By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
Optional ballot increases awareness for precast concrete wastewater structures.
It’s the 1860s and a young French man surveys his land. He has an idea, so he digs a hole, builds a large underground container out of concrete and uses clay pipe to funnel wastewater from his home to the tank. He designed the tank to allow overflow to be released into a cesspool.
A few years later, he inspects the inside of his tank to find mostly liquid effluent and almost no solid waste. Amazed, he submits an application for a patent. This man is John Louis Mouras. He is credited with building the first septic tank.
Mouras is one of many in a long line of humans throughout history who have used concrete to create incredible structures and solve everyday issues. Manufacturing and material technologies have evolved over time, making precast concrete tanks better than ever. The evolution of portland cement and the advent of admixtures and supplementary cementitious materials have provided manufacturers the means to extend concrete tank life cycles. Quality control has also evolved, helping ensure materials are carefully selected and tested prior to going into each wastewater tank.
The competition surfaces
For many years, options for septic tanks were either steel, wood, brick or concrete. Concrete was clearly the superior choice for watertightness and longevity. Today, the options are different. Instead of steel and brick, we now have plastic and fiberglass. Concrete is still the superior choice. However, the plastic and fiberglass industries are determined to capture as much market share as possible, and their marketing tactics have targeted precast.
Proponents of competing materials have spent a lot of money advertising their products to position them against precast. They send their sales and marketing staff to on-site trade shows to set up booths and give presentations. They also visit health and regulatory officials, and their presence is often not balanced by precasters, leaving a void of information about precast concrete. As a result, regulators, installers and designers across North America are receiving their concrete education from competitors. Their claims are often without scientific basis or validation, but in the absence of our presence, these sales people are seen as experts by the influencers, who believe the negative portrayal of concrete. Consequently, the market share for precast concrete manufacturers has been challenged. This is what urged the National Precast Concrete Association Water and Wastewater Committee to propose the “Fight Continues” Optional Ballot.
One talking point competing material companies have regularly used is that concrete is old technology. Many 2,000-year-old concrete structures are still standing, so concrete has been around a long time. But these ancient structures prove the incredible durability of concrete. In addition, the technology used to make concrete has evolved considerably over the years to make it even better. No material is perfect for every circumstance, but precast concrete offers the best chance at a long life of durability and watertightness. That is what the NPCA Water and Wastewater Committee wants to convey through the optional ballot.
The program is meant to increase awareness of the benefits of precast concrete on-site water treatment products (septic tanks, grease interceptors and storage tanks) using print and web advertisements as well as active participation with state and national wastewater associations by NPCA members and professional staff. The objective is to educate and remind influencers that precast concrete products are the preferred option for wastewater treatment structures.
Funding for this program has come from members and a match from the board of directors. Requests for pledges started in 2015, and the NPCA Board of Directors voted in December to match contributions. This gave the campaign encouragement, along with additional verbal support from NPCA Chairman of the Board Andy Wieser at The Precast Show 2016.
The timeline for this program starts with advertising in Onsite Installer, the most popular magazine in the decentralized wastewater industry. The first full-page color ad for this campaign ran in the June 2016 issue. Subsequent ads will appear in every monthly issue for the next two years. Ads will also appear in the Onsite Installer e-newsletter. Two ad concepts will alternate, one with a precast manufacturer and the other with a tank installer. The goal for both ads is to draw attention to the benefits of precast concrete tanks and the expertise of local precasters.
The next phase of the campaign will start in 2017 with additional trade show attendance by NPCA professional staff and members. The NPCA Water and Wastewater Committee is currently researching new shows to attend as well as shows where we have had success in the past.
A collaborative effort
Although this optional ballot was conceived and proposed by a small group of dedicated members and supported by a larger group of dedicated members, its success depends on the participation of all precast producer members who supply to the wastewater industry. All tank producers should contemplate their roles in this effort and the potential benefits of their participation. Here are a few ways you can contribute:
- Help raise awareness of NPCA and this campaign by talking to customers about it.
- Bring attention to the advertising in any way you can.
- Commit to raising participation in local events. Precasters are outnumbered at wastewater industry trade shows. Commit to going to at least one event in 2017. If you already go to one event or trade show a year, commit to going to two or three.
You can also endeavor to do at least one thing to elevate your production process, such as taking education courses or webinars, recommending employee training, purchasing new equipment or examining your concrete mix design. NPCA offers many tools and resources that can help you continue to evolve.
More than 150 years ago, concrete was the best material for the first septic tank. Today, it is still the best choice for wastewater structures. The industry must now work hard to make that top of mind for industry influencers. For more information on this program or any resources for wastewater structure manufacturing, please contact Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, or Kayla Hanson, P.E. at (317) 571-9500.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of sustainability and technical education.
Gromicko, N., & Shepard, K. (n.d.). The History of Concrete. Retrieved June 2, 2016, from nachi.org/history-of-concrete.htm