That’s how Bertrand Camus, CEO of SUEZ, sees the European Green Deal and its potential for the environmental services sector.
For all of the complexity and debate surrounding the European Green Deal, a simple consensus has emerged: The private sector will play a vital role in its success—or failure.
To hear how a leading European business was preparing for the Green Deal, Brunswick Europe Chair Pascal Lamy recently spoke with Bertrand Camus, CEO of SUEZ, a French-based environmental services company whose customers span five continents and include some of the world’s largest industrial producers. The company’s operations include water and waste management, as well as developing cutting-edge, environmentally friendly technology capable of improving air quality or regenerating soil. Its 2019 revenue—the year Mr. Camus became CEO—exceeded €18.4 billion ($21.9 billion).
Mr. Camus, who rose through the ranks after joining SUEZ in 1994, spoke candidly in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on everything from ESG trends to technology SUEZ developed to detect COVID-19 in wastewater.
Bertrand, what does the European Green Deal mean for you and for SUEZ?
We have supported the Green Deal since its conception and actively contributed to its development. My belief that the European Green Deal was the only possible growth agenda for the EU grew even stronger with COVID-19 and the economic shockwave the pandemic has sent through European economies. When some called it too ambitious, too expensive, SUEZ argued exactly the opposite. Yes, the investments required are huge but those investments, of which the private sector will have to support a large share, are the only sustainable recovery project to rebuild the European economy after the pandemic. At SUEZ, we support a sustainable recovery to restart the economy differently. Every step taken by policymakers and the private sector should aim at improving air quality and the quality of life of citizens across Europe.
Has SUEZ already integrated the Green Deal in its business strategy or are you waiting for the regulatory obligations to be clearly defined?
There is no wait and see at SUEZ. The Green Deal objectives are very clear, and they will guide all our activities, including on the innovation front, for the next 20 years at least. We already incorporated many of the Green Deal objectives in our corporate strategy, SUEZ 2030, which we adopted in the fall of 2019. I think you can summarize our approach as being an exemplary adopter ourselves while providing the necessary tools and services to those of our clients willing to make a difference and reduce their impact on the planet without any further delay. To give you a sense of what I mean, by 2030 we committed to reduce by 45 percent the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from our activities; to help our customers avoid 20 million tons of CO2 emissions a year; and offer 100 percent sustainable solutions to our customers.
These are all impressive targets, but did you assess how sustainable your own activities portfolio is?
We did and we did it over a year before being legally obliged to do so under the EU taxonomy reference framework for sustainable business activities. I am particularly proud to report that 74 percent of SUEZ’s 2020 revenue already qualifies as sustainable under the EU taxonomy reference framework. This means that almost three-quarters of the Group’s business activities are identified by this European regulation as contributing to the preservation of the environment and the fight against climate change. And let me add that this high percentage serves as further evidence of SUEZ’s strong ESG profile for investors seeking to invest in sustainable business activities.
Lastly, let me make a broader comment on ESG criteria. For the time being, the ESG debate focuses on the environmental dimension, somewhat to the detriment of the S (social) and the G (governance). The EU Taxonomy needs to focus on the social governance dimension. I personally believe that the rate of gender diversity in management positions is a criterion that should be included under the Taxonomy.