Sustainable Innovation


Best Practices at Veolia Environnement

logo veolia Photo identité VOISIN

Muriel Voisin, project manager at Veolia Environnement Sustainable Development Department

Veolia Environnement has a broad portfolio of water, waste, energy and transport services. It operates in 72 countries with 330.000 generating an annual turnover of 36 billion euros.

Four Business Units join forces : Veolia Water (water cycle management), Veolia Energie – Dalkia (energy management), Veolia Transport and Veolia Environmental Services (waste management) (1).

Muriel Voisin is project manager at the Sustainable Development Department at Veolia Environnement. Muriel Voisin is holding a PhD in Chemistry. She has a vast working experience within Veolia Environnement R&D and Quality departments. In 2005 Voisin has taken responsibility for the company’s environmental activities within the Sustainable Development department. In her job, she coordinates the Environmental Management System (EMS) and maintains the corporate relations with non-financial authorities,  environmental auditing and consultancy firms.

1.  What are CR objectives  ?

Environmental matters are part of the DNA of Veolia Environnement. Minimizing environmental impact has therefore always been part of the core strategy and R&D activities. Already in 1998 the Environmental Management System (EMS) has been installed to measure performance against quantitative goals of the different environmental challenges of Veolia Environnements  activities.

2001 has marked a year of change. A dedicated department of Sustainable Development was created. The environmental focus has been  extended with a new emphasis on social responsability. Veolia Environnement CEO Henri Proglio has proven to be a strong promoter of this, supporting the employee training program and social responsibility in developing areas. Veolia Environnement obtained a price for French Corporate Social Responsibility by the French Society of Financial Analysts (AGEFI) in 2008 because of its social practices, such as internal education, health and security as well as stakeholder dialogues in sensible world zones.

Veolia Environnement signed the Global Compact principles in 2003, and committed to Global Reporting Initiative. As of 2008, the sustainable report is merged with the annual report. The Corporate Sustainable Development Website offers an extensive range of reports that inform stakeholders.

7 key challenges have been defined :  1. Combating climate change, 2. Preserving biodiversity, 3.  Saving ressources, 4. Contributing to the protection of health and lifestyle, 5. Promoting respect of human rights,  6. Reinforcing  social attractiveness and 7. Protecting  health and safety at work. 

Combat climate change. Veolia Environnement has implemented a global strategy to contribute to a global reduction in green house gas emissions (GHG = Green House Gases like CO2 and CH4) by reducing its own emissions and by avoiding  third parties emissions.  This is not a simple task. GHG emissions are inevitable in the sectors were Veolia is active such as transport, waste treatment and energy generation. Nevertheless, Veolia makes all efforts to reduce the GHG emissions of its Business Units. Reduction is achieved by optimising treatment procedures, clever recycling and development of renewable energy sources. The company closely monitors and reports its emissions.

Improving recycling methods. Together with the INRA (French National Institute for Agronomic Research), Veolia Environnement is studying the treatment of household and industrial compost for agricultural purposes (3). Another  innovative recycling practice is the high-performance materials recovery facility opened in Ludres in the east of France.  The plant can recover more than 50% of industrial waste. It uses pre-shredding techniques and it sorts by size and weight. The recovered waste can start a new life either. Either as raw material for other industries (paper, cardboard, wood). And other waste (the non-chlorinated plastics) can be used as fuel in the production of district heating networks. These advanced recycling technologies are examples of Veolia Environnement in-house knowledge. This knowledge is used for further developiment to the benefit of solutions that reduce ecological impact.

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Renewable energies. To secure an energy portfolio that mixed and future proof, Veolia Environnement is investing in a number of renewable energy projects. Wind energy projects with a total of 7000 MW are under development at Eolfi, which is a 50% Veolia Environnement subsidiary. In Spain, the world world’s most powerful photovoltaic roof (10 MW) is installed by Veolia Environnement and its public and private partners (Aragon government, General Motors and Clairvoyant Energy). Lastly, Veolia Environnement invests in bio fuels and developments look promising.

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Wind and solar energy : renewable energy innovation at Veolia Environnement

2. Is Sustainable Development a motor for Innovation ?

Veolia Environnement is constantly trying to improve its methods for water, waste management, energy and transport. Sustainable matters are an integral part of the companies strategy with customers expecting Veolia to take charge. Sustainability is certainly motor for innovation in all its forms : Innovation of its products and services, pricing and partnerships.

Customer requests for sustainable products were few some years ago. However, in the last couple of years, customers have been requested green alternatives or add-ons to the current services.

