Suez’s activity centers around two main areas: water management and waste recycling and recovery. Both are of vital importance at a time when the climate emergency is on everyone’s lips. Suez’s Group Innovation, Marketing and Business Performance Senior Executive VP Loïc Voisin, tells us, among other things, how innovation can help meet the challenges ahead.
LEADERS LEAGUE. What are the stakes regarding innovation at Suez?
Loïc Voisin. We identify different phenomenon that motivate us to develop innovative solutions, the first being the increase in the world population: with about 7.5 billion people living on the planet today, experts estimate that we could reach 12 billion by 2050. Urbanization is our second driver: 40% of the world’s population live in cities, and estimates show that by the middle of this century that figure will jump to around 70%. Finally, climate change and its consequences threaten everyone. These phenomena put unprecedented strain on our planet’s resources and we feel it is our duty to prepare the world of the future. Faced with unprecedented issues, we need fresh ideas and that is why innovation is at the heart of the group’s strategy.
What forms does this innovation strategy take?
As we have the benefit of 17 research and development centers, with a network of 650 dedicated researchers managing a portfolio of 4,000 patents, we have huge resources to innovate internally. We also work in partnership with universities, research centers, NGOs, startups, large industrial groups, etc. to develop a range of new projects. In 2010 Suez also created its own venture capital fund entitled “Suez Ventures,” allowing us to make minority investments in creative companies. Innovation is also sometimes added through external growth. It also plays a major role in our HR processes designated toward of our nearly 90,000 employees. We want innovation to be part of our company’s culture: every year, we organize the “innovation trophies,” a global competition rewarding the best innovations within Suez.
What recent innovations are you most proud of?
They all make me proud! Some of them were particularly important for the group’s progress such as origins. earth that we developed via intrapreneurship. This technology allows us to measure CO2 emissions of cities, map low carbon opportunities and ease access to climate finance. We are now deploying this solution with the City of Paris and the Paris Climate Agency. Another wonderful innovation of which we are very proud of comes from Optimatics, an Australian-American startup in which we first invested via Suez Ventures, before acquiring it outright in 2018. They have developed a software for the design, construction and management of water infrastructure providing savings of between 10% to 30% of the investment amount thanks to artificial intelligence. We are also working to make the city of Dijon in France a smart city, in collaboration with other industrial groups, the city and its users. It is one of the first smart city projects in the world: everyone is watching what is happening right now in Dijon.
The group has activities on all five continents: would you say that innovation is of same importance all over the world?
We do work all over the world and are in particular very close to many Asian countries, very pioneering on innovation and technology. We are working with Singapore for example to help the city protect its water resources. Even so it must be adapted to local needs, innovation is needed everywhere.
Interview by Camille Guével