What levers can you play on to promote greater water reuse? Well, you can act on the money side of the equation, for instance, by incentivizing the deployment of new technologies through grants and loans. But also by making the wrong behavior more expensive. Wanna find out more? Let’s review it…
with 🎙️Jon Freedman – Senior Vice President – Global Government Affairs at SUEZ WTS
💧 SUEZ WTS provides industry-leading water technology and process expertise to solve the toughest water, wastewater, and process challenges
What we covered:
🇺🇸 How the US federal government just put out a National Water Reuse Action Plan (WRAP)
👑 How among the 55 action items, Jon holds one that’s especially interesting
🧠 How there are four levers from a policy standpoint to promote greater water reuse (and what they are)
🦸♂️ How a fifth approach might well trump them all, by incentivizing water reuse
💪 How we might have to 5x water reuse in the coming decade
🤝🏿 How private sector, multilateral organization, development agencies and governments will have to work hand in hand to develop water reuse
💰 How the US infrastructure bill will apply to the water sector, and what the $55 billion there will be allocated to
❇️ How the scattered nature of the water utility scene in the US can prevent rapid actions from being taken
🍏 How decentralized water reuse might be a powerful solution, and how the 50L Home coalition promotes this direction
🍏 How Los Angeles intends to reuse 100% of its wastewater by 2035 and what it deploys to meet that goal
🌱 How piloting reuse solutions goes beyond a pure technological assessment
🍎 How water tariffs and their absence when it comes to river and groundwater are crucial influencers for the adoption of reuse
🦈 Teaching at the university and the Wharton School, Creating an “H2O Shark Tank,” Membrane Bioreactors as a fundamental technological brick, the water usage mix, PFAS treatment, having aspirational goals… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
Teaser: US’s first Water Reuse Champion
🔗 Have a look at SUEZ WTS’s website
🔗 Come say hi to Jon on Linkedin
is on Linkedin ➡️
Infographic: Crowning a Water Reuse ChampionInfographic-Jon-Freedman-SUEZ-WTS-Water-Reuse
Quotes: and the Water Reuse Champion is…Quotes-Jon-Freedman-SUEZ-WTS-Water-Reuse
Table of contents
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Antoine Walter: Hi Jon, Welcome to the show.
Jon Freedman: Hello Antoine. And thank you for having me!
Antoine Walter: Well, I’m very excited to have you actually, because we have a full plate of topics and a deep dive on the topic, which is very close to my heart. And I’m going to go a bit deeper into that in just a minute. But all of that starts with a very simple question, which is my tradition of the postcard. What can you tell me about the place you’re at, which I would ignore by now?
Jon Freedman: Well, I work in Washington, DC, but I’m speaking to you from my home in Charlottesville, Virginia. Have you heard of Charlottesville?
Antoine Walter: Nope. Never. Let’s be honest.
Jon Freedman: Have you heard of the university of Virginia?
Antoine Walter: Oh yeah.
Jon Freedman: So Charlottesville, Virginia is a couple hours outside, Washington, DC. It’s in the foothills of the blue Ridge mountains. It is where the university of Virginia is, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson whose home Mata cello is here.
So it’s a beautiful town in the outskirts of Washington, DC.
Antoine Walter: and you have a link with the university of Pennsylvania, right?
Jon Freedman: I do so well. I went to the university of Virginia for college, which is here in Charlottesville. And for business school, I went to the Wharton school, which is at the university of Pennsylvania. And second link is that for the past nine years I’ve been teaching a class at the university of Pennsylvania called the future of water.
And and actually Antwan starting in the spring semester, I will also be teaching a class at the Wharton school called the business and governance of water.
Antoine Walter: Which makes for a very smooth transition, because actually your role today at Suez WTS is you’re a senior VP for global government affairs. So we have that government element, which you will be teaching, but which also your daily duty. And I was just wondering, what does it encompass in a group like.
Jon Freedman: Well, so first of all, I’m the global government affairs leader for Suez water technologies and solutions. And we’re one of the world’s leading water treatment technology companies. So we have 50,000 customers and more than a hundred countries. And I really do two main things as a government affairs leader.
So one is engage with governments all over the world. To help advocate for sustainable water policies. And then the second thing I do is I try to help position Suez as a global thought leader in water sustainability, so that whenever governments to hear about putting a new policy in place, they might actually think of calling us and asking for input.
Antoine Walter: Would you have a recent example of something like that happening.
Jon Freedman: Yeah, I have a couple of examples. One I love which is I wrote a white paper which created a menu of policy options that governments could choose from when they were looking to implement water, reuse policies, know policies that would accelerate the adoption of water reuse solutions. And it’s really hard to find representative policies in one place.
