Johann Clere, Open Innovation Director at Veolia
You’re just back from Stockholm where World Water Week, the big annual water summit, was being held. What main lesson did you take away from it?
First of all I had the very strong and positive feeling of the growing awareness & recognition that major private players, such as Veolia, have a key role in collectively solve the big global challenges when it comes to water, alongside local authorities, NGOs and institutions.
Would you say that this wasn’t yet the case in the past?
I became very much aware of the mindset shift over these four days. Many NGOs and local authorities feel the need to draw on the expertise of major companies in terms of environmental performance, risk management and resilience. They now more readily accept the fact that they have to find innovative models to create shared value and collaborate with several local players, especially with regard to short circular economy loops.
What do you mean by “create shared value”?
Creating economic value for several stakeholders simultaneously, by tackling social and environmental issues. Today, many NGOs understand that, without a robust economic model, we won’t be able to replicate best practices on a large scale.
Could you give us an example?
Reusing your own wastewater as much as possible is obviously a very good thing for a local authority or an industrial manufacturer, but reusing your neighbors’ treated wastewater or re-selling “second generation” water as a co-product can sometimes be much more efficient, from both an economic and an environmental point of view.
We are proud to have helped set up Nestlé’s “CERO AGUA” plant in Mexico. The water extracted and recycled from its milk activities enables water neutrality. Nestlé plans to reproduce this approach in other plants worldwide.
To go further, some extractive industries are water positive. Something that used to be seen as expensive waste becomes a highly reusable co-product, particularly in regions with high water stress.
The speeches made during the closing session of World Water Week show an acute awareness of the risks linked to water and insist on the importance of properly managing its scarcity in the future. But we are seeing that solutions are still slow in coming. How do you explain this discrepancy?
Solutions and technologies already exist to meet most of these major challenges. Today there is a better understanding of the risks linked to water management, but this is not enough. The True cost of Water, which we developed several years ago, has made it possible to lead a change in attitudes in this respect, by monetizing these risks: a first good point. This was especially true for the oil, gas and pulp & paper industries. However, the real game changer for the heads of major companies comes is when the opportunities are monetized, such as the sale of co-products, but also, in the future, better negotiation of insurance premiums in the light of climate risks.