Was it an obvious step for a long-standing water treatment specialist to become an air treatment expert?
I see a parallel between how the public authorities and private players can approach the question of air pollution and the development of the profession of water utility provider in the late 19th century. At the time, the problem was perceived but not yet understood in terms of a sector of activity and a service to be delivered by a company. Treating difficult pollution is not a new field for Veolia, which is an expert in this area in water, waste, soils, energy, etc. So in 2017 it was no surprise when Antoine Frérot asked several of the Group’s divisions to set out the case for the existence of an air quality problem and anticipate how we could support our clients. The Air Center of Excellence emerged out of these reflections in 2018. In barely two years, we have successfully established ourselves as the accelerator of an area of expertise on behalf of the Group’s Business Units. And we have made indoor air quality a major area of innovation in terms of health and the fight against new pollutants, as part of the IMPACT 2023 plan.
How does Veolia’s offering stand out from the competition?
As with the treatment of other difficult pollution, we opted for an offering based on a performance guarantee, because when it comes to a health risk, an obligation of means is not enough. In concrete terms, we commit that the quality levels of the air that the buildings’ users (children or adults) are going to breathe remain permanently below the recommended public health thresholds. At the end of the day, our clients enjoy guaranteed high-quality air in the buildings for which they are responsible.
At what pace do you think you will see your offering adopted and deployed by your clients?
There is no doubt that public and private decision- makers in charge of air quality in buildings will take up our offering, at a time when we are facing a real public health problem: air pollution (see key figures) causes in total four times as many deaths as water pollution1. However, their responsiveness will depend on several parameters. The speed of regulatory developments is one of them. In France, 40,000 schools are subject to indoor air quality control, but only 1,000 city councils apply this regulation to date. The regulations should therefore evolve to include more coercive measures. This is the context in which Veolia has built its offering for schools. This is what Belgium has done by setting CO2 thresholds that must not be exceeded in offices, for example2. Another parameter is public opinion. Both aware and made aware of the issue, it will undoubtedly be a strong driver in encouraging municipalities to act.
Could the Covid-19 epidemic ‘impact’ your roadmap?
Without any wish to be opportunistic, I think that the current coronavirus situation and the compulsory lockdown, when a number of people are sometimes together in a small space, will change the way decision-makers and public opinion view safeguarding health, especially in buildings.
1. Source: Here’s How Many People Die from Pollution Around the World
2. Source: Arrêté du Gouvernement wallon relatif à la réduction des émissions de certains polluants atmosphériques (M.B. 09.09.2019)