You have to search all over the world. So I actually, I looked to about 30 countries around the world and I took about a hundred policies that had already implemented successfully and put them all in one place and organize them in a menu that governments could choose from. And in the EU. And I think, you know this because you’re based in the EU when the.
European commission makes water policies. They don’t like to interface directly with the private sector. They prefer to interface with water associations in which the private sector can participate. But in this case, the head of the EU environment called my company and said, you know, we’re putting in place new, whatever use policies in the EU.
And I would appreciate it. If you could put me in touch with a Jon Freedman, I have a report he wrote on my desk. So that’s actually the power of these white papers. You’re actually creating something of value to governments and it gets you into the conversation.
Antoine Walter: I guess, what are we use beyond the white paper? It will be a lot of what we will be discussing, but in preparation for that discussion, I looked a bit your path and what you’ve done in the past. And, you know, there’s this big trend, which we are regularly discussing on that microphone about ESG and the sustainability drive.
And it sounds to me like you were a bit ahead of times with GE’s Ecomagination. So what’s that. And what led you to that 17 years ago?
Jon Freedman: Great question. I was working for G E and at that time, the CEO was a guy named Jeff ML and he had, it was his idea. In fact, I just read his book called huts. Which came out earlier this year. And in the hot seat, he talks about the creation of eco-imagination and he says, Hey, he had this idea that he wanted to do something on the environmental front, but he didn’t really know what it was.
So he asked his chief marketing officer to kind of bring somebody into corporate and figure out what kind of program we could put in place. I was that person. So GE was really early in the game. But it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it, it was a big global company with 300,000 employees and the CEO who’s then a young guy, he knew he wanted to do something that was kind of in the forefront of environmental issues.
Antoine Walter: you mentioned you are what to reuse white paper. When did you publish that one?
Jon Freedman: Well, I’ve published many of them over the years. I don’t know the exact data on that one?
I’d want to say 2012, but two years ago we published one specific to India. Because India is having horrible water challenges. I think according to the world resources Institute, the 13th, most water scarce place on earth,
so, I wrote a white paper specific to India and actually went to Delhi just before COVID hit and met with four Indian ministers and presented the white paper. And we’re still engaged with the government of India on the.
Antoine Walter: I was just trying to put it a bit on, on the timeline, because you mentioned water reuse and how the EU was influenced by your white paper. So, you know, how. Difficult of a topic it was to put through in Europe, before even talking of a push. And that is really not yet even fully adopted through the full region.
that’s going to be my introduction to the deep dive because there’s that personal element about me. It’s the first time I visited there, the us was actually for the water reuse symposium in Seattle in 2015. And there was there as a speaker. of course it’s a symposium of the U S so you don’t have that much foreign speakers and not that much from Europe, but it really impressed me how the us was ahead of times when it was to come to these water reuse.
And at that time, the biggest phases was on one for dioxin. The situation in California, the situation in Florida, and from a European perspective, we were looking at fracking water and these kind of topics. And we were rethinking that’s going to be an industrial topic.
And my question is since 2015, did it change? Do you really see something moving in that area? And if yes, what.
Jon Freedman: Well, I think it’s changed a lot. But when you talk about the U S you know, there are 50 states and in a way of talking about 50 different countries could because each state. Its own policies in place so long as they at least comply with federal policies, but they can go far ahead of public policies in California usually does.
So federally would happen 2021, February, 2021 is the federal government put out a national water reuse action plan. So it’s first time ever in the United States, the entire federal government, all agencies got together and said, we’re going to court. To try to put in place a unified federal policy to accelerate, reuse across the United States.
So that’s certainly something new since you were here in 2015 at that conference. And California is just speeding ahead.
Antoine Walter: I was wondering that national plan coming in 2021, is it like a nudge as it’s a must? Is the regulation? , what does it push?
Jon Freedman: It’s all of those things. It’s really a compendium of, I think there are now 55 action items. And the action items are either things the federal government will do by itself. They create new regulations or will work in concert with state and local governments like inventory, the existing regulations that exist at state and local level.
And try to kind of make sure that there are regulations in place that will allow for the right level of treatment for the right type of reuse or it could even be encouraging the creation of incentives across the country. I am the owner of one of those action items. And my action item is to create a national award for a water reuse champion.
