“The importance of investments requires a public-private partnership and for this, Davos is extraordinary,” says Suez CEO

All week, Franceinfo’s “eco guest” is in Davos. Friday January 19, as the World Economic Forum draws to a close, Sabrina Soussan, CEO of Suez, comes to talk to us about the discussions that make her optimistic for the future.


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Sabrina Soussan, CEO of Suez.  (franceinfo)

The World Economic Forum in Davos ends Friday evening and Sabrina Soussan, CEO of Suez, is our last guest met on site.

franceinfo: Last year, climate change was much more present in the conferences, in the discussions. This year, it’s as if the COP has sorted everything out and business leaders have moved on. Do you have this same feeling ?

Sabrina Soussan: Not quite. It’s true that we talk a lot about artificial intelligence and geopolitics. But one of the major themes of Davos is also climate change and the long-term strategy for climate and nature. There, I see that we have a lot of requests, a lot of economic players, a lot of public decision-makers who ask us for our solutions. And Suez has a lot of solutions and a lot of innovation on all these subjects.

We have a lot to say and we are really listened to. I am impressed to see all the meetings I had with the actors, not only economic, but also public. I had a meeting, for example with the Vietnamese Prime Minister, because Vietnam is developing a lot on water issues. I find it very positive. As at the COP, as a global group, Suez has its place in these major events and is listened to, because we have the solutions.

2023 was the hottest year on record. For a water treatment specialist, does this translate into more activities?

There is great awareness about water. This is perhaps something interesting for all the French people listening to us: the volume of water consumed in 2023 has decreased compared to 2022, despite a year of great heat and drought in France. So there is awareness and that is positive. Afterwards, there is an economic model for actors like us which needs to be reviewed, because we are paid in volumes of water, whereas we should be paid according to the volumes of water that we help to save. This is how it should work.

The fact that 2023 was the hottest year, does that translate into greater political will?

There was the “water plan” of the President of the Republic. We have also seen major investments like in Nice, on the new wastewater treatment plant, which was one of the largest investments of the year 2023. In this project, we reuse treated wastewater, instead of using drinking water, to irrigate roads and water parks. We also have a lot of innovations like this “resource” factory, which will produce more energy than it consumes. That too is decarbonization, it’s the future.

So climate change means more activity. For a company like Suez, is it more business for you?

It’s more investment, it’s more business. But what is very important and what will change things is the public-private partnership. This is why a place like Davos, where all public and private actors are together, is an extraordinary and unique opportunity. To be able to discuss all these subjects, and to be able to set up projects. Moreover, we won the first public-private partnership in Africa, in Tunisia, on sanitation management, with funding from the World Bank. These subjects are becoming more and more important and I really need to insist that the public and the private sector work together. With all the investment needs, it is necessary otherwise we will not succeed and we will not be able to change things.

Suez is also waste management with a new market for you, that of recycling electric vehicle batteries. With Eramet, you are setting up a battery recycling plant in Dunkirk. When will this factory be operational?

It will be operational in a few years. But I will insist on the fact that we must no longer talk about waste. Waste is a resource, it is an energy resource.

Are we no longer going to burn waste today?

We can burn them in certain cases, and this will produce energy. Instead of using energy that comes from coal, we will use energy that will be partly renewable, which comes from waste. But it is also a resource. We make “secondary raw materials”: ​​these are raw materials from waste. For example, instead of throwing away batteries, we recycle, especially precious metals like lithium, cobalt and nickel. We collect them, we crush them, we make what we call “black mass”. Thus, Eramet will recover these precious metals and put them back into a closed loop in the manufacture of batteries. This is valid for batteries, but it is valid for many other things, for plastic, for metals…

The recycling of electric vehicle batteries is potentially a huge market, since by 2035, we will no longer be able to sell new thermal vehicles in Europe.

Exactly. And as we are an innovative company, always ahead of the curve, we decided to invest in these projects several years ago, to be ready when these batteries are on the recycling market.

So it’s been two years now, Sabrina Samson, that you have been at the head of Suez. You arrived in a very particular, very difficult context. After the hostile takeover bid launched by Veolia for part of Suez’s assets, you found employees a little traumatized, it must be said. What have you done to achieve this?

That’s all behind us. We have come a long way in two years. Besides, I am very proud. We have made three major acquisitions. We went from 7 billion to 9 billion in turnover. We have won a lot of projects, more than 50% of which are international. And our growth will come from international markets. We created an employee shareholding plan with 3% from the start. And I find that to be extraordinary. It shows the desire to share the value of employees and the pride of belonging to this large global Suez group.

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