The water sector has traditionally boasted a wide range of professional and business associations. The years of economic crisis have had a negative impact on many of them, and some are on the brink of disappearing.
AQUA ESPAÑA, quite the contrary, is a good example of a thriving association. Having a clear vision and objectives, together with the professionalisation of the association, have strengthened its activities and importance.
Sergi Martí has been the President of AQUA ESPAÑA for twelve years. He has recently been re-elected President, a living proof of the trust of the Association's members, who believe in continuing with the work done these past years.
Question - Mr Martí, can you please tell us about your career path up to becoming the Director of STENCO and President of AQUA ESPAÑA?
Answer - My career path, from the time I graduated from university, has been basically linked to my family's company, STENCO, founded in 1960 by my father and my grandfather.
STENCO is currently a company with nation-wide presence, a leader in water management and treatments for the entire water cycle and in the prevention of Legionella, working in all industrial and services sectors. As a result of having different roles and responsibilities within the company, I have achieved professional growth and personal fulfilment.
To summarise my progress within STENCO, I started as head of the water analysis lab, then became a technical expert in the technical department. I expanded and led those areas and developed new activities within them, as well as in the rest of the company, for example in the area of training courses, in waste water treatment, and equipment and projects dealing with water treatment and prevention of Legionella.
After learning about the entire organisation, getting further training in business administration, and gaining practical experience in group leadership and leading new activities in the different business areas of the company, and following the growth of the company, I became its Director General fifteen years ago.
Therefore, my professional career evolved at the same time as STENCO did. Initially a local company specialised in the chemical treatment of steam boilers, it underwent technical, commercial, business and management development, becoming a business group with nation-wide presence, a leader in efficient solutions for water management and treatments for the entire water cycle.
Moreover, 21 years ago I set up and became the Director General of my own company, AQUA AMBIENT IBÉRICA, specialised in the treatment of waste water comparable to domestic water and the removal of hydrocarbons from water.
Together with my direct involvement with AQUA ESPAÑA for the past 20 years, in the past ten years I co-founded several complementary entities, directly related to the water sector: the Spanish Technological Platform for Water [Plataforma Española Tecnológica del Agua or PTA], the Catalan Water Partnership (CWP) and the sector partnership Urban Water Industry Grouping [Agrupación Sectorial del Agua Urbana].
Q - Recently you have been unanimously re-elected president of the Board of Directors of AQUA ESPAÑA. Why do you think you were re-elected?
A - From the first day I became President of the Association, twelve years ago, I tried to get very much involved, putting in a lot of time, and particularly, trying to work for the sector, to benefit everybody, and taking everybody into account.
I have also worked to reach consensus on consistent views, goals, and initiatives, with a professional and business approach.
I think that my working approach — transparent, collective, consensus-seeking, based on qualitative and economic results — also explains the support of the members of the association and of the Board of Directors throughout these years and specifically during this fourth and last re-election.
Q - How will you face this new term as President? What will be the most significant challenges in the coming years?
A - I am eager and enthusiastic about it. AQUA ESPAÑA has a very clear mission and vision. As well, it has an annual action plan that has been discussed and agreed upon by sectoral committees, by the Board of Directors, and finally approved by members. This plan of action includes all the initiatives planned, some of which span over several years. Basically, in this term we will try to consolidate and improve the objectives of the previous term: increasing the number of associated companies from across the country, increasing the visibility of AQUA ESPAÑA and its member organisations, promoting regulations, laws and procedures that will lead to a more professional and competitive sector, and fostering networking events and services to connect companies that offer services and those that demand them, to boost the business of our member companies.
And we will do this with the approach of a cohesive sector and with professional responsibility, ultimately seeking to benefit water quality, businesses and, of course, society at large.
Q - AQUA ESPAÑA celebrated in 2018 its 35th anniversary. What are the main milestones of its outstanding trajectory?