And so, a lot of times when we see policies is to get governments, local state, and local governments to do things. But my thought was, well, we need corporates to step up. So, how do you get the corporate community engaged? And one way to do that is by incentivizing them through recognition. So you create this reward and recognition program, and we’re working on that with the U S chamber of commerce in the university of Pennsylvania and the water reuse association to create metrics for what will qualify as the national, water reuse champion, and to start giving out the award sometime the next year.
Antoine Walter: So you’re going to Chrome, the first one within the next two years.
Jon Freedman: Yeah, I think we’re we’re a little bit ahead of the curve because we are, we haven’t put out a press release on this yet kind of saying what the roadmap will be, so we’re making news right here on your podcast, Antwan. But the idea is that the, these four groups Suez, what Reese association chamber of commerce and university of Pennsylvania as the academic partner are gonna work together to create the metrics.
For you know, the award and then solicit proposals from corporations across the country so that’ll all be done this year. Then next year to start actually issuing the award at a national ceremony.
Antoine Walter: I guess how it’s important in terms of communication to have a national approach to that. But when it comes to regulation, I guess the situation for water reuse might be very different if you’re in Chicago next to the great lakes, or if you were in BMA or in the middle of Texas. So what’s the rights level at which you shall take regulations and actions, is it?
The state is it’s even more local than the State?.
Jon Freedman: it’s a complicated question. First. You asked earlier, what is this national water resection plan? Does it do, does it nudge people? Doesn’t incentivize people. You know, if you think about ways you can promote greater water reuse from policy standpoint, I think there are four main things you can do.
And so one is education outreach, and we just talked about that. So I think this national water use champion award, as an example of education and outreach, it’s kind of creating a reward and recognition program. The federal government can also provide technical resources to community. As part of education outreach that are looking to implement reuse, there are a lot of I’ll call them disadvantaged communities in the United States will globally, but you know, here in the United States and the federal government is looking to provide technical expertise and how these communities can begin to input, implement their own reuse programs.
So there’s education outreach then tutor incentives. You know, you can give grants or low cost loans, three, you can remove barriers at these businesses and communities face a lot of times here in the U S water tariffs, water prices tend to be pretty low.
So that’s a barrier and economic barrier to convincing somebody to invest in the money, to reuse water, if they can keep getting water for next to nothing. And then the fourth thing is you can create regulations, which we just talked about. We’re actually mandate that people reuse water, which you can do.
And you know, when you’re facing acute scarcity.
Antoine Walter: But that is for municipal uses of water. How does that impact the industrial side? Is that also a place where reuse or be pushed or.
Jon Freedman: Yeah it’s the same, but that’s the same for industrial or municipal. Those, there are four categories of policies that governments can put in place to get industry or.
businesses to reuse more water. And I’ll give you an example. So on the municipal side, the U S government just passed in November a massive infrastructure plan, which has $55 billion in it for water.
None of that is available however, to the private sector. But I think the U S government should put in place an investment tax credit to promote industrial reuse of water. Just like there’s an investment tax credit to promote the adoption of wind energy and solar energy. So it would be to help industry.
Kind of overcome the economic barrier. We just mentioned to reuse by giving them a tax incentive. Reward recognition program is one way to get industry to step up and do the right thing. But another way is to kind of help them bridge the economic gaps they’re facing.
Antoine Walter: They’re going to be gaps. It’s something we discussed on that microphone, I would say in many shapes, but let me just recall too. The first was with David Lloyd Owen, who wrote that book global water funding. And he recalls that advertising we say is reassuringly expensive. I mean, the price is high enough, then you trust your water. And that’s a bit, one of the limits we’re missing. Even more to your points. I had the discussion with Ellen Bruno from the university of California, and she made a study to see how water tariffs had a direct impact on water reuse, which was to that extent indirect water reuse through an aquifer recharge.
So you would be just retreating your water and refilling your ground water. How much of the topic is it’s in the us to raise the tarifs? Is it something which might be happening or is it really off the table? Like something which nobody would accept.
Jon Freedman: I think both of those statements are true. And you know, for first of all in the U S. It’s not like Israel or Singapore where the national government can just throw a switch and say, Hey, tariffs are now this, because here in the us, most people, 85% of people get their water from government. Water systems, but not federally federal government, you know, local agencies.
So you have, I think roughly 50,000 of these local agencies that all set their own water rates. Right. So it’s really hard to do. To Hey, you know, your rates are too low, you should increase them. At the same time. A lot of cities across the country are increasing their water rates because they know they have to sustainably invest in these solutions, in providing people a safe and abundant water going forward, New York.
City’s an example, they’ve been increasing their water rates, I think had just under 10% a year for a while!.
