Veolia last week recognised the important role of new talent in its business at the company’s third national apprentice of the year awards ceremony at Westminster. With more than 300 apprentices across the business, Veolia is helping to equip young people with the technical skills required to help solve the world’s greatest issues such as climate change resource scarcity.

And the company’s senior executive vice-president Estelle Brachlianoff believes that more CSR companies should be looking beyond graduates to bring in the best millennial minds. Speaking to edie on the sidelines of the awards ceremony, the Frenchwoman dismissed the notion of apprenticeships as a form of greenwashing, claiming that attracting new talent holds the key to develop the innovation required for sustainable business growth.

“Don’t think it’s here just for CSR washing,” she said. “It’s nothing to do with it. It’s great for the organisation. Have a look at your needs and usually you have a lot more needs than just recruiting the same people again and again. If you want to invest in your business – and I can’t see any business that doesn’t want to innovate and move faster – then you have to have different people around the table. Diversity is a way to get there, diversity of age, ethnicity, gender, social background, you name it. It’s absolutely critical for an organisation to succeed.

“Young people want to join a company which has a purpose. The reason why we want to do all that at Veolia is because we want to resource the world. We have part of the solution which, of course, is only part of it. We need partnerships with customers to develop the solution, which helps to tackle some of the major issues our world faces, such as scarcity of resource and global warming. So let’s do more of that. That is exactly why people are joining our company.”

‘Good business sense’

Veolia’s desire to harness the potential of the younger generation forms part of its overarching ambition to become a company at the forefront of a resource revolution. The company’s latest sustainability report revealed that more than 20% of the business is now operating through a circular economy approach, facilitated by a series of innovative new processes, such as the creation of a giant energy-from-waste (EfW) facility in Leeds.

Brachlianoff is keen to see Veolia’s customers in the industrial sectors manage their resources more efficiently, which she insists can generate new revenue streams. Just under a year ago, the waste management firm released a report which revealed that companies located in the country’s sectors in the UK are currently sitting on a £4bn “hidden mine” that can only be unlocked by transitioning to a circular economy that turns waste into a monetary and valuable resource.

Since then, a host of companies from various sectors have step up their efforts to close the loop. Indeed, in the last fortnight alone, HP has launched a closed-loop recyclable printer and Jaguar Land Rover expanded its closed-loop aluminium recycling programme that will place end-of-life materials into new high-performance products.

According to Brachlianoff, the challenge for these big business now lies in ensuring that their whole supply chains play a vital role in the move towards a circular economy.

“Of course they can do more, and of course they are doing more,” she said. “Not for CSR reasons, neither for only green reasons, but because it makes good business sense for them. There are more and more companies closing loops but I would say that you are seeing more and more companies offering services as opposed to selling products. That’s part of the solution as well. You have a whole series of things around trying to use less to produce the same outcome.

“But there are more companies we have to convince. I would say that we have to get to the SME level and supply chain of those big businesses. If we keep it only to the big blue chips, we won’t get there. We really need to spread the word that it could make sense for you, even though you are not a very large company.”

edie spoke exclusively with Estelle Brachlianoff as part of a edie Sustainable Business Podcast episode, which will be released in the early part of next week. You can listen to all of edie’s previous podcast episodes here.

George Ogleby

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