Veolia Water: On undervalued industrial waste

Industries throughout Asia face increasing scrutiny from communities concerned about the impacts of industrial wastewater on their clean water supplies. Protests this year in China and Vietnam over pollution from factories underscore the public’s growing demand for better environmental standards, and governments are responding with stricter regulations and enforcement.

As developing Asia gets serious about industrial pollution, at least one firm is showing companies that wastewater treatment can be more than just an obligation; it can be a business opportunity. Jean-Philippe Filhol, chief executive of Veolia Water Solutions’ Asian industrial division, recently told Eco-Business in an interview that companies have been missing out on the value locked up in wastewater.

“Unless you realize that wastewater is much more a valuable resource than a waste, you don’t see it as a part of your production process and hence it is not considered critical,” he said.

Earlier this year, Veolia started an initiative called Green2Biz to help show companies how improving their wastewater treatment can help them achieve energy savings, and reduce their environment impacts in the same way it helped multi-national cosmetics firm L’Oreal.

L’Oreal installed a Veolia wastewater treatment plant at is Suzhou factory in China in 2011, resulting in 43 per cent fewer carbon dioxide emissions, the elimination of concentrated liquid waste and energy savings of 8.5 per cent.

Veolia’s initiative is targeted at industries seeking to improve their existing water treatment systems, but the same principles of efficiency and sustainability apply to the company’s new plants as well, said Mr Filhol.

The challenge for the company has been to adapt water treatment systems for the specific needs of each customer, which requires in-depth knowledge of their industry, he noted: “Without this deep understanding, it becomes almost impossible to propose optimized processes and operation.”

Asian factories are starting to come around, in part due to stricter government enforcement.

In June, local authorities ordered the closure of 123 factories in Southern China’s Guangxi region after rampant industrial pollution led to lethal levels of heavy metals in its Longjiang River. And Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it was installing 114 automated sensors to monitor the wastewater discharged by the largest factories – a move expected to curb half of the Republic’s water pollution.

“Things are changing slowly and new regulations put in place all across Asia are definitely helping this evolution,” noted Mr Filhol.

He added that those companies worried about the cost of compliance have found advanced wastewater technology to be a real eye-opener. “The advanced technologies and business models developed by our researchers enable us to propose to our customers much more than a wastewater treatment plant.”

Factories can recover valuable resources from waste streams to save costs and reduce environmental impacts at the same time, he explained.

Veolia’s ability to offer such technologies and business models means the firm is well-positioned to help Asia’s developing countries improve their environmental management, noted Mr Filhol, because it can offer “solutions that reconcile sustainability and financial profitability”.

Mr Filhol joined Veolia Water’s Asia Industrial division in 2009. He first joined the firm’s France office in 2003 and was appointed managing director of  Southeast Asian activities in July 2005.

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