Antoine Walter: Talking of New York. Sorry for the name dropping, but we had the discussion with Aaron Tartakovsky from epic Cleantech who mentioned how New York to a certain extent, San Francisco to a much wider extent was taking regulations to enforce on-site reuse in buildings. So there’s really a proactive approach to say the markets won’t do it itself.
The invisible hand of markets is not that strong that it can force reuse. Let’s be directive. Let’s do it, but that would be totally off the grids of the 50,000 water utilities. And I guess 40,000 waste water utilities. It’s again, another level, because you say people should do it inside the building.
Is it something which is a nippy phenomenon or is it a trend which is catching on?.
Jon Freedman: It’s definitely happening. I don’t know that it’s happening in a material enough way to. A huge difference
right now, but I do think, you know, this idea of we’ll call it decentralized water reuse does make all the sense in the world and will grow in the future in I just want to mention something called the 50 liter home coalition.
Is, does that ring any kind of bell with you?
Antoine Walter: I’m chasing them down to, to come on that microphone.
Jon Freedman: Well, good. I was going to recommend them to you, but you’re ahead of me. So they’re headquartered in Geneva and they hired a guy. He used to be at the Rockefeller foundation. He was the resilient city leader and that’s usually to ask. And this is a coalition of originally nine organizations, the world bank, the world economic forum. Arcadis the engineering from Dutch based engineering firm, Suez, and a handful of other organizations. And the idea was to create a water and energy efficient home. So that is decentralized reuse and to pilot it in four places around the world.
So, you know, there are initiatives out there trying to push this idea of decentralized reuse
Antoine Walter: What are the stakes of Suez in that game, because she has as historically a utility company going to large scale. So what can you do on this small scale?
Jon Freedman: Suez is two things in the Waterworld. It’s a water utility but it’s also a water treatment technology company. And if you look at the 50 liter home, the concept is on the water efficiency side because it’s water and energy, but on the water side, 50% of the reduction of water will be through recycle onsite.
And that’s a technology. Which is really central to what Suez does.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned piloting, is it currently piloted in the U S.
Jon Freedman: No. You’d have to check with the 50 liter coalition folks. But the last I spoke with them, they were looking to pilot in four places around the world. And I think China, India, Mexico, and here in the U S.
in Los Angeles, but it’s still in embryonic stage.
Antoine Walter: If you look at reuse now from a bit more of a global perspective. If I still look at the book from the loader when he’s estimating how the water is seen, shall evolve by 2030, if we want to reach the equilibrium, because you know, that report from McKinsey, which says that we will be missing 40% of the water by 2030, if we keep the current base, what can we do?
And one of the things we can do is increase water reuse, and he estimates that by 2030, Be close to 10% of the water, which is we used worldwide. So countries like Israel, which we use 80 or 90% might be laughing at that figure. But for most of the countries and for the world in general, it means tripling the level of water reuse do you see that realistically happening in the next decade?
Jon Freedman: I don’t know you know, globally, right. It’s just too hard. I mean, too big a canvas to
Antoine Walter: Let’s take the U S.
Jon Freedman: But I can talk. Yeah. So let’s talk about some specific places in the U S so California, I just saw the headline yesterday, the newspaper, and California. was just in the midst of our horrible drought. So the city of Los Angeles announced a couple of years ago that it is going to recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2035. So that’s what is that? 13 years from now. Where is it now? I would guess it’s recycling about 15% of its waste wastewater, so that, I mean 85% to go. Maybe it’s an aspirational target. I don’t know, but I do know that they’re gearing up to do this and they’re piloting solutions now to take Los Angeles county wastewater and use it for the city and to take Los Angeles city wastewater and use it. And Suez, by the way, is piloting. Your water or technologies with the city now to try to accomplish that goal.
So I do think Antwan, we are going to see places in the U S.
in places in the world, , begin to supply huge amounts of their water needs through recycled water.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned how Suez is piloting technologies. I’d have a nasty question, sorry for that. But I thought that reuses is so easy. I mean, you invest in some membrane, you put membranes and here you go. So what’s it that you have to pilot
Jon Freedman: Hey, I’m with you. I think that technology that’s a good question. I think that technology is extraordinarily well established. Our basic building block at Suez for most of our reuse solutions globally is called the membrane bioreactor, which combines biological treatment with membranes, of course, being a way to physically separate.
Bad things in water from the H2O that you want, right? Viruses, bacteria, cysts. And we have an installed base of more than 1000 membrane bio-reactors around the world treating more than a billion gallons of wastewater each day for reuse, right? So the technology is extremely well established, but put yourselves in the shoes of a city leader, telling people we’re going to take our wastewater. Treat it and give it to you to drink. You probably want to be able to say, and guess what? We took this great technology. We piloted it on our own wastewater for 18 months. We have all the test data. It’s a thousand percent safe. This is a great program. It’s not only important, but it is completely safe for you.
