Rafael Ornelas has always wanted to be able to explain to his 9- and 11-year-old daughters what he does as regional leader of the research center for Mexico and Northern Latin America for Ecolab. Rafael's highly technical job utilizes his academic background in pharmaceutical biochemistry and industrial microbiology and calls on his 19 years of work experience in food and drink safety for Ecolab as well as the pharmaceutical industry—but it doesn’t lend itself to simple explanations.
“My daughters have always tried to understand what I do for work, but the explanations that I have given them have always been very abstract and difficult to understand at their age,” Rafael explained in a recent interview.
The Clean and Conserve Education Program—Ecolab’s partnership with the Project WET Foundation to reach 2 million people with water conservation and hygiene education—has helped change that.
“Project WET has allowed me to explain more easily that this is what I do every day when I go to work with Ecolab,” Rafael said. “Normally, people think that a R&D (research and development) employee is a guy who is in a lab all day, mixing things and doing secret projects. When you can relate something like Project WET to my job to explain in a more simple way, people understand that we are also humans! For example, before I couldn’t explain something like surface tension to my daughters in a way they could understand. I shared the Soap Science activity with them from the Clean and Conserve program which helped them understand my work of developing low-foam detergents that require less water to rinse off. In other words, with this product we can save water. That way they can associate the idea with water conservation and understand it more easily.”
Rafael added, “I think in a way they are proud now that they understand better.”
“Project WET has also helped to sow the seeds of understanding water with my daughters in a fun way,” he said. “Today they are much more aware of being careful with water and do not hesitate to call attention to any waste they detect ... and you know it starts spreading. Cousins or friends see them and begin to imitate them, and in the end, without realizing it, the family and the community are enriched.”
Project WET asked Rafael to share more of his thoughts about water, hygiene and sustainability as part of the ongoing “Ask the Scientist” series.
Project WET Foundation (PWF): One of the major focus areas of the Clean and Conserve program is hygiene education for young people. If you were talking to a classroom full of 10-year-olds, what would you want them to know about water from a hygiene perspective?
Rafael Ornelas (RO): I would like to share with them that having clean water is a gift! In the world there are so many kids just like them who don’t have that gift. These kids have to walk long distances to get even a little dirty water for drinking and basic hygiene. That’s why we need to take care of water—because water is a real treasure, and we are very fortunate to have it every day.
PWF: Professionally and/or personally, what are the biggest water challenges that you deal with?
RO: The big emphasis always is to save water. Every moment we have to think how we can save water, in our job, home and school. As I said before, water is a real treasure, so we must use it wisely!
PWF: How does what you do at Ecolab address some of those challenges?
RO: Right now I am working in the Ecolab 3DT CIP program [3D TRASAR Clean-in-Place, an award-winning integrated efficiency program for food and beverage processing plants] for Latin America. One of the program’s big goals is to help Ecolab’s customers save water. As an example, last month in Brazil our 3DT CIP program helped save 180 cubic meters [approximately 48,000 gallons] of water in only one soft drink plant. It’s amazing!!
PWF: What role can water education play in addressing water challenges?
RO: It is fundamental. In fact, I would say that it is the lion’s share—maybe 99 percent of the puzzle. And the earlier that we can start with water education, the better!
The Clean and Conserve Education Program includes lessons, activities and other learning resources for children and youth as well as educators. Even the youngest children can start with “Water for You and Me”, a storybook about the importance of water. Visit the Clean and Conserve page to learn more. Clean and Conserve materials are also available in Spanish for Mexico, French for Canada and Portuguese for Brazil (French and Portuguese materials are available for download from the English-language page).