Portions originally published in Modem Operandi, August 1997

Water, Water Everywhere

by Craig C. Bailey

Ken Bannister has been a water supply hydrogeologist for 17 years and a professional dowser for 15. With more than 20 years of experience in field geology in the Green Mountain State, he's also president of Bannister Research and Consulting, a geological consulting firm in Bridport specializing in groundwater exploration, testing and protection.

It wasn't long after Bannister discovered the Internet in late 1994 that he realized its marketing potential. In September 1995 he created his home page, followed by the company's own listserv. Within a week the list had grown to 500 subscribers, and within a few months it had become the largest groundwater mailing list in the world. "The market was just sitting there waiting for the entrepreneur to come along," explains Bannister. "Since we have burst on the scene, the other groundwater lists that did exist have virtually 'dried up' as the main online discussion of this topic now occurs on our list."

Sponsorships on Bannister's listserv and website, offered since May 1996, continue to grow as a percentage of the firm's revenue, making his business's endeavors an interesting study for Internet pundits as well as environmental service companies.

CCB: How long have you used the Internet in your business?
KB: I first went online in late 1994 or early 1995. In the summer of 1995 I became serious about using the Internet for marketing my business. In September 1995 I created our first home page and almost immediately I was contacted by an individual in California needing a dowser for platinum exploration. A few months later, after some in-house work, I was on a plane to the west coast. That project never would have happened if it were not for the Internet. I subsequently did several other projects for that same client.

CCB: Where does your mailing list run from?
KB: It is run from our account with the Vermont Business Institute at Champlain College. When I first asked about running a listserv from my account, the folks there said it was okay. Little did they know how large the service would grow. The staff has been immensely helpful there, both in the initial setup of the server, as well as in the area of ongoing technical support. Wayne Buttles, their sysop, has been a tremendous help.

CCB: How many subscribers do you have on the list?
KB: We currently have around 2,800 subscribers. This varies from day to day as new members roll in, or as members leave school or go on vacation. It is easy to leave and come back, which will make for fluctuations in the day-to-day subscribers list.

CCB: What type of people are they? Scientists? Students?
KB: What makes our list successful is the wide diversity of subscribers; both diversity in background as well as geographic diversity. We have students, university professors, engineers, hydrogeologists, environmental consultants, environmental activists and organizations such as the Sierra Club, scientific equipment manufacturers and vendors, attorneys, water system managers, dowsers, and many state and local regulators. The list also has members from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey (many), U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Navy, NASA, members of the National Water Resources Institutes, organizations such as the National Ground Water Association and CSIRO, most of the National Laboratories such as Los Alamos, Sandia, Oak Ridge, and Lawrence Livermore, as well as many publishers of scientific books and software. And I am sure I am missing a few here.

There are members from over 60 countries around the globe, so that issues relating to groundwater in other parts of the world are discussed on the list. We have many members from Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Netherlands, Denmark and Germany and a few members from many other countries. The list is not restricted to the English language and we have had posts in French, Spanish and even Russian. The global nature helps with perspective, and shows how wasteful the U.S. is on many occasions. The discussion on average daily per capita water use was quite revealing.

CCB: What kind of traffic does the list receive? How many posts a day, on average?
KB: There are on average about 10 posts a day, some days only a few, some days very busy. If someone posts something controversial, then traffic gets pretty heavy. The list is set up so that you can receive a digest version, with all of the day's posts compiled into one piece of mail, and with a summary of topics at the beginning. Most of the header junk is cut out. There is on average one digest a day. Sometimes there will be two.

CCB: Do you moderate the list? Does every post go through you before it's sent to the list?
KB: The list is "unmoderated" in the sense that posts do not go through me to get to the list. However the list is "monitored" so that abusers are removed. These would be individuals sending spam to the list, or members violating the few rules of common courtesy that I require. The only general requirement is that messages be related to groundwater. However, this is a broad subject, so a little tolerance is required on the part of the members, and a post has to be way off-topic before I will "sanction" a member.

CCB: There seem to be many environment-related mailing lists. Was that the case when you started the Groundwater list in 1995?
KB: There are actually fewer "water" lists than when I started. There have been at least two water-related lists that have folded in the last six months, with our list picking up some of that membership. You are correct that there are many "environment"-related lists; however except for a very few, most of these are very specific (such as a list on sea-turtles, for example) with relatively low memberships. Most of the other water-related lists are not actively promoted like ours, and do not try to increase membership or attract sponsors. In fact there is only one other environmental list that I know of that does these things.

CCB: When did you begin offering sponsorships on the list?
KB: I began offering sponsorships on the list in May 1996. We have not had an unsponsored month since then and are booked until December. When I announced the availability of sponsorships to the list in May 1996, I filled the first two months within 24 hours.

CCB: I've never encountered a mailing list that is sponsored. Where'd you get the idea?
KB: Most mailing lists are not sponsored because they are run as an afterthought or a sideshow to a main event, or are run by universities and other non-profits who are not interested in turning a profit. Our list is run by a business, and run like a business. If you have ever belonged to a list that had no technical assistance you will quickly see the difference. The idea for sponsors came to me from an Internet marketing mailing list (now defunct) that I once belonged to. The only other sponsored list that I know of is the bioremediation list, started and run by one of my current subscribers after seeing how well my list did. This list owner has borrowed many of my ideas, including sponsors.

