked with some of the groups mentioned above and I'm confident that one will step up and press forward with a proposal for the development of a national verification program in the near future.  
Posted @ Wednesday, April 18, 2012 9:54 AM by Robert Adair
I agree with general aspect of this. National standards are needed. It is extremely hard to provide a solution to a target that is continually moving from state to state, jurisdiction to  
There needs to national standards to apply. In the areas my team work, it varies 180 degrees on what works or is accepted. 
I do believe in less government and states/municipalities should govern as they see fit. But we all need to be on the same page. 
We need to simplify the standards And reduce verification. In lieu of full site feasibilty studies, let's develope privately funded test sites. Let's allow value engineering and define the 90% criteria. We need to look at value, installed cost effectiveness and maintenance of systems. As an example, aaahto has a code on bridges. We have hundreds of bridge systems available with a A lot of material and performance choices.  
Engineers evaluate options and conditions, and chose the appropriate system. Fundamentally, this system works pretty well. This is what storm water treatment needs 
Posted @ Thursday, April 19, 2012 10:19 PM by Michael barnes
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