So I think that’s really the value of these pilot programms.
Antoine Walter: But isn’t it the most difficult hurdle to take? And why starting with this one? I mean, it’s the example everybody takes when they want to give a failed marketing attempt, they mentioned the toilet to tap. That’s a water I don’t want to drink. And nobody wants to drink. If you explained it better, probably people would get it that anyways, you are drinking water that went through a dinosaur at some point.
So we are reusing water for millennium, but the water would drink is such a small portion of the overall water mix. Why should we start with that one? When you talk about reuse why not all the other gray appliances, industrial appliances and agriculture uses of water?
Jon Freedman: Well, I’m with you. In the U S residential water use is 10% of.
the pie. Industrial water reuse is about 50%. And agriculture is around 40%. So if you are experiencing water scarcity, and you’re only focusing on the residential piece, you’re missing the big picture.
Having said that, If you are providing water to human beings, it’s really nice to know that you have a sustainable supply of water for those human beings. That’s why you might want to treat your wastewater within a city and make sure it’s there as a source of clean water. But I also think you should reuse water for agriculture and industry now in industry.
I do think there’s an economic barrier because water is so cheap. And companies often have the option of taking water from the ground. We’re actually, it might be free or river where again, it might be free or even a municipal system where it’s sometimes all but free. What you need to do is. I think create some kind of incentive to get them to invest in the reuse technologies and on the agricultural front, it’s often the same challenge. A lot of farmers get their water only for the cost of electricity to pump it from a canal to their field, for example. So it’s hard to get people to invest in, in treating wastewater for reuse.
Antoine Walter: Which is actually the exact thesis of Ellen Bruno, in that discussion, we had that you should have a terribly for ground water because it’s just too easy to take it.
Jon Freedman: Just from an economics standpoint, I mean, if there’s no pricing signal you just, keep using as much water as you possibly can. Right? But if you’re beginning to pay a material price for that water, you’re going to think twice or begin to think about how to use it more efficiently.
Antoine Walter: my surprise was, you know, when I started looking bit into the topic of water reuse in the U S I was thinking of Las Vegas, you know, you have the Bellaggio, you with the phone teens, and I felt, oh, that’s the biggest set yet, again it’s just wasting water. And it turns out that’s there, as there is a clear price to water because of the Hoover dam and everything all the casinos, they are reusing their water for decades.
I mean, long before it was even a trend. So it just shows. The incentive is clear, put a price for water and people will become sustainable. It sounds such a no brainer who can be loving against that for it’s not to happen.
A correctable. Sorry.
Jon Freedman: No, listen. Who could be loving against it. If you look in the U S right now one of the lenses that the Biden administration looks through when it thinks about environmental policy is environmental justice. And there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay for clean water.
And it’s just, that’s the reality. Right. But I believe that water’s fundamental human rights access to clean water, that everybody should have access to clean water. And for those who can’t afford it through deeds to be a social safety net, governments need to ensure that people have this access, but for those who can afford it, they should pay the full cost.
Of treating that water, distributing that water accruing funds to, to invest in new pipes, which will go bad after a period of time. Right. So we I don’t know anyone who’s, you know, people don’t want to pay more, they don’t want, see to bills go up. So they would, I think maybe advocate against increased rates, but really if you step back.
Governments need to think about putting in place full cost pricing of water with a social safety net to ensure that everyone has, that still has access to it.
Antoine Walter: Would you think there is a marketing elements to it? Because if you look at the numbers, California 80% of the people in California don’t drink, tap water. Even when they have tap water, they don’t trust it. They go for bottled water and both with water. If you take the cheapest of it, it’s going to be, let’s say 100 to 1000 times more expensive than tap water.
And most of the time it’s going to be of least quality than tap water. So did we, as an industry, fail at marketing?
Jon Freedman: Probably, you know, I think the industry can do better. I think it’s trying to do better. I think there are efforts in a way to make people appreciate how safe their tap water is, but also appreciate the value of water. Right. And be willing to pay more for it. Because right now in the U S I think an average water tariff is about. $2 and 65 cents per cubic meter or cubic meter is 264 gallons. So it’s a penny, a gallon treated delivered to your home, safe, a penny for a gallon of water. What do you pay for a bottle of water? You know, a dollar or $2 depending on where you buy it, right. For a small bottle. So there’s no reason to buy bottled water.
