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How partnering can bolster effective and sustainable transformation

Transformation is at the heart of many big challenges facing the water community today – whether it's adapting to climate change, chasing net zero, embracing a circular economy, or progressing digitalisation. One Australian water leader says developing strong partnerships is the key to navigating the journey through change.

Veolia Water Technologies’ CEO for Australia and New Zealand Lino Oddi said transitioning towards more sustainable outcomes is a well-accepted challenge faced by all water utilities, and the company is working on ways to help.

“Our strategy for the next five years is all about driving ecological transformation,” he said.

“While many companies are aiming to reduce carbon footprints, we are approaching ecological transformation as a whole and more holistically – it’s certainly how we meet the environmental challenges, but also the economic and social elements. It’s not just our business, but the business of our customers, too.

“We are not just thinking about how we achieve this internally, but also about the best ways to work with our customers on their transformation journey as well.”

Oddi said the key to partnering on technologies and solutions for these transformational challenges is to first foster a deep and mutual understanding of company goals and objectives.

“It’s key for us to really understand our customers’ goals, their business strategy, and the strategies they have in place with their customers, for us to be able to look at their needs and see how we align that with what we are doing today,” he said.

“The key is to get in at the very early stages to discuss our customers’ business requirements. This enables us to better shape what we can bring as a water solution and technology provider to meet those objectives.

“This depth of understanding through early engagement is really key to partnering through transformation well.”

Need for speed

The extreme weather events experienced in Australia cause a myriad of water treatment challenges, and adapting to the increasing pressures of climate change is a common issue right across the water community.

 “Extreme weather conditions, whether drought, flood, or fires, certainly cause water utilities some challenges. Among many of these is variable water quality and extreme hydraulic flow conditions,” Oddi said.

“The water/wastewater plants become more difficult to operate because steady-state conditions can be challenging to maintain. And when help is needed, it’s usually needed fast.”

Oddi said Veolia has been working to align the common transformation challenges of its customers with its own strategy by thinking about how to tailor its solutions in ways that work best for water utilities.

“Today, customers usually need solutions delivered quickly – they have problems that need solutions that can be deployed right away. It all comes down to how quickly we can move on solutions, especially with the current supply chain and delivery issues that we all face globally today,” he said.

“We have developed our capabilities, and have adapted and built a portfolio of technology and services that specifically caters to this challenge. We have been able to standardise and modularise our offerings, and make them quickly deployable to the customer.”

Oddi said that while the offerings can be designed and tailored to market needs, Veolia also has modular technologies that can be deployed much more speedily than it would take to design and build bespoke solutions – thereby meeting the need for fast and effective augmentation.

“These modular technologies also include leasable containerised assets that are easy to configure into existing infrastructure,” he said.

Leaning in to expertise

Aside from providing solutions for fast-growing climate adaptation challenges, Oddi said the industry-wide drive towards more sustainable operation practices is an area where strong partnerships can often be the most effective approach.

“Water utilities are stretched for resources, the labour force is struggling right now, and we are able to provide the expertise on how to operate plants. That we have designed and built,” he said.

“Managing assets over a long period of time allows our team to look at what can be optimised, which generally comes down to energy and chemical savings – both strategies that are good for the environment.”

Oddi said partnering through the transformation towards more sustainable water treatment processes allows water service providers to lean in to the collective expertise of solutions companies.

“We are always looking for more innovative ways to adapt with all our customers. That’s what we do,” he said.

“Whether it’s energy savings or the need for additional technologies for water reuse, it’s our aim to help transform how water providers meet their sustainability targets.”

“When we spend time on our customers’ sites, we also look to perform a water audit – where we review their processes with the aim of finding opportunities to optimise their operations.

“You really need people with strong expertise to be able to identify those areas for improvement. We have built up strong tribal knowledge around water auditing, which helps us identify what to look for.”

Future transformations

When it comes to big transformations on the horizon, Oddi said it’s hard to miss the importance of recycled water and the role digitalisation is set to play in the water sector.

“Reuse and recycled water is a space we are aiming to lead on, and this starts by speaking to our customers about their plans and goals for water recycling in future,” he said.

“Recycled water for potable use is rather topical in Australia. Europe has been doing it for a while now. Singapore is also a leader. There is still inertia to some extent in Australia for us to move in that direction, but I know we are on the right path.”

While Australia currently uses recycled water for non-potable applications, such as irrigation, Oddi said much more can be done, and needs to be done, as water security issues loom for the world’s driest inhabited continent.

“As water scarcity is real and becoming more topical, we will need to embrace recycled water for potable use in some form,” he said.

“We are also working on ways to help customers make the most of data, in ways that will address all these transformational challenges. Assisting our customers by turning data into useful information is key to helping them manage these changes moving forward.”