Standardization is a productive investment for the company
Jean-Michel Herrewyn

Making water businesses work is not a new challenge for the man responsible for turning Veolia Water around. Before he was appointed group CEO in November 2009, Mr. Herrewyn was in charge of transforming Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies, the contracting arm of Veolia Water

A graduate from the École Polytechnique and the École Nationale d'Administration, Jean-Michel Herrewyn began his career in 1986 as an Engineer in the Avionics division of Thomson CSF.

Veolia Water, the world leader in water utilities, provides its expertise to millions of people across 69 countries. Managing the water and wastewater services for local authorities and enterprises requires a high level of commitment. How do you assess your performance ? Do standards act as a support or a constraint?

At the end of 2012,certifications accounted for 81 %of our revenue.

J.-M. Herrewyn: In the 1990s, Veolia Water chose to implement the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 management system standards. Today, these standards provide a framework for the monitoring and reporting of our activities. Looking across the spectrum at all our certifications (ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001…), at the end of 2012, certifications accounted for 81 % of our revenue.

All our services are assessed through performance indicators (PIs) such as the efficiency of our water distribution networks or the overall compliance of treated water (both drinking and wastewater). At the local level, these PIs form part of our monthly operating reports and are later included in the service provider’s annual report.

2011 key figures

  • 12.6 billion EUR in revenue in 2011
  • 103 million people supplied with drinking water worldwide
  • 73 million residents provided with wastewater services around the world
  • 96 651 employees
  • A permanent operator in 69 countries

Ten years ago, Veolia decided to develop an environmental management system (EMS) covering its entire global operations. This EMS was crafted specifically for the company with the help of ISO standards, in particular ISO 14001. It is based on a set of requirements aimed at ensuring that the company remains aware of the environmental impacts of its activities, is able to assess them and take action to reduce them. The group sets itself performance targets over three years; in fact, the Veolia Water division has announced its new targets for 2012-2014 (see our press release of 22 March 2012). The PIs describe the company’s performance, covering all aspects of sustainable development through criteria such as the use of green energy, the miles travelled by our vehicles or the performance of our distribution networks. Each step in the development of this report is then audited by an independent firm to verify that the method used was correctly applied. The report is used by corporate social responsibility agencies worldwide to determine Veolia Environment’s ranking.

At the end of 2012, the percentage of revenue covered by an (internal or certified) EMS was 93.5 %.

Far from being a constraint, the standards we use for our organizational structure are considered an asset and a pledge of reliability, professionalism and credibility to our clients and shareholders.

In the current context of global warming and increased human activity, water quality and access to drinking water represent major challenges that have an impact on public health. How does Veolia Water anticipate, and prepare for, potential water-related health crises?

J.-M. Herrewyn: Veolia provides water supply services to over 100 million people worldwide. The group has put in place risk prevention and crisis management procedures spanning all its divisions, to help mobilize the relevant local, national or international experts as circumstances dictate.

This level of mobilization is made possible through proper management and leadership of experts. Clear identification of our experts and their field of expertise helps ensure a prompt and efficient response to emergency situations.

In addition, Veolia Environment, through its subsidiary Veolia Force, has set up an emergency unit which provides assistance in the event of a major crisis. Several hundred Veolia Water employees have been trained up specifically for emergency missions and are able to respond immediately to extreme situations such as natural disasters. Specific technical resources have been designed and developed by our experts to provide emergency drinking water and are traditionally deployed in cooperation with the Red Cross and similar organizations.

How do you apply ISO standards to your water cycle management, from source extraction to the return to the natural environment? Do ISO standards help you anticipate the environmental impacts of your activity?

Checking water quality at the water tower in Lorient, France. [Photo: Veolia Water]

J.-M. Herrewyn: Veolia Water closely monitors the quality of the water supplied to the 100 million users it serves worldwide. Our environmental reporting includes several indicators that help us guarantee the high quality of the water we provide. As a consequence, in 2012, 97.5 % of the population served by Veolia Water enjoyed water of good bacteriological and physicochemical quality; nobody received poor-quality water. This level of monitoring helps us detect any breaches in quality linked to a gradual deterioration of the water resource, which complements the daily assessments by employees in the field.

What is the return on investment of Veolia’s involvement in International Standards development?

J.-M. Herrewyn: Veolia is the world leader in water and wastewater utilities, covering the areas of construction and services. Our participation in International Standards work enables us to promote and showcase our know-how. This earns us the trust of our clients who later contact us to build and operate their facilities. More generally, it provides an opportunity for sharing the good practice and knowledge learned at the École française de l’eau (French Water School).

What advice would you give to other organizations that are not yet engaged in standardization? And what is Veolia Water’s strategy with regard to standardization in years to come?

Wastewater treatment plant in Burlingame, California, USA. [Photo: Veolia Water]

J.-M. Herrewyn: Standardization is a productive investment for a company. It gives experts from all over the world a chance to compare notes in terms of experiences, knowledge and failures. It is a school of humility where each word matters, each opinion is taken into account and only consensus prevails. The benefits of standardization are shared by all; they provide a solid foundation on which to achieve the technical convergence that will lead to a sustainable development of economic activities.

Veolia is heavily involved in many areas of environmental standardization and intends to pursue its efforts in its different business activities, particularly in the field of water.