Bob Drew, Founder and CEO of Ecovie Water Management, discusses the challenges associated with managing water in commercial and residential properties. Bob talks about how Ecovie implements solutions for water problems such as water scarcity, water discharge, and storm water runoff by designing water management systems that capture and utilize water efficiently.
JJ (the host of the Understory Podcast): Welcome to The Understory Podcast. We're here to share innovation and products that are making the world more sustainable with things from renewable energy to water to a circular economy product to sustainable fashion.
We are really interested in talking to entrepreneurs or making a difference in any of these areas. And today we're so excited to have Bob Drew, who is the Founder and CEO of Ecovie Water Management, to be with us here on this podcast and to share more about what he's building. Bob, welcome to our podcast.
Bob Drew: Thank you.
JJ: Tell us about Ecovie Water Management and what you do.
Bob: Ecovie focuses on water. We are water experts, at least we like to think of ourselves as such. We do engineering design and equipment supply for on-site water management. Meaning, any building, we take source water that comes from the sky -- rainwater, stormwater, from inside the building, greywater -- treat it, and then use it on site, recycling it and using water that's available without using water from city water or from wells.
JJ: Before we dive into more about the product, what motivated you to start this company? What's your background? Tell us a little bit more about you.
Bob: I have a background in the paper industry -- being an engineer, product developer, and management person. Water and paper, as you may know, is very water intensive. I worked on optimizing water systems in paper mills for many, many years and decided to break out about 12 years ago to start Ecovie, and to take that and apply that knowledge in a different way. That's what we're doing.
JJ: Very interesting. I think in a lot of people's minds who don't have experience think that water, drinkable water, and usable water, are produced or supplied by water treatment plants. Whereas with this, you started describing to us how that doesn't have to be the case and that's where Ecovie comes in with all the innovation.
Now, let's dive a little bit more into the expertise and the product. So just for layman’s perspective, how does it actually work for the clients that you work with?
Bob: We work on big buildings predominantly, but some smaller buildings such as single-family homes. We'll work with architects and engineering firms to design a building in a way that it can capture water, water from the rooftop, water from fixtures, working on designing the system so that it will treat the water and then use it inside the building.
For example, we may have a rainwater collection system that collects water from a rooftop, treats it, and then it's used as the primary drinking water source for the building. Or, we might be capturing shower water, laundry water, greywater, and treating that to be used to flush toilets or to do other things like irrigation and so forth.
JJ: And the client's motivation for these kinds of projects in working with Ecovie is what?
Bob: Well, that really varies. It depends where you are in the US, it depends on a lot of things. In certain areas, water rates are very high. People might do it to save money, but more often it's being done because there's a water supply issue in places like California, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. That it's needed or even regulated that you need to do things like this. Or, it may be for certifications like LEED or Living Building Challenge, or other certifications for sustainability.
JJ: Are you working with predominantly US companies or do you also have clients outside of the US?
Bob: Mostly in the US. We do have a few projects that have been outside the US. For example, we did a rainwater and greywater combination project for the World Bank in Kabul, Afghanistan, but mostly inside the US.
JJ: To implement one of these projects, just for the audience’s benefit, what does it take in terms of skills and talent? As engineers, water experts, architects, give us an idea of how you actually bring Ecovie to fruition at this large scale -- complicated and complex system of buildings and infrastructure.
Bob: Yes. We are predominantly on the engineering side of things. We work with engineers, but also we interface a lot with the architect. The construction firms make it easy for installation and then take things from the very conceptual phase to the actual startup in the systems. There's a lot, you can imagine, different skill sets required to make that happen.
JJ: You focus on water and you mentioned at the beginning that water is a scarce resource, probably more so than most people realize. From your perspective, when you talk to clients or vice versa, why is water a pressing issue? Why is it a crisis in parts of the US and in the world?
Bob: It certainly is the scarcity side of it and it's changing in many places where it's becoming more scarce. But on the other side, it's on the discharge side. A lot of what we do, we prevent storm water runoff or discharge from buildings. And in other parts of the US, for example, where I am here in the Miami area, it's more about discharge into the Biscayne Bay where we might be contaminating the water, and it eventually will be a water scarcity issue.
So, there are those two kinds of things where the water scarcity would be just because it doesn't rain very much, or the aquifer's becoming dried up. But on the other side, on the discharge side, you know, putting dirty water into our waterways and what we do impacts both of those.
JJ: Got it. And you talk about both residential and commercial infrastructure. For people in their home and wanting to do this more systematically and at a scalable level, how do they get Ecovie into their homes?
Bob: They can certainly contact us and then we would like to get involved early. Generally, with new buildings, but not always, some can be a retrofit, we’ll work personally with whoever we were contacted with. Whether it be the building owner or their representative, the engineer, and so forth, and figure out the best solution for their goals. The goals might be financial, they might be other things, but we figure out what the goals are. And then we find out how we can help.
JJ: What's the general business model when you work with large clients in terms of the commercialization and how they evaluate the positive impact driven by the Ecovie design and engineering of the system?
Bob: Our business model is generally working with engineering firms, but then working either directly with contractors, but more often working with our manufacturers reps that we have throughout the United States to sell through them. Then they add their value, added with being local, as well as other equipment that is needed for a particular construction project. We sell generally through manufacturers reps, sometimes direct.
JJ: I know that you list clients such as Uber, World Bank, and NCR on your website. How do large companies or new construction companies find you?
Bob: We like to think we're doing a decent job of marketing through social media and so forth. Newsletters and postings and that, but also direct contact through our manufacturer reps and also, we have certain certifications. For example, with our greywater technology, it has NSF 350 listing or certification, and in certain municipalities, that is a requirement. It will automatically call us because that's a requirement in their jurisdiction.
JJ: Great. Well, Bob, thank you so much for giving us a quick view of Ecovie Water Management. It is very fascinating and thank you for all your work in bringing advanced water technology to our society.
Bob: Thank you very much.