And you’re probably right. It’s probably a failure of market.
I do think young people here in the us are increasingly carrying their own bottles, which they refill from taps as opposed to buying bottled
Antoine Walter: Then at least there’s some hope. Good to hear. If we zoom out a bit, you mentioned the infrastructure bill from the Biden administration, which has probably a welcome breath of air in an infrastructure sector in the U S where there was an EPA report, which was showing that the pipes classified as very poor between 1980 and 2020 were multiplied by 10.
So I would say that the infrastructure in the globally speaking the country isn’t right now in a very good shape is infrastructure. Currently past sufficient to correct all of that, or is it just coming back to the level? It should be, but still not compensating for what we didn’t do for decades.
Jon Freedman: Good question. I haven’t done the math to see if it’s sufficient, but I know that it is a great step in the right track. And it’s going to provide $55 billion, which I mentioned earlier in incremental water funding to what the government typically provides every year. So it will still be providing the same amounts.
It was providing an annual basis. Plus this $55 billion over the next five years, a huge chunk of that or $15 billion is going to go to replace lead service lines. Which is a problem across the United States, will that be enough money to replace every single lead service line?
Probably not, but it’s going to replace a lot of them and be a great step in the right direction. $5 billion of that is to treat PFAS. There’s never been funding to remove PFS from drinking water supplies or wastewater flows. This’ll help communities across the country. Take a huge step forward in doing that.
So it’s a really positive step and the government really deserves to be commended for.
Antoine Walter: What would you expect from those specific 5 billion, which go to two PFAS removal? What is that money going to target is going to be municipal, drinking water, wastewater, industrial.
Jon Freedman: 4 billion of it is for municipal drinking water supplies. And 1 billion is for wastewater flows and the money is going to go from Congress to the EPA. Then the EPA will distribute that money to each of the 50 states, according to a formula. And then each of the 50 states we’ll distribute the money to communities within its state. And each state will make the judgment, which communities, you know, most need. So that’s how it’s gonna flow. And I think it’ll go a long way towards removing PFAS from drinking water supplies and wastewater discharges.
Antoine Walter: And as a technology provider in that game. How do you see it unfolding in the next five, 10 years? Do you expect it to become mainstream?
Jon Freedman: Oh, it’s a hundred percent going to be come mainstream. It’s already becoming mainstream?
You have states that are now implementing their own PFAS regulations. Often moving fast. Even then the federal government is on that front. Although the federal government is moving pretty quickly itself. And you have communities across the country that are already testing their water supplies for PFAS and putting begin to put actions into place to remove the PFAS.
Antoine Walter: If I further zoom out now from the us and look at the rest of your role as the government offers a representative for Suez WTS from what I’ve read, you’re also working with organized like the world bank. And I was just wondering, what would you do with those?
Jon Freedman: Thank you for asking it because I am a huge fan of the world bank. Right now the world bank has hundreds of water projects underway around the world, trying to help poor communities have access to clean water. And I think they have about $29 billion of water projects underway. So they’re playing just this critically important role globally.
And as a private sector company. Our goal is to try to support the world. Bank’s broader efforts through providing technology insights market data insights, what’s happening around the world. What can be done business model insights and on occasion to be a company that helps implement some of the world bank solutions.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned business model insights. Isn’t, it’s the very field where Suez has the least inputs. I mean, you’re a traditional company, several decades old to still imagine new business models. That is not, that is beyond the curve. Ball is really nasty
Jon Freedman: no, I think the point on business models, what I was really thinking is that too often when water solutions are implemented in poor communities or disadvantaged communities, they’re not sustainable because somebody comes in, they build some system and it’s over the long-term it’s not properly maintained or operated.
So from a business model standpoint, I would say that the historical Suez business model, which is to design build sometimes own, but almost always to operate water or wastewater treatment system or a reuse system is a much more sustainable model because it’s always properly maintained.
So that’s kind of the point we try to get across don’t just look at the lowest upfront capital cost. Look at the lifecycle cost and try to pick the lowest lifecycle cost.
Antoine Walter: want to sidetrack you here. But to, to that extent the book of Gary White and Matt Damon, the worth of water is very impressive. About this element of the moving away from the build break and rebuild the approach, and rather go into how do you sustain it on the long run which is also something which Christopher Gasson that microphone shared some weeks ago when he expressed how safe water pays for itself.
But you have to do it. Right. last question for you in the deep dive. you, If you look into my crystal ball and you’re looking into the future, what will tell you? You’ve succeeded in 10 years.
