The WATER Foundation
By Brenda Maas


A New Twist on the Conservation Crusade

            Although the definition of environmentalism has evolved since the pop-culture movement helped create the Environmental Protection Agency in the early seventies, one basic concept remains-we have one earth and we should do what we can to keep it in the best possible shape.  Given that premise, and his inborn love for nature, David Winkelman has added a twist to the conservation crusade-use capitalism to work for environmental issues-not against them.

            Although Winkelman’s professional repertoire ranges from past-owner of a recycled-cellulose insulation installation company to successful angler on the professional circuit, his career choices have always been influenced by nature.  However, it wasn’t until he was I his mid-thirties that Winkelman acted on an idea that had been evolving in his mind since college.


The Awakening

While attending St. Cloud State University in the early seventies, Winkelman became actively involved in environmental issues, both academically through his major course of study, biophysics, and socially though the Students for Environmental Defense Club.  After watching a skit that was put on to raise funds for the environment, a friend of Winkelman’s pointed out the illogic of asking big corporations for a handout while simultaneously pointing a shaming finger a them.  Small, grassroots organizations were hard-pressed to make an impression on corporate America.

            “He made sense,” recalls Winkelman.  “Raising money to help the environment at the expense of business wasn’t correct.”

            After years of mulling over the concept of incorporating business with conservation, Winkelman took the plunge.  He sold his insulation business in 1982 and started The WATER Foundation-combining conservation ideals with capitalistic methods to encourage consumers to tread lightly on the environment.

            Winkelman began by selling his ideas to large corporations-offering them sponsorship in what came to be known as “Conservation Marketing” programs-in exchange for their sincere commitment to conservation ideals, financial support, and a market in which to influence consumers.  He demonstrated products, programs, and services that reduce human impact on the environment while saving money for the consumer.

            Today, the multifaceted communications company works both for the environment and for a profit.  Located ten miles southeast of Brainerd, the organization promotes environmental awareness and positive action through practical solutions.  Winkelman’s fifteen-member team researches environmental facts and turns them into fun consumer tips that are broadcast nationwide as short radio features and advertisements.

            For example, a Goodyear tire ad demonstrates that consumers can save money and be kind to the environment by simply rotating their tires every ten thousand miles.  By supplying the scientific information and an advertising “hook” to their industry partners, the foundation bridges the gap between industry and concerned consumers.

            Winkelman wants consumers to know that they can maintain a high standard of living and still make decisions that reduce impacting nature in a negative way.  “This is a unique model for a business,” notes Winkelman.  “Instead of following a path, I’ve been taught to make my own.”


Environmental Parade of Homes

            The path of which he speaks leads directly to The Living Arts Center-a perpetual “parade of homes,” so to speak, for environmental products and processes.  As headquarters and showcase for The WATER Foundation, the center displays how seemingly small consumer decisions can make a big impact-or prevent a big impact.  While products such as recycled-cellulose insulation, waterless toilets, and geothermal heating and cooling systems are not necessarily new, each product or process promoted through the center is thoroughly researched to ensure it meets strict requirements set by the foundation’s mission.

            For example, because no structural piece is longer than seven feet, the manner in which the geometric Eco-Dome is designed encourages the use of shorter scrap lumber.  By mimicking what is found in nature-beaver domes and birdhouses-the buildings are energy efficient by design.  The geodesic buildings use 33 percent-less material to enclose the same floor area than a square-type building, and cost approximately $48 per square foot compared to the average $60-$125 for conventional construction.

            The center also offers on-site demonstrations of building and household products ranging from compact fluorescent light bulbs to composting toilets to solar and wind electric power.  While the structure itself models how consumers can save on space, resources, and building costs, The Living Arts Center demonstrates how this can be done without sacrificing art or style.


Hitting the Airwaves

            The WATER Foundation also reaches across the globe with its publications, educational programs, Internet links, and syndicated radio shows.  Winkelman’s creative team developed ten programs focusing on specific consumer markets.  Their advertising method categorizes each promotion by topic-for example, home improvement, water conservation, or creative recycling.

            Each broadcast message presents pertinent environmental facts with actions the consumer can take to help the conservation effort and still save money.  The messages hit consumers in their pocketbooks while appealing to their desire for a cleaner environment and a simpler life.  The foundation generates its revenues through corporate sponsors of these programs.

            According to the most recent Arbitron rating survey, the foundation’s message is far-reaching.  Nationwide, more than 4.7 million listeners hear each message daily.  Most segments are sired during what is known as the drive-time hours-the morning and late-afternoon time slots when people travel to and from work.  The advertisements also reach overseas on Armed Forces Radio and Worldwide Christian Radio.

            Bog Frog, a mascot conceptualized by Winkelman and brought to life by artist Paul Kampa, often delivers the foundation’s radio messages.  He makes numerous appearances across the country at the request of product sponsors-crusading for conservation and wise consumer practices in the guise of “Frog-Friendly Tips.”  Like Woodsy Owl and Smokey the Bear before him, Bog Frog brings environmental concerns to the limelight.

            “A frog is the perfect ‘spokesphibian’ because of its sensitivity to environmental imbalances and its whimsical appearance,” notes Winkelman.

            The twenty-first century will see Bog Frog’s television debut.  Winkelman has decided to let Bog Frog loose to promote environmentally wise consumer choices.  The foundation will continue to oversee the character’s agenda, but he will soon join Woodsy and Smokey as conservation icons recognized nationwide.


Proven Effective

            Throughout the company’s infancy, Winkelman focused on the marketplace instead of the political arena.  He feels that capitalism, not necessarily the government, has a major role and a responsibility in conservation efforts.

            “If the quest for profit has hurt the environment, then we should use the motivation of money to turn things around,” says Winkelman.  “In the next century we’ll have to make changes.  Products like compact light bulbs will create new economic growth while extending other resources.  The quickest way to help the environment is through the marketplace rather than by archaic government methods.”

            Governor Ventura agrees with Winkelman.  The WATER Foundation was recently recognized as a recipient of the 1999 Minnesota Governor’s Award for Excellence in Waste and Pollution Prevention.  This annual award is reserved for organizations that demonstrate outstanding pollution methods rather than trying to control pollution prevention methods rather than trying to control pollution once it has been created.

            Hollywood has also recognized their mission as important and timely.  On January 1, 2000, The Millennium Show will feature The WATER Foundation in its four-hour environmental segment that will be viewed by millions across the globe.

            As elemental as water itself, the concept for The WATER Foundation is both simple and intricate.  True to his family’s roots, David Winkelman has let his childhood love for the outdoors guide his life’s mission.  While his environmental approach may seem at odds with traditional environmental concepts, he has found an effective way to actively share his deep-rooted love for nature.