CCB: How many sponsors have you had since you started the list?
KB: I have had about 15 different sponsors since starting the list. Many have been repeat sponsors or have sponsored two or three months at a time. Some have sponsored our efforts by purchasing a banner ad on our website.

CCB: You also seem to have a good many banner ads on your website. How many businesses have advertised on your site?
KB: Most of the list sponsors have also purchased banner ads on the website. Because the signature tag on the mailing list messages has the URL for our website, we get plenty of traffic at the site. For example, if 10 messages are sent out a day to 2,800 subscribers, that means our website URL will show up on 28,000 pieces of email that day. And that's just one day. Our website has gotten up to 40,000 hits a month.

CCB: Do you have a program in place to sell those banners and ads on the mailing list? Do you actively "sell" them, or do most sponsors come to you?
KB: I do actively sell the ads although I have had many sponsors approach me unsolicited. The mailing list sponsorship is by far more in demand than banner ads. One two-line message, sent to my 2,800 (sometimes more) members, indicating that there are ad slots available, usually brings a few bites within 24 hours.

CCB: How does the revenue generated by selling banner ads and sponsorships of the list compare to your total revenue?
KB: It is becoming a larger percentage of my total revenue stream. It is well worth the time spent on it. And of course there are the obvious marketing benefits of having my name seen on as many as a million pieces of email a month sent to my subscribers.

Outside Environmental Links

Vermont

  • Associates in Rural Development, Burlington
    A privately owned consulting firm founded in 1977, offering planning, design, implementation, and applied research services in the areas of natural resources, the environment, agriculture and more.
  • Association of Vermont Recyclers, Montpelier
    A statewide, nonprofit membership organization promoting reduction, reuse, and recycling in Vermont since 1982.
  • Consulting Foresters Association of Vermont
    An organization to assist landowners in managing forest products, wildlife habittat, water resources and the like.
  • Environmental Building News, Brattleboro
    Online edition of this print periodical on environmentally sustainable design and construction, which is published 10 times a year.
  • The Forest Partnership, Burlington
    A nonprofit, educational organization helping to "bridge the gap between the economic needs of the forest products industry, and the ecological concerns of the environmental community."
  • Green Mountain Audubon Society and Nature Center, Huntington
    Educational nonprofit organization based on a 230-acre site and dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and other natural resources.
  • Green Mountain Forest Watch, Brattleboro
    A conservation organization founded in 1994 focused on management of public lands in Vermont and mobilizing citizens for the protection and conservation of Vermont's forest ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Groundwater.com, Bridport
    Internet presence of Bannister Research & Consulting in Bridport, a geological consulting firm specializing in groundwater exploration, development and testing.
  • Lincoln Technology, Randolph Center
    An independent consulting team dedicated to identifying and solving indoor air quality problems.
  • Poultney River Watch, Poultney
    Designed to introduce Poultney students to the concepts of water quality monitoring and the importance of accuracy in making informed management decisions.
  • River Watch Network, Montpelier
    Devoted to monitoring, restoring, and protecting the world's rivers.
  • Stone Environmental Inc., Montpelier
    Consulting firm providing environmental science, municipal/natural resource planning and geographic information systems services.
  • Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Montpelier
    Includes Environment 1997: An Assessment of the Quality of Vermont's Environment
  • Vermont Environmental Board
    A nine-member governor-appointed board established by Act 250 to rule on land use permits.
  • Vermont EPSCoR Environmental Science Database, Burlington Search names, contact information, interests and expertise of almost 1,000 environmental science professionals in Vermont.
  • Vermont Land Trust, Richmond
    Founded in 1977 to "protect those productive, recreational, and scenic lands that help give Vermont and its communities their distinctive rural character."
  • Vermont Law School Environmental Law Center, South Royalton
    A South Royalton institution that decribes its missions as "to educate for stewardship, to teach an awareness of underlying environmental issues and values, to provide a solid knowledge of environmental law, and to develop skills to administer and improve environmental policy."
  • Vermont Planners Association, Montpelier
    An organization of public and private sector planners, zoning administrators, landscape architects, community development officials, engineering consultants, and developers, dedicated to advancing land use planning in Vermont.
  • Vermont Northern Woodlands Magazine, Cornith
    Online edition of the quarterly print publication, the only independent natural resource magazine in the country.

New England

Mailing lists

There are approximately 250 environmentally related Internet mailing lists. Here are some of the lists focused on more general environmental issues:

Consbio
Conservation biology discussion. Email subscribe consbio your name
Environment-L
Cornell Center for the Environment discussion on environmental issues as they relate to Ithaca, N.Y., New York state, and the nation. Email subscribe ENVIRONMENT-L
Green Building
Mailing list of Environmental Building News in Brattleboro. Email subscribe greenbuilding
hdgec
An unmoderated list open to anyone interested in understanding "the human dimensions of global environmental change." Email subscribe hdgec

Newsgroups

  • alt.energy.renewable
  • alt.org.sierra-club
  • sci.energy
  • sci.bio.ecology
  • sci.environment
  • talk.environment