Jon Freedman: 10 years might be too short of a window, but you know, if you look today and this Isn’t me personally, of course, it’s, I think all of us collectively, 800 million people, according to the world bank who don’t have access to clean water, not accepting. So if it’s 10 years or 20 years, whatever it is, we have to get everyone access to clean water.
You know, the private sector has a role in that by developing technologies that can be cost effective and efficient, putting the right business models in place that multilateral organizations, development agencies like the world bank, they have a role to play. Governments, have a role to play.
We all do. That’s how I will measure my success, but, you know, I’m just one stakeholder in a really big universe of players.
Antoine Walter: Isn’t it very risky to define your success upon access to water for all. When you know that the word has failed in that endeavor for the past 50 years.
Jon Freedman: I’m not speaking for my company’s commitment. I’m speaking as Jon Freedman. But I would say no, it’s not risky at all. And if you’re not aspirational and if you don’t have. Some aspirational mission, you are definitely not going to accomplish it. So you’ve got to start with something and here, at least that would be my mission, my vision
Antoine Walter: That would be the perfect conclusion for the deep dive. But I lied when saying that was my last question. I have one more. You mentioned. You’re going to teach the future of water in university. What do you tell your students? What is the key message that you try to bring them across?
Jon Freedman: When I teach my new class in the spring at Wharton. by the way, there’s a 12 week course. The first class is going to be to talk about what the global water challenges are. Those 800 million people who don’t have access to clean water. The 2 billion people who live in areas that are chronically short of water, the economics we’ve been talking about.
Then the rest of the course is going to be about what do you do about that? How do you ensure that the world has a sustainable approach to water? And then the last class, the student is going to be an H2O shark tank, where the students are going to present their ideas for businesses, business models. They can help achieve global water sustainability, and there’ll be a panel of judges.
Maybe you would like to come and if not be a judge, maybe record the class or ask them.
questions, be part of that process. But that’s the class. And I actually think that’s the right model for thinking about these global water challenges we face at this class is the way to go about it.
Antoine Walter: What first you got me hooked. So I don’t know how serious you are with the invite, but I’d be very happy to be there,
Jon Freedman: Oh, no, a hundred percent. Just bring that microphone because I think you should interview these students. And I think they’re going to be impressive and have some great ideas.
Antoine Walter: But, you know, there’s even one more element to it, which is when I was myself, a student to me, the only output was to go work for the Suez and Veolia of this word. And I never thought that I could myself have an impact. I could myself create something. And the more I discuss like we do right now, or like I did with many of the guests on that microphone, I realized that.
It doesn’t depends on big corporations or even in governments. It depends on all of us to take it on. So it’s fascinating that you use that as the key message of a course you’re teaching at Wharton school. I mean, that’s how we create an impact, I guess.
Jon Freedman: I think so. And these are young, smart people, so we get them engaged.
Antoine Walter: Well, I think we have a future prospects to for a follow-up and that makes for a perfect conclusion for that deep dive. Jon, if that’s right for you, I propose you to switch to the rapid fire question.
Rapid fire questions:
Antoine Walter: In that last section, I’ll try to keep the questions short and you should keep the answers short as well, but don’t worry. I’m never cutting the microphone in case you have a longer answer to make. what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on, and why?
Jon Freedman: We already touched on it, but in Los Angeles where we are piloting right now to take Los Angeles county’s wastewater and treat it. So that could be reused. And they’re going to scale that up. They’re talking about scaling that up from is a half a billion gallon per day. Pilot. 200 million gallon per day, a reuse plant, which would be the largest in the U S by far.
That’s the most exciting thing I’m working on?
Antoine Walter: One thing that you’ve learned the hard way.
Jon Freedman: You know, one thing that always surprises me is every time I think I’m right and I’m positive, then I learned them wrong. And one thing recently was with this 50 liter home coalition because I just thought, wow, this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard of. And I do believe that by the way.
But when I presented it to a lot of large water reuse players here in the United States and said, we should engage and, we can help them pilot this in Los Angeles.
I got pushed back. And the pushback was we’ve invested billions of dollars in large centralized water reuse treatment plants, and you’re going to choke off the flows of wastewater to our plants. So I believe the tent should be big enough for us to think about decentralized, reuse, centralized, reuse, but then when I think he put myself in their shoes, I say, well, you know, I can see their point of view.
But that surprised me that the 50 liter home didn’t get just fully embraced by all of the reuse players here in the U S that there was some pushback.
Antoine Walter: I told you I was going to sidetrack. So, so I warned user, I feed it through. to my knowledge, the U S is the only country in the world where you have tariffs which go lower. If you take high volumes, like you would be going to Walmart and you buy 20 pieces of something, it’s a bit cheaper which is okay if you go to Walmart.
