By Tom Palkon
The Water Quality Association (WQA) and its members understand that its core responsibility is to monitor and influence North American government regulations, as this is where the bulk of our members operate. As new and proposed regulations continue to surface throughout the US and Canada, WQA must represent the voice of the industry to ensure these regulations do not negatively impact our members.
But, WQA is much more than a trade association that only monitors and influences regulations. WQA has a variety of departments and programs that benefit its members, including growing global outreach particularly in India.
WQA Aquatech USA is the only venue representing every segment of the increasingly complex and dynamic water treatment and supply market and remains a driving force behind the association’s global expansion. This comprehensive water quality forum provides companies with the latest information, tools, resources and strategies needed to build businesses.
Attendees have the opportunity to visit with top manufacturers, suppliers and service providers. They can also attend business and technical educational sessions and network with colleagues and experts who tackle the same worldwide challenges every day.
WQA also operates the globally recognized Professional Certification Program. It helps consumers and employers identify individuals in the POU/POE water quality improvement industry who have demonstrated a certified level of professional expertise and are dedicated to high professional standards.
WQA certification is a voluntary credentialing process. To achieve any WQA-certified title, the candidate must pass a comprehensive exam and accept the WQA Code of Ethics for the water quality improvement industry.
The Gold Seal Certification Program has provided the association with global access to industry leaders throughout the world. It represents the oldest third-party testing and certification program in the drinking water treatment industry.
WQA tested and certified its first product in 1959. And its Gold Seal has become one of the most recognized certification marks in the US and throughout the world as an identifier of product quality.
Gold Seal drives globalization
As the program has grown, so has the number of international companies that maintain Gold Seal Certified products. WQA is required to perform factory audits for all certified companies’ manufacturing plant locations.
WQA performs numerous factory inspections in over 30 countries each year. The association currently performs over 50 factory inspections in China and India alone, and these factory inspection requirements have given WQA the opportunity to engage a variety of international companies.
This has also allowed WQA to determine how membership can benefit companies located outside North America. While visiting with companies based in Asia, the association quickly realized the need for a member forum to discuss the local issues affecting their businesses and ways for WQA can help with international industry issues.
From this information, WQA chose India as the location of its first International Task Force. This was a logical place to start because India’s primary language is English and the Gold Seal Program has around 15 factories to audit each year.
India Task Force
WQA worked with industry leading companies in India to establish a significant local task force. Unlike other association task forces, this group would hold meetings primarily in India, so the Task Force Chair and Vice Chair would have added responsibilities.
One to two meetings per year were proposed to discuss industry-related issues specific to India. Agenda items will be developed in conjunction with the WQA International Section Staff, the present task forces and the committees of the organization.
The purpose envisioned for such a task force will be to focus on:
- Local testing standards and regulations
- Local lobbying efforts, if and when needed
- Consumer education
- Control of WQA membership and Gold Seal logo misuse (important for domestic and international companies)
- Controlling misuse of other marks and seals
- Registering WQA logo in India and other international countries
- Promoting certification of products
- Promoting and implementing certification of sales and installation personnel
- Translating documents, if needed
- Recruiting new companies to attend the meetings and become members of WQA
- Promoting and protecting the POU/POE industry
The first meeting of this group took place July 23, 2008 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mumbai, India. Fifty people from over 30 Indian companies took part in this daylong meeting. The task force discussed consumer and industry needs. The highest priority for the group was to develop product performance standards. While there were some disagreements regarding the details of how and what these standards should cover, there was no difference of opinion in terms of the need for product performance standards themselves.
The attendees reviewed what has happened in past efforts and the availability and suitability of standards developed and used elsewhere in North America and Europe. They also discussed the need, timing and extent of participation in this effort by the Bureau of India Standards (BIS) in this task.
A sub task force was organized to make a comprehensive study of this subject matter. The objective of this task force is to develop consumer-relevant drinking water treatment device standards for India. This sub task force asked WQA to communicate with BIS to recognize the presence and appropriateness of this group to draft or adopt standards.
The Professional Education/Certification Program was also discussed, which elicited a spirited discussion about the need for properly educated personnel to market, sell and install these products. Another sub task force was established to delve into this matter further. It’s agreed upon objective was to develop affordable and accessible educational and professional certification program for the Indian market.
