With a PhD in Chemistry from Northwestern University in Illinois, Dr. Jian Kun Shen has designed research labs and centers, executed innovation processes, recruited talent and much more during his nearly 20 years of work in three countries for Nalco and Ecolab. Now the R&D Director for the Ecolab China Innovation Center in Shanghai, Dr. Shen is passionate about clean water. “The food we eat, the dishes we use and even our hands cannot be cleaned without clean water,” he said in a recent interview.
Dr. Shen is also deeply involved in the issue of waste water—both its treatment and the potential for recycling. “One of the focuses for our water research teams at both the regional and global levels is to develop solutions for purifying industrial waste water,” he said. “We want to ensure that industrial water consumers meet waste discharge regulatory compliance requirements and find ways to reuse the treated wastewater.”
Following the recent launch of Chinese-language materials for the Clean and Conserve program, Project WET asked Dr. Shen about the role of water education, especially for young people, 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 of 10-year-olds, what would you want them to know about water from a hygiene perspective?
Jian Kun Shen (JKS): Life would not be possible without water. Clean water is essential for our daily life. But water, if not treated properly, can also be an ideal medium for bacteria growth and a source of contamination of our food and drinks. We will get sick if we drink water without proper sanitization. Nearly one billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, and two million people in developing countries die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. We should learn best practices for hygiene and treasure the water resources we have.
PWF: Professionally and/or personally, what are the biggest water challenges that you deal with?
JKS: Waste water services generate substantial benefits for public health, the economy and the environment. However, these benefits may not be obvious to individuals and can be difficult to assess in monetary terms. Waste water treatment is often viewed purely as an additional cost, especially in developing economies. Recycling waste water not only reduces waste discharge to the environment, but also provides an alternative water source for industrial applications. The quality and affordability of waste water treatment services are fundamental aspects affecting the progress of waste water service business development.
PWF: How does what you do at Ecolab address some of those challenges?
JKS: We take a holistic approach—total water management (TWM)—to maximize the benefits of operational practices, chemical products, equipment engineering and information management when developing solutions for specific customers. We also have developed an online tool to help water users make more informed decisions related to water management. The Water Risk Monetizer is available to all water users at no cost and provides actionable information to help companies understand the impact of local-level water scarcity on operations and revenue.
PWF: What role can water education play in addressing water challenges?
JKS: With population growth and economic expansion, water scarcity is becoming a common social problem in many parts of the world. Water education can increase public awareness about water challenges and develop a culture of water conservation. This will not only prompt different stakeholders to make needed water investments, but will also reduce the overall cost of the solution when we all act together.
Previous “Ask the Scientist” entries:
The Clean and Conserve Education Program, developed through the partnership between the Project WET Foundation and Ecolab, includes lessons, activities and other learning resources for children and youth ages three through 18, as well as educators. Visit the Clean and Conserve page to learn more. Originally published in English, Clean and Conserve materials are newly available in Chinese, Spanish for Mexico, French for Canada and Portuguese for Brazil (French and Portuguese materials are available for download from the English-language page).