Veolia: Harnessing Every Last Drop

Efficient water management, future technologies and talent development were the key take-home points at the 7th Singapore International Water Week held in July. But is Asia read for the change needed to provide for an ever-growing population?

Asia’s growing population has increased pressure on remaining water resources in the region. Increasingly, governments and multinational corporations (MNCs) are spearheading initiatives such as the recent Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) and World Water Day to encourage water awareness and conservation efforts all the way up from community level.

With rising economic activities in Asia, increased water usage is unavoidable. Major industries require water as a fundamental component for business processes, so water demand will escalate as industries expand. Economic development and population growth in society can strongly influence the overall demand for water resources, and affect how water is being managed.

Recent climate changes have also led to droughts in the region, and this has led to countries like Malaysia engaging in water rationing exercises. As climate change reduces the amount of rainfall, water shortage will be more acutely felt as the population continues to grow. Frederic Thery, Chief Executive Officer, Veolia Water Technologies, Asia-Pacific spoke to Asia Outlook about what’s next for a continent that is gradually taking more control of the waste it generates.

AsO: What is being done by the industry-at-large to mitigate the region’s water challenges and to generate a more effective and efficient approach to water and wastewater management?

Frederic Thery (FT): Industry leaders across the globe have begun to mitigate these water challenges by engaging professional water solutions specialists like Veolia, so as to sustainably manage their water usage, fulfil corporate green agendas, and to maintain a green image. Through professional water specialists, more companies have implemented advanced water and wastewater technologies to manage, optimise, and recycle water.

We also see the water industry using innovative means to create new technology that possess environmentally friendly capabilities. Recent developments in water technologies include features that reduce carbon footprint, increase energy production and maximise water reuse. It is evident that water is becoming a protected resource and is most definitely a critical consideration for a successful circular economy.

AsO: Managing water and wastewater is not just about improving access to drinking water. How are businesses being encouraged to reduce their water consumption, and what solutions are available to address this?

FT: Water is too precious to be used just once. Whenever possible, we recommend water reuse technologies to our global clients. Some of the industry leaders who have adopted them include L’Oreal, Nestle and the Tun Razak Exchange project (TRX) in Kuala Lumpur. Our clients were able to achieve significant water savings and engage in more efficient water use within their manufacturing processes.

That being said, governments also have an important part to play to encourage businesses to reduce water consumption. PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, has strong regulations for water management and it encourages companies to be innovative in their water reduce, replace and reuse approaches. It takes the commitment and participation of a whole community to manage water consumption, and governments who can play an effective key regulator role in this area are better able to manage their nation’s water footprint.

AsO: Based on the general themes and discussions at Singapore International Water Week, who is driving change in Southeast Asia’s water industry?

FT: There were several topics discussed at the show this year including climate change, stakeholders coming together to tackle global water challenges, sustainable urban water management, digitisation, the future of water resources and increasing water sustainability efforts. Climate change is a significant concern affecting global industries, and its impact on the world economy can also be felt; for example, the drought in California and in Asia has affected agricultural production and brought about economic consequences like higher food prices and reduced supplies of food sources for export.

The important takeaway is that the community needs to confront water challenges together, and a concerted effort is necessary to drive change in Asia’s water industry. Governments, leading manufacturers, water associations, and research companies need to pull their weight to influence and encourage local communities for change to occur in Asia.

AsO: What role does renewable energy play in developing better self-sufficiency in Asia?

FT: As a world leader in the renewable energy market, Veolia has the expertise and technologies needed to support clients in moving towards using renewable energies. As the world’s finite resources become dangerously limited, a shift to renewable energies can be important for long-term business sustainability.

Within Asia, we had a project in Hong Kong where we treated sludge from 11 wastewater treatment plants with our technology to produce more than 14 megawatts of electricity. In addition to using the recovered energy to operate the wastewater treatment plants, excess electricity was also distributed to the public network.

AsO: How is Veolia helping to create a more adaptable, resilient, and sustainable water supply and wastewater management strategy? Is this strategy adaptable for both urban and rural settings?

FT: With years of global expertise in the water and wastewater industry, Veolia is in a privileged position to propose effective improvements to our customers with our wide range of proprietary technologies. Flexibility is one of the key features of our technologies. Regardless of the location – urban or rural, water or wastewater challenges – Veolia can customise targeted solutions to achieve the highest performance for our clients.

Addressing the world’s need for a more sustainable water supply and better wastewater management, Veolia has developed water metric tools such as the True Cost of Water (TCOW) and Water Impact Index (WIIX), and we have also launched an online resource, GrowingBlue.com, a platform delivering key water messages and providing insights on the current state of water across 180 countries.

Additionally, Veolia launched an initiative named Think Tank Asia last December. Gathering decision makers from all industries, Veolia provided a venue for leaders to come together to uncover sustainable business innovations in the region. The success of this event spurred us to organise Think Tank Asia 2 last month to encourage leaders to explore future business models and to spread environmental awareness in Asia. It concluded successfully and attendees were inspired to explore options beyond the perceived limitations of their current business models. These are ways in which Veolia has chosen to help companies create sustainable water and wastewater management strategies.

AsO: In the long-term, how do you envision Southeast Asia’s water and wastewater landscape to look? Do you feel that investments in this regard are on-track?

FT: Today, the price of water is still relatively inexpensive in Asia, but that might change in the years to come. This will further encourage companies operating in Asia to look for more creative ways to manage their water footprint. If governments and authorities in Asia can help by providing water data and information freely to businesses, we believe that manufacturers will be more encouraged to manage water properly.

Investments, in this regard, are slowly becoming more significant. With the tightening of environmental and local regulations, coupled with increasing water and wastewater challenges – such as water scarcity threats, climate change, and production growth in Asia – Asian manufacturers are beginning to acknowledge and accept the long-term business benefits of being socially and environmentally responsible. Consequently, Asian manufacturers are starting to develop their own corporate environmental agendas and are more actively implementing new solutions to maintain a green image. We foresee that companies operating in Asia will continue to be savvy with their water and wastewater management, and Veolia’s experts will remain committed to providing technical advice and support to our existing and potential future clients.

By 2050, it is expected that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in an urban environment. This forecast implies a doubling of the urban population currently living in global towns and cities, and it may put a strain on local resources and increase environmental pollution and waste. Space constraints will present an even larger challenge then, and companies and governments will have to turn to water and wastewater solutions with small footprints. It is vital that cities and technology specialists like Veolia work together to ensure that decisions made today can bring about a better future tomorrow.

Read this and more in the latest issue of Asia Outlook magazine here