By akademiotoelektronik, 12/12/2022

"You have to give several lives to water", Philippe Sébérac (Veolia)

Why is it important to guarantee access to water for all?

Philippe Sébérac Water is a common good: it is vital both for agriculture - water shortages reduce agricultural yields - and for industry and everyday life. In general, it is the states and local communities that administer water. The challenge today is to guarantee access to all. The pressure in this area continues to grow. According to the United Nations, in 2020, more than 2 billion people did not have access to drinking water. Additionally, in a 2015 report, the UN predicted that global demand for water would increase by 55% by 2050, as supplies dwindle. If uses do not change, 40% of the planet's inhabitants will not have sufficient water resources by 2030. Added to this is the climate crisis: some 700 million people could be displaced due to drought and water scarcity by 2030...

To guarantee this access, water must be used sparingly and recycled... Right?

P.S. Absolutely. Between the fact that countries are developing and climate change is setting in, one of the major solutions is indeed not to waste water and to recycle it, which started in industrial activities. You have to give several lives to water. Of course, recycling requires techniques to filter the water and disinfect it. Similarly, in developed countries, infrastructure is aging. It is certainly necessary to limit the leaks, by repairing the installations, but also to limit the uses including the energy consumption which goes with it.

What is Veolia doing about water recycling?

P.S. Today, the group recycles 350 million cubic meters of water per year, or 350 billion liters of water, for the benefit of local authorities and the industrialists with whom we work. But we do more than that. We also want to be the reference company for ecological transformation. To do this, we are developing energy and chemical frugality techniques to reduce our carbon footprint. By 2023, we will have succeeded in reducing it by 10% compared to 2020. We are also recovering the energy from waste water in the form of green energy. Our goal is to achieve 30% green energy in our operations by 2023. So far, we have already avoided 100,000 tons of CO2 emissions in this way between 2020 and 2023.

What are you doing for developing countries?

P.S. Water is indeed central to development. The standard of living of people in developing countries cannot increase if there is not enough water. In this context, infrastructure plays a considerable role. Urbanization, even if it is increasing, is still low there, compared to industrialized countries. However, it is the greater population density that facilitates the establishment of infrastructure to transport and provide access to drinking water. So we have water supply programs without infrastructure, like in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where we have had a contract since 2001 with the municipality. Through our subsidiary Interagua, we ensure the operation and maintenance of drinking water and sanitation networks, as well as the distribution, by truck, of water in informal and precarious neighborhoods. We thus secure access to water, which is on demand. In addition, since 2018 we have been using a predictive, preventive and corrective maintenance system for the drinking water network and we are monitoring the pumping stations. In other countries, for example in Morocco, we take care of waste recycling. “Wild” dumping is indeed a concern for many developing countries, because of the dangers of contaminating water resources that they imply and which end up polluting rivers and oceans. It is therefore a question of setting up a formal economy around recycling to protect water and the environment. Finally, we are also working on the recycling of plastics, which is very important in developing countries, if only because of their dependence on raw materials. We contribute to limiting pollution, in particular by plastics, by developing with our R&D recycling channels capable of producing synthetic plastics, based on recycled raw materials. And we support several start-ups that deal with improving the environment in these areas.

Do your actions also aim to raise the awareness of your customers around the world?

P.S. Yes, we do a lot of education for eco-gestures, wherever we operate. Thus, we are putting in place a greater awareness of citizens in terms of energy saving in buildings. We launched a service, Hubgrade Awareness, to calculate the personal fingerprint, each time you open a window or turn on the light. An app, “Veolia et Moi”, raises awareness of best practices in terms of water consumption. These tools can be adapted locally. It's about raising awareness of the fact that everyone, at their level, can do something for the planet. This awareness requires access to quality information. It is in this spirit, for example, that we are currently developing a laboratory system in a container to monitor water quality or analyze hazardous waste. Our first pilot operation is at a mining site in Ghana. It offers high-level monitoring of water quality and its treatment, which makes it possible to become aware of problems and to act. In all cases, we seek to develop solutions offering users the possibility of being autonomous and informed in their choices. It seems important to us to provide these solutions, which are easy to access, rather than making them feel guilty.

Have companies taken the measure of the climate and water crisis? Or is there still a long way to go?

P.S. There is indeed still a long way to go, even if companies are starting to turn the corner, in particular because they are very sensitive to the energy aspect of their activities, and they are doing it fairly quickly. They are very demanding of solutions. That said, there are still missing links in the chain, between states, local communities and businesses. Who takes care of project management on a river, for example, especially if it crosses several countries and several regions? Difficult to plan the infrastructures and the uses... However, there is more and more thought to, in particular, protect the inhabitants against the drought and the floods. In this regard, I recall that floods often pollute, which ultimately implies a risk of shortage of drinking water, in addition to the drama that these extreme climatic phenomena can constitute.

Is there a need for a global water market with a few major players or is it dangerous, on the contrary, to create quasi-monopolies?

P.S. It is an illusion to believe that there is a single water market, whether locally or globally. And there are no more monopolies on environmental services. The recent merger between Veolia and Suez has created a group which, although the world's leading player in the sector, will weigh 5% of the world market for these environmental services. However, it is important to have strong players, able to support large customers, industrial giants and megacities, but also to bring the ecosystem around them to life and aggregate R&D between start-ups and large groups, in particular. Communities, States, need such an ecosystem. And the citizens too...


This article is taken from "T" La Revue de La Tribune n°6 - PLANETE MON AMOUR - Let's repair the damage! October2021 - Discover the paper version

Lysiane J. Baudu

7 mins