Ecological transformation, a must for sustainable urban development

Current environmental conditions require a drastic change in terms of urban management, with the focus shifting towards the use of renewable energy sources and green areas for tomorrow’s sustainable cities. Mădălin Mihailovici, CEO of Veolia Romania, explains in an interview for Forbes Romania, which are the challenges of „green transformation” for the Romanian economy and society. 


1. How can we make cities “greener,” while also complying with the applicable legislation, and while also taking into account what is available in terms of resource use?  

Most European cities have seen a rapid growth over the past decades, and the latest digital needs generated by the pandemic have driven radical changes in terms of digitalization, services and utilities. Overpopulation, excessive consumption, pollution and depletion of natural resources are only a few of the drivers of prior and current environmental and health challenges in major cities. The need to seek solutions and reimagine urban landscapes has never been more stringent. 

Under such circumstances, the ecological transformation of cities is a topical, necessary and complex matter, which entails more than the usual urban planning or strict regulations. A green city requires a shared endeavor of all public and private decision makers, at all business levels, on the long term and planned in advance as much as possible. 

In order to get there, we need ambitious, well-defined goals, coupled with the regular reporting of progress, and we need to produce electric energy using renewable resources, strict construction regulations in favor of the ecological technology, waste management policies or responsible consumption of water. 

Our company is focused on precisely that – the responsible use and exploitation of exhaustible natural resources, proven by the decreasing consumption of such resources in our clean water catching, production, transport and distribution, as well as waste and rain water collection, transport and treatment. This way, we managed to gradually reduce the quantity of raw water collected and consumed from natural resources, which is currently 63.5% lower than the volume registered in 2001.  

With climate changes already affecting the world and the extended health crisis, it is also key to achieve carbon dioxide neutrality by the half of the 21st century, a goal also set out by the Paris Agreement, and signed by 195 states, including the EU. 

The group of which our company is part is set to become the world champion of ecological transformation, to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, in particular of CO2 concentrations released into the atmosphere, through an improved management of daily activities prone to generate such emissions. In this sense, we are calculating the emissions generated by the clean water production and distribution activity, and by the wastewater collection and treatment activities annually, based on their carbon footprint. 


2. What is the greatest challenge in the area of water resources management? 

We are committed internationally to an ecological approach, and all our efforts are focused on improving the management in our own sites, as well as in the sites of our customers, considering that one of the greatest challenges the world faces is the pollution of raw water. According to studies carried out by the UN, over 80% of global wastewaters are directly spilled into water streams, without going through treatment, which generates heavy contamination and pollution of natural environments. Locally, our company operates Glina Wastewater Treatment Facility – Phase I under a Water Management Authorization issued by “Apele Romane” National Administration, treating an inflow of 7.8 cubic meters per second, respectively 250.000.000 cm per year, which comes from domestic, industrial and rain waters generated by the population of 2.2 million Bucharest habitants we serve, as well as by a big share of metropolitan areas. 

Apa Nova is also set to take over operation of the Glina Wastewater Treatment Facility – Phase II, once the project is completed, and the slime incinerator in Glina, which is, in fact, a complex incineration facility using state-of-the-art technology, mainly controlled automatically. The slime incineration facility comprises two identical lines that are able to operate both individually, as well as collectively, with an incineration capacity of 790 tons of slime per day, thus being able to successfully manage the total quantity of slime produced by Glina Wastewater Treatment Facility when fully expanded, to provide a necessary volume for the city’s sustainable development. 


3. What is the most important component when deciding to implement a strategy on the integrated management of urban waters in a 360-degree system when it comes to making a city green? 

The development and digitalization of the water system’s infrastructure are both critical and necessary steps towards putting Bucharest on the European map of smart cities, and our company has been implementing for the past 6 years complex digital processes, with a plan to subsequently intensify the digital transformation. 

Apa Nova must be able to address the market’s current conditions, the technological advance and requirements of the Romanian legislation in real time, to provide high quality and safe public services. Our objectives for next years are focused on the delivery of safe critical services for the Capital, which couldn’t have been possible without an ongoing and integral process of digital transformation, an area in which we intend to invest an additional 7 million Euro, with a view to creating a comprehensive digital ecosystem and ensuring the deep integration of digital processes at all business levels of our company. 

Another equally significant component when it comes to the integrated management of urban water is to raise awareness among the population on the importance of optimizing water consumption, as well as the correct use of the sewerage system, which is not and should not be regarded as a dumpster. Imagine that last year alone, in 2020, all collectors were cleaned, and existing blockages were eliminated, and as a result a total volume of 1.700 m3 of waste was evacuated. 


4. The Global Water Partnership (GWP), founded in 1996, talks about a well-set international network comprising several entities, from organizations involved in the management of water resources, governmental institutions from developed or developing countries, to UN agencies or bi or multi-lateral development banks. In this context, what is your take on an efficient partnership between the public institutions/local authorities and economic agents, namely citizens, in order to transform cities in genuine ecological ecosystems? 

Our company has always supported and will continue to support forward-thinking views, a collaboration between the public institutions, companies and people, as well as leaders who had the courage to make a fundamental change, who dared to be different, particularly during these challenging times. The healthcare and economic crisis we are currently navigating has brought uncertainty and insecurity at all levels, business strategies have changed, views were reconfigured, and what we knew as “business as usual” was redefined to integrate green technologies. We are experiencing an historic moment of economic reset based on solid principles of sustainability in order to ensure the progress of our society, where green technologies and innovation play a decisive part. 

Natural resources are becoming more and more scarce, while people’s needs are growing, in an increasingly populated and urbanized world, faced with issues related to severe climate changes. People must fully rethink their relationship with resources and come up with new economic and social growth models that are more efficient, more balanced and more durable. 

The battle against climate changes entails a joint effort of all EU member states, but not all regions start as equals. Romania is a country lagging behind. 

Our company is an open partner for the business environment and authorities, and we join the efforts of implementation of the European Green Deal. With an experience of more than 160 years at international level on water, energy and waste management, our Group intends to cut down carbon dioxide emissions by implementing programs inspired from nature (biomarkers, green infrastructure, ecological management etc.) meant to raise awareness among employees, customers, communities, young generation and decision-makers on the company’s actions which may be adapted to protect the environment. 

An efficient partnership between decision-makers, which are public institutions/local authorities, the economic agents and citizens should focus on shared goals, a strategic alignment of businesses, basic strategic rules which should be observed by all stakeholders, but, most importantly, it requires a shared vision and efforts from all parties involved. 


5. If we were to make a top 3 prerequisites of a sustainable model of urban development, what would those be, at this point? 

There is no unique sustainable city model, as local administrations and companies are rather provided with a range of various solutions meant to support long term ecological balance. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental elements and principles of sustainable development with numerous areas of applicability, of which the top and most important is, I believe, access to public resources. 

Improving the quality of people’s life is the main goal of every sustainable city, which should be translated in access to safe healthcare centers, quality education, convenient public transport, water and sewerage infrastructure at the current quality standards, high quality waste collection services and reduction of air pollution. As populations and challenges change within each city, so does the need for solutions adapted to resources. 

Local administrations, as well as the population must become aware of the importance of a responsible consumption of clean water and a responsible use of the sewerage system. 


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