Water solutions company makes stewardship a priority

From the time Joseph E. Watts achieved fame in the manufacturing world as the patentee and maker of steam and water pressure regulators in the 1870s to the present day, Watts has been in the water business. Whether it be regulating flow, or water safety or conservation, the Watts legacy is clear. To mark Watts’s150th anniversary, Mechanical Business sat down with COO Andre Dhawan to discuss the company’s priorities and challenges.

“Watts operates under the premise that safeguarding water is really an obligation. I see that for myself too − I’ve been in the water business for a long time. It’s a segment that is a great opportunity for people to do better that transcends business objectives,” notes Dhawan.

“We align across several different needs in terms of where we spend our time. One is safety and regulation surrounding water, another is energy efficiency. The more we can do to reduce what we consume, the better it is for the environment. Lastly is water conservation. We try to check all three boxes when we look at the products we bring to market.”

 

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

To achieve its goals Watts has also invested heavily in its workforce.

“We have a program called Watts Cares that encourages employee engagement with community partners or projects where we look at things such as area and water clean up, scholastic support, donations and other programs.”

In 2017, the company established its inventor recognition and award program, which recognizes any invention that advances the business and/or research and development efforts at Watts. “Obviously, if you look at the cumulative gains there are a lot more. All of that resonates with our current team and people see us as a prospective team they want to join,” explains Dhawan.

In terms of philanthropy and community engagement the company’s initiatives are diverse, according to Dhawan. “We partner with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and sponsor local robotics teams and low-income students, to name a few. We also founded the National Backflow Prevention Day, held every August 16, where we focus on the importance of backflow preventers.”

 

INDUSTRY WORKER SHORTAGES

As the industry grapples with skilled worker shortages, Watts is undertaking initiatives to ensure it can move forward with its business goals. “We’re trying to automate so we can offer more meaningful work and create engagement through jobs that folks would want to take on. We’ve also invested significantly in training programs by building training centres across the globe. Watts also has an enhanced e-learning platform and content.”

Watts investment in hands-on training across the globe has made an impression. “That’s a real investment for us − it means a lot of engagement and resonates with the communities we serve and the customers we work with. To make it easier for customers to install and use our products we want solutions to be plug and play. It takes the complexity out of the process, but as more unskilled labour enters the workforce, I think there’s more we can do in that area,” says Dhawan. “Watts is starting to look at AI, for example, to see how things can be available at your fingertips for folks in the field. That’s a work in progress. When that starts to happen, it will be really exciting for us.”

 

SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS

As part of a continued commitment to sustainability, Watts joined the UN Global Compact Initiative in 2022, committing to action in six areas of water stewardship and to contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Watts later achieved verification under The Water Council’s WAVE: Water Stewardship Verified program, signifying the company’s comprehensive efforts to reduce water consumption, enhance water quality, and contribute to watershed health.

Watts focus since 2014 has been internal. Today the company is also examining the impact of its products after they leave the building. “Now we are starting to look into the handprint, which is the social and environmental impacts of our products. We are conducting lifecycle assessments on our products to understand the total impact on the environment from manufacturing to use,” explains Dhawan.

The initiatives are being noticed. Watts was in the top 50 of Newsweek’s America’s Most Responsible Companies 2024 and was also named one of America’s Greenest Companies in 2024 by the publication.

“It’s a continuous journey for us but as we keep trying to expand, getting that recognition is a validation that you’re on the right track. We’re very proud of that,” says Dhawan.

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Moving forward Watts will be working on innovative solutions that look at the whole lifecycle of how its products are used, and anticipating that, in terms of water safety, there’s likely more stringent legislation coming in the future. “We want to try and get there first to take out an even greater level of some of these harmful contaminants. As we look at some of the unresolved issues when it comes to water safety, we have a real focus on deploying technology that doesn’t create other problems,” says Dhawan.

The company is also examining where its products operate. “What we’re looking to do is take a more systems-based approach to say not only are we going to install equipment, we’re also going to be able to bring in remote diagnostics. Sensors we’re developing today, together with cohesive monitoring programs and our water treatment technology, will make our devices last longer, which is good for the environment as well.”

 

EXPANDING ACCESS TO CLEAN, SAFE WATER

Since 2016 Watts has partnered with Planet Water Foundation with a mutual goal of expanding access to clean, safe water for vulnerable communities. Planet Water’s AquaTower is a gravity-based filtration system that can operate without the need for external power.

“Our Total Impact report, to date, shows we have supported 37 AquaTowers for clean, safe, drinking water and an estimate of more than 76,600 children and community members using them. One of our latest acquisitions, Bradley, is now sponsoring Planet Water’s handwashing educational outreach programs this year,” says Dhawan.

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