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This French city is showing how smarter collaboration between industries can benefit everyone

Cross-industry collaboration is a crucial element of creating sustainable circular economies, according to a leading urban water service expert, with lessons from the city of Dijon, France, showcasing what can be achieved when industries work together. 

Featured in the Australian Water Association’s podcast series, SUEZ Australia & New Zealand Chief Customer Officer Justin Frank explains the possibilities available via urban connectivity for improving the quality of life for communities. 

Taking Dijon as an example of urban interconnectivity done right, Frank said "smart cities" help to enable efficient data sharing, enabling opportunity for water and energy savings, as well as reuse and recycling initiatives. 

“Dijon is a relatively small city in France, equidistant between Paris and Leon, known globally for its mustard and wine. From a connected perspective, you could say that Dijon is also France’s first smart city,” Frank said. 

“Working with our consorted partners, we turned Dijon into a connected city to try to coordinate the multiple functions to improve the quality of life for its citizens, and attract further innovation to the city via open source data lake.

“Anything that can be turned into the Internet of Things can be coordinated. While Suez is famous for water and waste solutions, one of our core competencies is to manage complicated networks, including water, wastewater and desalination treatment plants, all of which have very complicated logistics and supply chain networks with multiple nodes. 

“We take the data that those different networks generate and we turn it into information and knowledge to make better decisions, improving safety, efficiency and productivity.”

Spreading the benefits

Frank said circular economies are about improving the potential for transforming waste into resources, but also about improving liveability outcomes for communities. 

“The definition of a smart city that we employ is an urban area that uses technology and data to enable an improved quality of life for its citizens. The more you coordinate different functions of the city, the more you can start to do things more efficiently,” he said. 

“As an example, the LED lighting installed will give the city a payback quite quickly, reducing energy costs by 65%. Once you start to move into other areas of smart cities, you can start to look at better movement of water around the network, which is one of the most energy hungry functions of a city. 

“And if you utilise smart water meters to reduce the amount of leakage in a city, then you can start to detect one of our most precious resources.”

Frank said that smart technology is also beginning to help with waste-to-resource management practices. 

“When you look at the waste management side of things, there are smarts that you can put in place to improve collection efficiencies, but also to start to categories the waste that is going into the bins,” he said. 

“It also helps to educate the population on what they can do to create better source separation, which is critical to get clean streams of waste for conversion and reuse.”

Making cities the solution

Globally, urban environments represent 2% of the world’s surface area, but account for 50% of the world’s population, 75% of the world’s energy consumption, and more than 80% of the world’s CO2 emissions, Frank said. 

“We really need to look at cities as not being the problem, but work on them becoming the solution,” he said. 

“By bringing together what I call the ‘consortium of the willing’, we can look at all the challenges a city may face and apply cross-industry expertise to help address those issues.

“Australia could definitely learn to be a bit more open to collaborate, open to working across different industries and business lines, to make sure that we put the customers' needs at the heart of the solutions.”

The remaining podcasts from the Driving a Circular Economy series will be released this week. Listen in to learn more about how the water sector is contributing to sustainable practices.