A - We are very proud of the global trajectory of AQUA ESPAÑA. We have achieved a flawless professional reputation, representativeness, and we are open to the entire water sector; this has made us the leading association speaking for the sector. And we have done this with a governance model that is clearly participatory, democratic and transparent, together with a sustainable economic model with no debt, based solely on private resources.
Q - What decisions or initiatives are you most proud of, as member of the Board of Directors?
A - The truth is I feel proud of many. But if I had to mention a few, I would say that the entry of new companies in the association, and particularly having representatives from some new sub-sectors, such as the use of storm waters and grey waters, metering and control, irrigation or Legionella prevention and control, to name a few. Also, consolidating our position as the leading association to speak for the sector with public authorities, which has translated into improvements in technical aspects of legal and regulatory provisions. And consolidating a governance model that is participatory and inclusive, as well as economically sustainable. Above all, the professionalisation of the association, with Agustí Ferrer coming on board as Director General six years ago, giving a new impetus to AQUA ESPAÑA.
Q - The water sector has a wide range of associations in Spain. What makes Aqua España different from other associations?
A - Yes, there are many associations, given the characteristics and the breadth of the water sector; although an objective analysis would say that there should be fewer associations, because such as wide range may take away from their strength and potential.
Current members highlight that AQUA ESPAÑA allows them to keep updated on the initiatives and information from the sector, to contribute to the technical and legal framework of the sector, and to identify business opportunities for their companies and network with relevant professionals for them.
The successful trajectory and progress over these 35 years, members themselves as the main asset of the association, the relevant information we send regularly, the high participation of members in sectoral committees of their interest, the professional management, collective and consensus-based work at the Board of Directors, self-financing, and the total transparency of all activities and economic results are the main aspects that set AQUA ESPAÑA apart from the remaining associations I have known and been part of.
Q - What are the challenges ahead for the Spanish water sector? What about the water treatment and control sector specifically?
A - Luckily, we have many challenges and opportunities ahead, keeping in mind that this is an essential sector undergoing constant growth. As we all know, water is a scarce resource, valuable and essential for human life, the environment and most economic and industrial activities.
Therefore, we face significant challenges concerning water efficiency, reuse and recycling in the setting where we live, as well as in recreational and industrial settings, concerning technology and services innovation, including Smart technologies, new water treatment technologies that are more environmental and economically sustainable, the circular economy of the integrated water cycle, etc.
Q - The use and development of technology is having a key role in a 'smart' society. Is the water sector adapting properly?
A - Yes, it is, although some sub-sectors are adapting faster than others.
'Smart water' means implementing successfully all the resources and information and knowledge tools that technology provides in order to achieve better water use, management and treatment. We have to take into account that nowadays technological changes are constantly taking place, at a very fast pace.
Therefore, I am convinced that those companies that are not adapting, in a few years will not be able to offer the products and services that their clients will need and will be driven out of business.
Q - What is the view of Aqua España on circular economy?
A - I am sure that the circular economy in the water sector will become increasingly more important in social, political and business contexts; but I think it will take a few years before AQUA ESPAÑA's member companies will notice an economic impact.
Clearly, citizens' awareness will increase, the same as awareness at the political level. This will lead to increased pressures and legislative changes affecting water reuse. Together with constant progress in water resources management and the evolution of water treatment technologies, this will also lead to new business models in the sector. All of these aspects will help close the loop of the integrated water cycle, the water portion of the circular economy.
Currently there are outstanding real life examples showing that with appropriate recycling of waste water in each case, you can meet 30% of the water use in large cities, 40% of the water use in certain industrial processes, and up to 50% of the water demand in some buildings.
Q - To end the interview, let us continue thinking about the future. How would you like to see AQUA ESPAÑA after another 35 years, and what would you like the legacy of your presidency to be?
A - An association with more members, larger, influential and more representative of the water sector in Spain, independent but integrated into a single and strong Federation of Associations from the water sector in Spain.
This is my last term as President; I would like to be remembered as a President committed to the Association and to the entire sector, who contributed, together with others, towards the growth and consolidation of AQUA ESPAÑA for the benefit of professional practice and competitiveness in the water sector.