Every Request for Proposal nowadays contain questions like : ‘What is your substitute that requires less energy’ ? ‘What is your solution that produces less emissions and waste’ ? In response, Veolia Environnement has developed sustainable alternatives and add-ons in all business lines.

New cost calculation ways necessary. Muriel Voisin recognizes that Sustainable solutions may come with higher upfront costs, though often bring lower operational costs. Example : If you add an installation to create biogas from the side products produced during a sludge digesting process, this comes with an additional initial cost. However, the environmental impact is significantly reduced and the new product (renewable) energy can create additional revenues. The environment benefits and the total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower. Privately owned industries tend to understand this concept well. They increasingly choose green substitutes or add-ons.

New partnerships emerge : public private partnerships. Veolia Environnement is working closely with renewable energy partners. An emerging type of partnerships are the public private partnerships. Private partners invest upfront and are paid back by public partners and end-users in the course of time. When public parties are faced with high upfront costs, they often have difficulties to invest as they are obliged to conform to strict annual budgets. To work around this problem, Veolia Environnement promotes public private partnerships. Public and private partners join forces to design, build, finance, operate and maintain services over the life span of the project. Example is the light rail tramway launched in 1994 in Rouen which is designed, built and operated under a thirty year agreement between Veolia Transport and Rouen public authorities.

rouen tramway

Tramway of Rouen, created in a public private partnership of Veolia Transport and Rouen authorities

Decision tool for Waste Water Treatment. Veolia Environnement closely monitors its own environmental footprint. Customers also want to be well informed. Veolia Environnement is developing monitoring and decision tools for its customers. Veolia Water, for instance, has developed the EoliaTM decision aid. This tool helps customers to make the possible choice of treatment process for water, wastewater and wastewater sludge. EoliaTM is being used to compare the energy and GHG balances of the various systems under consideration. The tool clearly shows the impact of the treatment processes on environmental impact and helps to find levers of improvement.

water treatment

Waste Water

Measuring GHG emissions. Veolia’s Energie-Dalkia has implemented a new energy service called ‘Carbon Care’ to provide a step by step approach which includes an analysis of activity based GHG emission analysis. The system is implemented at the Greater London Authority and at Tesco (UK retail sales). Veolia Environmental Services developed an internal tool called GHG Tracker to calculate the carbon footprint of its services supplied to industrial and public sector clients.

Eco-efficient Travel method. Veolia Transport has developed an eco-efficient travel method to be used as a decision tool when reorganising a companies transport system.  The bus operator Eurolines, one of Veolia Transport customers, is now offering a derivate of this tool, the carbon emission calculator, as an online service to its customers.

Eco deplacement Eurolines

Eco-efficient travel of Veolia Environnement, offered by bus operator Eurolines (2).

3. Does the economic crisis impact CR activities ?

Henri Proglio, Veolia Environnement CEO, states that the crisis is nothing less than the collapse of the artificial and the unsustainable.’‘Sustainable development is not just an option, nor is it the opposite of economic development. Wasted resources and poorly controlled (environmental) impacts have a cost. For Veolia Environnement and its customers sustainable policies are not loosing their relevance, despite the economic downturn’. Consequently, sustainable directions already taken will be continued to be implemented as planned. To Voisin, economic and environmental gain go hand in hand. That is why Veolia Environnement does not hesitate to explain how industries can cut production costs and how people can reduce their green house gas emissions by choosing sustainable solutions.

4.  What is your outlook for Sustainable Development ?

‘Etre exemplaire chez nous‘. Care for planet and people is day to day business for Veolia Environnement. These perspectives are equally important as the profit perspective. Muriel Voisin remarks that notably employees of Generation Y (born after 1980) expect Veolia Environnement to ‘Walk the Talk’. They fiercely state that Veolia Environnement should reduce its own emissions and ask the Board how it can garantee this. The guideline  ‘Etre exemplaire chez nous’  has become a red line for internal responsable behaviour : waste sorting, energy use limitations and paper recycling.

‘Be exemplary has become an important internal guideline’ – Muriel Voisin, Veolia Environnement.

Customers will increasingly ask for environmental specifics and sustainable solutions. Veolia Environnement therefore, as well as industry peers, will continue to develop green solutions.

Sources : 1. www.veolia.com; 2. Veolia Environnement Annual and sustainability Report 2008; 3. www.inra.fr; 4. www.eurolines.com ;

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[…] impact calculations, I invite you to read the examples of in waste treatment at the French Veolia Environnement as well as the Dutch Chemical Company Akzo Nobel who combines financial and ecological impact […]

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