The need to make WQA more visible in India was also discussed. Many felt the entire water quality improvement efforts by this industry need to be better publicized. It was recognized by all present that this is not an easy or inexpensive matter and that a more comprehensive approach will have to be developed. Another sub task force was appointed to explore this further, create awareness about WQA and educate customers about drinking water.
The second India Task Force was held January 29, 2009 in New Delhi. The key focus of the meeting was presentations by the three sub task groups and the ensuing discussions.
The Standards Development Sub-task group addressed the development of a microbiological testing protocol and a draft protocol was provided to the group for its consideration and consensus.
Many different ideas were brought up, including the concept of tiered approach to the requirements (as well as the need) and to be mindful of the consumers’ need for good protection from unsafe waters. Some brought up the need for chemical reduction or leaching of the devices, while others felt that these can be addressed later, after the microbiological issues are finalized to everyone’s satisfaction. The sub group will continue the work towards reaching a consensus standard via conference calls and meetings.
The Education Sub-task group set out to develop an affordable and accessible education and professional certification program. Initial suggestions indicated that certification should be controlled by WQA, with assurances that price and accessibility throughout India would be maintained at a high-quality level. The group is in the process of starting with one program, which can be expanded, as well as developing a Certified Water Specialist India logo.
The Communication Sub-task group set out to measure success by efforts in five key areas. These include increased task force membership, acceptance of pertinent standards, increased participation in educational activities, increased product certification and increased awareness of WQA by more industry players and consumers.
The first step in this effort is to have all member companies hand out promotional materials at trade shows, continued public relations efforts and better promotion by the trade journals. WQA also intends to hire a local representative to help in these endeavors. Also being considered are more membership promotional ads in targeted magazines, more WQA PR material dispersal, more frequent meetings of this sub task force and a brochure developed specifically to promote this WQA India Task Force.
A meeting July 27 and 28, 2009 in Bangalore was also planned. The agenda included a detailed discussion as to the progress of the standards development sub task force, progress of the education sub task force and ideas for promoting WQA throughout the India water treatment industry. More details on the outcome of this event are pending.
Task force summary
The India Task Force effort is well underway and WQA members throughout India and the rest of the world are benefiting from their efforts. WQA is proud to help contribute to these accomplishments. Competitive companies are working together for the good of the industry, and educational programs and product testing standards are being developed.
The task force is progressing so well that WQA’s Gold Seal Product Certification program has hired staff to help with the task force objectives. India WQA membership has risen to 30 companies and expects to reach 50 companies by the end of this year.
WQA has now hired a manager for its India Operations located in Bangalore. Dr. K. Chandrasekhar Ph.D (Chandu) will be responsible for staffing future India Task Force meetings, promoting WQA membership, Gold Seal Product Certification and professional certification programs throughout the region.
Because of the India Task Forces success ,WQA’s International Section is reviewing the idea of estabishing task forces in South East Asia and China. WQA’s Gold Seal Program is already conducting numerous factory audits in these regions, though service may be more difficult due to more significant language barriers.
WQA has hired contractors in Shanghai to help administer programs throughout China. As these contractors are trained and educated about WQA activities, they may be able to help establish additional task force operations in China, Tiawan and Hong Kong.
WQA Aquatech USA and Aquatech Amsterdam are two of the most successful trade shows for the water treatment industry in the USA and Europe. Now that Aquatech China has produced two successful trade shows, the industry finally has a quality show in this region. And new in 2010 will be Aquatech India, set for Feburaury 3-5 in New Dehli. This should prove to be an execellent opportunity for companies to show off products for this growing market.
As the world economy continues to globalize, WQA’s International Section will continue to initiate regional task forces in more countries to ensure true global outreach. WQA‘s vast program offerings and core responsibilities require such a global initiative.
About the author
Thomas P. Palkon is the Director of Product Certification for the Water Quality Association. He has managed and operated WQA’s Laboratory, Facility Assessment and Certification departments the past nine years. Palkon holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) and a Master of Business Administration with Distinction from Keller Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at (630) 505-0160 ext. 523 or email: [email protected].