Working with Companies

Corporate Responsibility and Water

An Interview with American Standard CEO, Don Devine

The director of the Conservancy’s Global Freshwater Program, Brian Richter, recently spoke with Don Devine, CEO of American Standard – a leading manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom fixtures related to water use – about the nexus between business sustainability and freshwater conservation.

With more than two-thirds of the world’s population expected to face water shortages by 2025 the Conservancy is working to promote more sustainable water use for the benefit of both people and natural places that provide our water – rivers and lakes.

Brian Richter:

Why did you decide to get involved in conservation?

Don Devine:

In order to be relevant in our competitive landscape we have to know what’s on the minds of our consumers. Conservation is top of mind for a large portion of consumers today. They are looking for products that will help them achieve their goals of using less water so we are taking a leadership role in innovating that new technology.

We also need to be attuned to those in government agencies who set regulations. We’re finding that agencies are interested not only in the conservation aspect of reducing water use but also the opportunity for cost reduction due to lower demands on infrastructure and the treatment side of the equation.

Brian Richter:

What do you see as the greatest challenge to increasing the availability of products that will enable people to have a smaller impact on nature?

Don Devine:

The first is when you look at the whole category of more sustainable consumer products, one of the big challenges we run into is the willingness of the consumer to make the leap from a traditional product to one that is labeled “green”. The consumer is often skeptical about green products for a number of reasons; some products make claims that simply aren’t supportable and other products require the consumer to make a trade-off in how the product performs versus the one it replaces. Businesses that are committed to growing the market for sustainable products must be committed to creating products that are equal to or better than the products that they are currently using.

We have to give the consumer confidence that they won’t have to make a performance tradeoff. That’s not only a value that we can provide the individual consumer but it’s also a value that we can provide to the conservation community and the business community at large.

If you make a claim that a product is “green” and it really doesn’t perform at the level the consumer has come to expect from a product that’s actually a detriment to the full business community and the entire effort to help individuals and businesses live and work more sustainably.

By increasing consumer confidence in “green” technology we will grow the market as a whole and that will have a direct impact on nature and the natural resources.

Another contribution we can make is to help get the word out. Businesses put a great deal of resources and expertise into how we communicate with the public. We can be powerful advocates for sustainable resource use. We’re doing that with our Responsible Bathroom campaign which creates awareness for water conservation and provides solutions for homes and businesses.

Brian Richter:

Do you believe that business leaders have a unique role to play in the conservation movement?

Don Devine:

I do. A couple of thoughts: first, we can help set the priorities for our companies and make sustainability a core value of the company. That sets the wheels in motion. And you have to put resources behind the commitment and create products that deliver. The business sector has research and development resources; we can solve sustainability problems that benefit the planet and provide the solutions that our consumers are looking for.

It’s also about personal responsibility. I think we all have to be good stewards of our environment. We’re placing increasing demands on finite resources like water. As our populations grow, the best way to protect our future is to use the resources wisely.

That’s what brought us to the Conservancy. We want to make sustainability more viable for individuals and businesses and we want to help get the word out on how important that is.

American Standard has provided one million dollars in support of the Conservancy’s efforts to protect fresh water around the world.


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