Ethics in the Septic System Industry

As a septic professional, you should seek to enhance the reputation of the industry through your interactions with customers

Ethics in the Septic System Industry

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Moving into a new year gives you the opportunity to think back on the work you have done and new opportunities to grow your businesses, expand your knowledge and build the credibility of both your business and our industry.  

Credibility, personal respect, and admiration from others are highly valued today. The avenue to these three values is ethical behavior — the moral duties and obligations that we have within our society. Ethical questions affect our daily lives. We make decisions every day that build or weaken our credibility, respect and admiration from others. 

The actions of the individuals performing services within the septic industry ultimately determine public perception of the industry. The integrity of each person is important because the actions of a single person can impact the long-term viability of this industry within the private sector.

Credibility that is generated within the minds of our peers and customers is based on believability and dependability. When one demonstrates a level of integrity, honesty and consistency in one's dealings with others, society acknowledges the pattern. When people with credibility speak, their words carry weight in the minds of listeners. Their words are believed to be true, simply because of who spoke them.

The second element of credibility is being dependable. People in positions of leadership have developed a history of being believable. Their peers believe what they say and have come to depend upon their input before making decisions. People accept the information being presented by an authority figure because he or she is dependable. As an onsite professional, people will accept what you say because of your dependability. Thus, the value of credibility becomes clear.

Respect is given to people in either a position of respect or to those who have earned personal respect. Positional respect is a response to the position itself, rather than the character of the person holding that position. For example, a police officer guiding traffic in an intersection holds positional respect.  A driver approaching the corner may have never met the police officer. Yet the driver carefully follows instructions because of the police officer's position. This type of positional respect is necessary for the proper and efficient functioning of our society, but it is different from personal respect.  

Personal respect, rather than positional, is the goal of an ethical person. The significant difference between the two is that personal respect must be earned through one’s actions. People keep mental notes of their peer’s actions, noticing breeches of ethics or advances that are demonstrated every day. Because personal respect must be earned and is an individual trait arising from personal relationships, it is far more valuable than positional respect. For example, regulatory inspectors in this industry have an automatic positional respect. But, like most professionals, they also seek and value personal respect and must address ethical issues appropriately to earn it.

The final aspect of ethics that we will address deals with the professional responsibility to guide and influence the onsite wastewater treatment industry. Part of being a professional is active membership in local, state and national professional associations. Participating in these organizations provides the opportunity to both gain personally (information, continuing education units, etc.) and to give back to the industry. Giving back is an opportunity to guide the industry in a positive direction using one’s experience and expertise and should be considered a fundamental element of a business model. Reach out to your state association or find a local or national training event.  

Credibility, personal respect, and admiration are difficult to build but easily destroyed. Setting and attaining these goals is not for the benefit of our personal egos. It is instead our responsibility to provide the necessary leadership for the industry. Those in the septic system industry need to function as professionals. This includes knowing the applicable local, state/provincial and national statutes, codes, laws and regulations applicable to the industry. If system owners receive conflicting answers from septic system professionals to the same question, they will become or remain wary of the whole industry. Septic system professionals must be knowledgeable, or the industry loses credibility. We should compete honestly and lawfully, building our businesses through our own skills and merits. 

Septic system professionals should also avoid any act that might promote their individual interests at the expense of the integrity of the industry. If the onsite wastewater treatment industry gets a “black eye” because of the actions of an individual, it is harder to maintain the industry in the eye of the public. 

As a septic professional, you should seek to enhance the reputation of the industry through your communication and interactions. 

About the author
Sara Heger, Ph.D., is a researcher and educator in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program in the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota, where she also earned her degrees in agricultural and biosystems engineering and water resource science. She presents at many local and national training events regarding the design, installation and management of septic systems and related research. Heger is the President of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association and she serves on the NSF International Committee on Wastewater Treatment Systems. 


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