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Opinion: Think beyond your business for mass impact

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JR Inman is vice president of FloHawks Plumbing and Septic Inc. in Puyallup, Washington. I’ve known him forever. We caught up recently, and I asked what he is doing for “fun” these days.

“I’m working with hundreds of people, from dozens of countries, to figure out how to handle septage better,” he replied.

Wow. Here is a guy who has worked in poop his whole life. He has found a way to leverage what he knows and to be of service to the planet and the people who live on it.

“There are roughly 4.5 billion of the 7 billion people on our planet that have inadequate sanitation systems, and half of them have no sanitation system at all,” JR continued. “Over a million people each year die because they don’t have access to clean water and sanitation. Now, a million on a billion is a small number. It’s still a million people, and most of them are kids and babies. So, if money were no object, could we solve this problem? Is this problem solvable? I have to do what I can.”

I was inspired to share JR’s story.

He told me 20 years ago, a pour-flush latrine was developed, making it is easier to serve and maintain the sanitation systems in certain areas. So, the point is, it’s possible to make a positive difference. Success stories are all around us.

But JR reminds me the problems are complicated. I’ll let him tell the rest:

“I’ve been playing in waste, blackwater, biosolids, whatever politically correct term you want to use, since 1982. Around the world, it is different, depending on the culture of the country,” he said. “For instance, in some countries people wash, and in others they wipe. If they wipe, with what? Also, contraband, bottles, medications, trash, even bodies, can end up in the pit. The latrines are different, too. Some are made of plastic or concrete, and some are holes in the ground. All of this impacts what we are able to do as far as removing and treating the waste.

“Every day we see the world that 350 million Americans live in. If you were to pick out the most desperate conditions in America, even for the homeless in some of our cities, we have a lot more to offer than in some developing countries.

“In my company, we strive to educate our team members and customers that the work we do is honorable and essential. While we have challenges in the U.S., earning the respect we deserve, it is so much worse elsewhere. In some countries, the people who clean out the latrines and transport septage are considered the lowest of the low. What would our lives be like without the hard-working men and women who work in our trade, across the globe? I feel a responsibility to try to change this perception, here and abroad.

“When you have access to regular food, clean water, shelter and one set of clothing, everything else is extra. We are spoiled. We have it so good compared to literally two thirds of the rest of the world. It’s just crazy. And it affects me every day to think about that.”

Thanks, JR.

Each of us has a unique set of skills, knowledge, interests and passions.

How can we put that to work in a way that has massive, positive impact in our families, our communities and maybe across the globe?

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant offering profit-building tips, trending business blogs and online workshops at Her books include “Where Did the Money Go?” and “The Bare Bones Weekend Biz Plan.” She can be reached at


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