But it’s surprising when it comes to water where you would expect the opposite, like the negative behavior, which is to use too much water, wouldn’t be rewarded.
Jon Freedman: So, listen Antwan, that is a huge barrier to getting industry, to reuse water. And we have actually had. Customers whose names I will not reveal, but say to us, I would love to implement a water reuse facility as part of our sustainability goals, but I just can’t make the economics work because the more water we use, the lower our rate per unit of water.
And in some cases there’s even something called a holding charge where just to ensure they have access to, you know, their, the amounts of water that businesses use can spike and drop. And spike just depends. But if they want to have access to the top amount they might need at any one time, they have to pay, what’s called a holding charge.
To have access to that. And if they implement water reuse solutions, they still have to pay the holding charge because sometimes they’re going to spike and they’re all kinds of barriers to reuse on the rate side.
Antoine Walter: We’re back to the economics of it which is the difficult part of the equation. But let me stop my sidetrack here. Is there something you’re doing today in your job that you will not be doing in 10 years?
Jon Freedman: I don’t think so. I think I just need to do more of everything I’m doing, you know, I, you know, I just don’t have enough time to do everything I need to do, but no, my, my job is to engage with governments around the world and try to promote water sustainability. So I need to do more.
Antoine Walter: what is the trend to watch out for in the water sector?
Jon Freedman: I think we’ve been talking about it. And the reason I say that is, we’re seeing so much scarcity in so many places. And the answer to the scarcity is treating the wastewater for reuse it’s cheaper than using desalinated water. It’s available and it’s just sitting there. The world is reusing.
You had asked about, I think a fear of 10% by 2030 right now of the world’s wastewater that they’re collecting and treating. They’re only reusing 2%. Great. So we have this huge untapped reservoir wastewater that we can treat to meet pretty much all of our needs going forward. So I think that is going to be the trend for the next 10, 20 years.
Antoine Walter: I give you a chance to enforce the trends with my next question. If you were a word political leader, what would be your first action to influence the fate of the words? Water challenges.
Jon Freedman: My. Personal, not my company. My personal observation is that the world is taking too fragmented and approach to water challenges. You have great organizations like the world bank. You have tremendous philanthropies. You mentioned Matt. Damon’s water.org. There are so many other organizations out there, but they’re not working in concert with one another.
I think that we need to find a way to get governments, NGOs, philanthropies, working in concert so we can achieve scale and greater impact. I really think that’s the key to the kingdom on addressing global Water challenges.
Antoine Walter: that even possible because water is something that. I know it’s already scattered today, but when you think of its water is so different from one place to another, it’s the kind of goods you cannot really move or not over long distances. It’s it rapidly becomes very expensive. What would be the right body to, to bring all of that together?
Jon Freedman: I don’t know. I don’t know. That I have the answer to that question, but I think if president Biden stood up for example and said, wow, I think we should get together the leaders around the world and talk about how we coordinate. And of course the water solutions need to be implemented at a local level.
That’s where you help. People are in the dynamics are different. Some areas have too much water. They have flooding some have no water. But if you could have somebody who’s arguably the leader of the free world, stand up and say, this is something we need to focus on globally and bring the world leaders together?
I think that would be a good first step.
Antoine Walter: Well, it looks like, when Mr. Biden is over, you can have a run at replacing him. And then as a world leader, I would be on your side.
Jon Freedman: Maybe a you and I should just meet him for lunch in Washington and talk this through while he’s in power now.
Antoine Walter: Sounds like another good idea. Well,
Jon Freedman: I’m going to send you an I’m going to send you an invitation. I have the date of that shark tank, H two O. It’s going to be in a,
may next may, and you need to put it on your own.
Antoine Walter: my pleasure. I would definitely put that on my calendar. I have a last question for you in that deep dive, which is would you have someone that you would recommend me that should definitely invite on that microphone, which would be as awesome as you were.
Jon Freedman: Yeah. You know, Braulio Marino at the 50 liter home coalition and You know, I think what he’s doing is so interesting and someday will be really important.
Antoine Walter: Well, John, it’s been a pleasure. If people want to follow up with you after that’s discussion, where shall I redirect them?
Jon Freedman: Well, that’s a good question. You can find me on LinkedIn.
Antoine Walter: Like always the links will be in the episode notes to just have a look and click on it. And it was a pleasure to spend that hour with you See you soon in the shark tank.
Jon Freedman: Thank you, Antwan. Great to see you.