© 2019 Econics Innovations Inc. DBA Waterworth
Kirk’s mission is to improve communities’ ability to handle current and future challenges in the water utility space. He has worked in the area of water management for over a decade, within governments and well as in advisory roles. Kirk spent much of the last decade in South East Queensland, where he was responsible for developing and delivering critical large-scale demand management projects as part of the response to the “Millennium Drought”. He has published and spoken internationally on topics related to water efficiency and sustainability, including leakage and pressure management, rainwater harvesting, water-use accounting, community-based social marketing and water pricing.
Q&A with Kirk Stinchcombe
How did you end up here?
My background is in environmental management. My first master’s degree was in Environmental Studies. I was initially working in the Department of Agriculture in BC’s Provincial Ministry of Agriculture around aquaculture and marine natural resource management. It was enjoyable, but I had a wonderful mentor and boss named Al Castle, and one day he suggested I look into working in the water sector. He said it was super interesting and exciting — and he was right.
So you made the switch?
Yeah. We moved to Australia so my wife could complete her studies, and I found myself a job in the Gold Coast of Queensland, where we were living. My title was Demand Management Coordinator, so basically water conservation education. Incentives, rebates, coordinating programs for a city of half a million people.
But you were suddenly pushed in a different direction by an environmental crisis.
Totally. We had arrived in Australia in the middle of what they now call the Millennium Drought. It was seven years long — the worst on record. We didn’t realize at the time that it was going to last so long.
How did your role change as a result of the drought?
My position had started out in local government, and that’s where I worked for the first six months. But pretty soon it became evident that the drought wasn’t letting up. Eventually, every level of the Australian government was in crisis management mode. Because I had experience in water conservation and was a little on the entrepreneurial side, very quickly I found myself managing regional programs for the state government. Money was just flowing to combat this drought, because it looked like southeast Queensland was going to run out of water. That’s seven million people — one in seven Australians. I was moving very quickly. Pretty soon I was managing $90 million in drought project funding — massive projects, with hundreds of people reporting to me. It was crazy. We cut a $25 million deal over the span of a weekend to send plumbers into people’s houses on an almost inconceivable scale to install water-conserving fixtures. I mean, we were in government — but government can move at light speed. And it was because we were all willing to take risks, willing to push the envelope, and do what needed to be done to manage this drought.
Wow. That’s a fast learning curve!
There’s nothing like a good drought to get people to care about water. The upshot is that I really got a taste for what it means to have a sustainable water system, and what the future could look like if we don’t manage it properly.
No kidding. So when you returned to Canada, you still worked in water.
Yes. I was working for the Water Stewardship division as the manager of operational policy. So I was responsible for water allocation policy, which is essentially: How do we decide who gets rights to use water. Do farmers get it? Do cities get it? Industry? It was an interesting job but, you know, after the experience of Australia . . .
Your entrepreneurial side needed something more.
Right. So I started Econics in 2009 as a sole proprietorship. I dogged it out in my basement for three years by myself, doing consulting in water management and supply planning. I wasn’t doing any of the finance piece at that point — JP brought that.
And how did you meet JP?
I had put out a primer on conservation-orientated water rates. It was funded in part by government, who was a client, and they put it in JP’s hands. He called me up because he had some questions about it, so we met. We ended up going to a conference together and sharing a booth, and we hit it off. We realized we had the same kind of interests. He joined Econics as a cofounder, and we rebranded and incorporated in 2012. I consider him a real guru in the water space.
Tell me how your product continued to evolve, because Waterworth is very different from the original consulting that Econics was doing.
A lot of what you could call the seminal moments in the company’s history happened on the drive to and from conferences. We were on a drive back from somewhere — I can’t remember where — but you know, we had hatched this idea of, Let’s take our water rates model that we use for consulting and put it on the internet. It’s to JP’s credit, this idea of taking the black box away from the consultant — just putting it on the internet and letting anyone use it. And originally, I didn’t even think it was possible. But JP is really persistent.
And here you are.
It is possible. We’re not the next Facebook. We’re not here to get filthy rich off this. We’re here to put this in people’s hands.
So…why water? How did that end up being Kirk Stinchcombe’s ‘why’?
Growing up in a rural place, we had an ephemeral creek. So it only flowed in the spring, with the snowmelt, and I have very distinct memories as a kid of following this creek across our property. I remember the way it meandered and kind of formed the land. We were trying to dam it up all the time — unsuccessfully, because water is always going to win against a ten-year-old. That creek was a big part of my childhood. So when people ask me, When did you start to care about water?, that’s probably the origin moment.
And did that shape you all the way through your growing-up years and into university?
I spent my childhood playing in the outdoors, so I had this ingrained land ethic from a very young age. I went on to university where I got exposed to the emerging field of environmental studies during what some people called the ‘second green wave’. So the first green wave is like the early 70s, right? Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Then in the 90s, there was the Rio Summit, Al Gore and the Brundtland Commission Report, which was the UN’s big report on the environment and sustainability. They raised some big flags. When I took a few environmental studies courses in university, the light went on. I got involved in some environmental groups at school and started to really think about sustainability.
Pretty cool that your interests were clear enough for you to stay the course, all the way through your degrees and into your career.
To have the opportunity to do what I’m doing now, where I can embody all of that, and put out a product that I passionately believe improves communities in a multitude of different ways is . . . it makes me very lucky.