As the host of thousands of water professionals and water companies from nearly 100 countries, WEFTEC 2014 — the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) 87th annual technical exhibition and conference — is officially the largest showing for WEF in the famed Crescent City.
“The notable showing in New Orleans says that WEFTEC is an important industry event but also speaks to the value and importance of water as a big picture issue that links to all aspects of modern society,” added WEF executive director Eileen O’Neill.
“WEF understands that and has worked hard to stretch ourselves beyond what has traditionally worked, which demonstrates our willingness to change to meet the evolving needs of our members, attendees and the entire water sector.”
Reinforcing this concept was the Opening General Session, which officially kicked off the conference on Sept. 29. Built around a central theme of embracing change in a disruptive age, the program featured complementary and inspiring remarks from 2013-2014 WEF president Sandra Ralston and best-selling author and transformative change expert, Luke Williams.
Williams encouraged attendees to “Take the water world by surprise,” by breaking out of traditional modes of operation and pursuing bold, new ideas. “[To spark innovation] you have to encourage ideas to meet, mix, mate, and mutate into forms the world has never seen before,” said Williams. It’s a worthwhile idea but one that challenges our “self-similarity principle,” which is the tendency to gravitate toward the familiar. “It is difficult to break out of the boxes we are in,” he said. “Rather than simply adopting a spot-and-react strategy, we need to lead the disruptive change, and let go of the notion that it’s a comfortable process.”
Conference attendees were further encouraged to learn from the past but focus on the future during the Great Water Cities Session. Featuring opening remarks from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the panel of water leaders from France, New Zealand, and New York shared examples of how their cities are coping with natural disasters, extreme weather events, and future growth.
McCarthy led the call for an increase in partnerships and collaboration among all sectors and nations to help solve our world’s water situations.
Another important opportunity explored at WEFTEC 2014 was the connection between water and the economy. Three high profile press events, featuring national and local luminaries such as Administrator McCarthy and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, highlighted this connection and examined both the national and local benefits of investing in our nation’s water infrastructure, including job creation and stronger international competitiveness.