Sustainability Leaders Series: Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies’ Jean-Philippe Filhol

Filhol shares with Eco-Business why the company started giving water audits in Asia for free.

Veolia Water's Jean-Philippe Filhol
Jean-Philippe Filhol, Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies' CEO for Asia Industrial

Scientists at a recent meeting by the Global Water System Project in Bonn have recently declared that the world is losing its source of life. Water is running short and the blame is entirely on humans. However in Asia, the world’s foremost consumer, one company is creating a wave of change.

Led by Jean-Philippe Filhol, French firm Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies in Singapore has been promoting and reducing the water footprint of different organisations in Asia. Under its global parent company Veolia Environnement, which provides solutions across waste management, energy, water and transport, Veolia Water believes that addressing climate change and environmental degradation goes beyond tackling carbon emissions but also being mindful of water usage, a valuable yet oftentimes overlooked resource. 

One of the innovative systems it has established is the Green2Biz programme. Filhol, who first joined as managing director for South East Asia in 2005 from the France office and is now chief executive officer for the industrial team, has spearheaded the firm to help other companies to streamline their water treatment infrastructure with efficient and cost-saving water processes with this programme. 

Green2Biz has five steps that starts with a plant audit followed by a water management report, contract, action plan of appropriate technologies and on-site solutions, and lastly, installation with regular servicing. L’Oreal in China was their first client and the carbon dioxide emissions related to transportable waste alone has been decreased by 82 per cent. In addition, the water impact of the cosmetics company’s facility is said to go down by 35 per cent. Since then, Filhol and his team have received good reactions from the pharmaceutical, healthcare, food and beverage, and microelectronics industries.

Here, Filhol discusses with Eco-Business why Green2Biz began in Asia and why they give audits for free.

When and where did Veolia start Green2Biz? And why?

Green2Biz was officially launched in Singapore in April last year. In Asia, where numerous emerging markets are driving the region’s rapid economic development, the need for sustainable water management has become increasingly important. At the same time, there is now a greater call for companies to reduce their carbon emissions and lessen their impact on the environment, while continually generating profits.

These factors led Veolia to develop Green2Biz, a programme aimed at helping manufacturers enhance the financial and environmental performance of their water and wastewater treatment processes in a manner that creates sustainable value and enables cost savings.

How has Veolia’s experience help shape the Green2Biz programme?

For more than 160 years, Veolia has built an unparalleled expertise in designing, constructing and operating water treatment facilities for both municipal and industrial customers. We are therefore in a privileged position to propose effective improvements to our customers, supported in this endeavour by a wide range of proprietary technologies developed by Veolia. 

The very first step of the Green2Biz programme is GreenVieWS, which involves a comprehensive audit of existing water treatment facilities. This analysis is provided to our customers at no charge.

Asia’s rapid economic development is driven by numerous emerging markets in the region, which are in turn propelled by a high level of industrial activity … If water is not used wisely nor reclaimed, Asia would risk facing the issue of water scarcity.

Jean-Philippe Filhol

Veolia engineers analyse the systems’ operational performances and associated operating costs, while estimating the environmental impact of water treatment-related activities by calculating carbon footprint and the Water Impact Index. At the end of the day, our engineers will be able to formulate recommendations based on the findings from GreenVieWS.

Why the focus of this programme in this region? Is it available elsewhere?

It is available in all Asian countries, especially in those where we have a larger presence like Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and China. We support other countries out of our regional headquarters in Singapore.

Recently, we were given the opportunity to introduce the programme to a panel of Veolia’s top managers at an internal awards ceremony, during which Green2Biz was honoured. Since then, the programme has received a lot of attention from all over the world, and we in Asia are currently supporting its deployment in Europe and North America. 

Asia is undergoing rapid economic development and it is driven by numerous emerging markets in the region, which are in turn propelled by a high level of industrial activity. Because these manufacturing processes consume a great amount of water, educating businesses about sustainable water management and implementing water-saving programs becomes vital. If the resource is not used wisely nor reclaimed, Asia would risk facing the issue of water scarcity.

Give us a peek into the type of recommendations you make, and what is the potential savings for your customers?

The implementation of recommendations derived from a GreenVieWS audit varies and depends on the industry, local policies and actual motivation of our customers.

Based on recent references, the beneficiaries of our Green2Biz programme typically save between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of their operating costs by implementing recommended plant improvements and optimised operating procedures.

In a previous interview with us last year, you talked about obstacles in conducting this business such as the perception of wastewater and cost of compliance. What other challenges have you encountered and how did you handle this?

One of the main added value that Veolia brings to the table is the tremendous knowhow amassed from our global employees through the years of experience in optimising treatment systems and R&D, and so on.

Providing GreenVieWS free of charge should be recognised as an expression of our absolute commitment towards helping our customers and partners improve their processes while reducing their impact on the environment.

That said, first and foremost, Green2Biz is conceived as a partnership between environment-conscious companies that are looking to reconcile financial profitability with protecting our planet. It should be approached with a very open-minded attitude. Our ambition is not to challenge people’s capabilities, but to contribute to optimising the financial and environmental equation of our customers.

Once this basic concept is accepted, it becomes a lot easier to progress quickly and derive tangible benefits for both sides. Providing GreenVieWS free of charge should be recognised as an expression of our absolute commitment towards helping our customers and partners improve their processes while reducing their impact on the environment.

Sometimes, however, manufacturers perceive their existing water treatment facilities to already be operating at their optimum level, and may therefore be resistant towards our recommendations. In such situations we take a little more time to explain the value that Green2Biz can provide in terms of improving their water treatment processes, and also how Veolia innovations play a part in enhancing their water cycle.

So for every prospective client, whether or not they are as eco-conscious as we are, we take time to educate businesses on how our solutions can ultimately aid them in lowering carbon and water footprints, as well as reduce operating costs. 

Lastly, why should companies invest in water management systems? How important is a company’s water footprint vis-a-vis a carbon footprint?

The carbon footprint concept is now widely understood and accepted by companies in various industries. This is probably because beyond the environmental dimension, the carbon footprint is relatively easy to correlate with operational costs. 

However we at Veolia are of the opinion that water is a precious resource, because it plays a critical role in the manufacturing process of our customers, whether they are from the microelectronics, food & beverage or cosmetics industries. It is therefore extremely important to further improve the management of this scarce resource to ensure sustainable availability and quality. 

On top of that, regulatory bodies across Asia and all over the world constantly review policies related to effluent discharge, and new laws have become more and more stringent in recent years. This has had an impact on all manufacturers, regardless of their industry. As a result, there is now an increased emphasis on investing in robust and sustainable water and wastewater treatment solutions.

It is all about reconciling financial profitability with the protection of the environment, which boils down to sustainable growth.

The Sustainability Leaders Series is a weekly interview profiling sustainability leaders in the Asia Pacific region.

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