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"Saur is shifting from a water utility to a water technology company"

Saur is a leading French-based innovator and service provider offering water utility services worldwide, currently operating in 20 countries and serving approximately 20 million people.

In 2022, Saur adopted a new brand identity setting itself the ambitious goal of becoming the champion of the water transition by 2030. To achieve this objective, the firm has placed internationalisation at the heart of its strategy, with the aim of it contributing 50 per cent of Saur’s revenue by 2025. To drive forward this key area of business, the company named Nader Antar President of Saur’s International Division last year. With over 20 years of global experience in strategy and business development, Antar has been tasked with the development and sustainable growth of all the firm’s international operations. We had the chance of speaking to him in Gestagua’s offices in Spain about his new role and the future of Saur.

Published in SWM Bimonthly 17 - April 2023
SWM Bimonthly 17

What is your assessment of your first year as President of Saur International?

I joined the Saur Group almost a year ago, with the aim of capitalizing on everything that makes Saur a winning company (its employees, its purpose, its values, its expertise, its technologies, its geographical footprint, etc.) to both strengthen ourselves in our core markets, such as Spain and Portugal, and to expand into new key geographies.

Internationalisation is a strategic pillar of the Group, and by 2025, we will have to contribute almost 50% of Saur's revenue. Over the past year, we have achieved our growth target and we now contribute about 30% of the Group's revenue. This acceleration is not only the result of commercial successes thanks to our unique know-how in water management, but it is also the result of a profound transformation that we have initiated over the past year. A new organization has been put in place in all countries to better meet the expectations and needs of our customers. We have also opened our headquarters in Dubai (UAE) to better address water challenges in this region of the world, where there are numerous opportunities to innovate for the benefit of water resources, populations, and our customers.

  • Internationalisation is a strategic pillar of the Group, and by 2025, we will have to contribute almost 50% of Saur's revenue

In recent years, Saur has continued to grow around the world with both organic and external growth. What is your growth forecast for the coming years?

Our target is clear: contributing 50% of the Group’s revenue by 2025. Together with my teams in all the countries where we operate, we have worked on an ambitious roadmap aligned with our purpose, to give back to water the value it deserves, and which places people, CSR, and digital at the heart of it. We will strengthen our commercial and operational excellence to serve our customers and populations through four growth levers - strengthening our positions in our core countries, leveraging synergies across the Group, growing in key geographies, and making strategic acquisitions.

The circular economy is a major pillar in Saur’s plan to become the champion of the water transition by 2030. How does Saur stand out in this respect compared to its competitors?

We have opened our headquarters in Dubai to better address water challenges in this region, and where there are numerous opportunities

We have a very unique purpose that sets us apart from our competitors - to give back to water the value it deserves - which we have incorporated into our statutes. This strategic choice also reflects our ambition to become the champion of the water transition by 2030, making responsible water management a reality in all the countries where we operate. We are convinced that beyond the competitive landscape, it is with the collective experiences, expertise, and collaboration of both public and private stakeholders that we will be able to address the challenges of climate change, which we all know are closely linked to the way we manage and protect water. This approach is unique, and we believe it is the best way to build alternative and sustainable solutions throughout the water cycle, relying particularly on data and digital technologies. We have, in fact, been pioneers in this area with the establishment of water resource management centres that, hand-in-hand with local authorities, enable better resource management using predictive models based on artificial intelligence to fight drought, network leaks, and leaks in households.

Digitalisation is one of your passions. What emphasis does Saur place on digitalisation and how does the company prioritise and allocate resources for it?

I am convinced that traditional solutions are not enough to ensure the water transition in the world. Data is an inexhaustible resource whose analysis enables remote smart management of infrastructure facilities, in addition to physical maintenance and repair. That’s why Saur invested €200 million in digital over the past three years and is aiming to automate 80% of activities by 2025, thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Today, we are able to monitor and take action on the water cycle and optimise means as well, by gathering, understanding, and exploiting the data, triggering the right actions. We have also launched the “Aquaverse by Saur”, a unique place based in Paris (France), which relies on a very rigorous methodology and aims to increase digital innovation to better address our customers' water challenges. This true "do-tank" in the water sector allows for the accelerated development and proposal of innovative and responsible solutions in close collaboration with our customers and partners. And thanks to its unique methodology, we are also able to export the “Aquaverse by Saur” everywhere where it is needed. 

Within the firm’s Mission Water 2030, what ESG initiatives is Saur promoting in its commitment to achieving a more sustainable world?

Our CSR roadmap is organized around 9 major engagements, and I would like to share three of them that seem key for me to build a more sustainable world for current and future generations. First, the commitment to "selling water savings, not only water volumes" which is essential and allows us to focus on the performance of our operations, expertise, and technologies. Next, the commitment to "enriching the science of experience with data" thanks to which we can accelerate technical and technological innovations for the benefit of water resources and consumers, preventing risks of drought, leaks, or even pollution. Lastly, the commitment to "being inclusive and diverse" which is a key commitment that I am also passionate about, helps contribute to building a company that reflects the society in which we operate. And last but not least, in 2021, directly linked to our strategic CSR shift, Saur issued €950 million in sustainability-linked bonds. 

We will strengthen our commercial and operational excellence to serve our customers and populations through four growth levers

Our financial performance is since then inextricably linked to our ability to make a real and measurable positive impact, and our investors will also judge us based on our environmental and societal performance. Concretely, by 2025, we aim to reduce our water withdrawal per consumer by 0.5% every year, to divide our carbon intensity by six, and reach the target of at least 40% of gender parity in executive positions roles. We are ambitious in all these areas, but we believe that it is a differentiating factor which allows us to better protect and preserve the most precious resource on the planet!

Saur is committed to an annual reduction in water consumption everywhere it operates, sometimes going against the widespread trend to increase water consumption to bill more. How are you going to achieve this goal and increase your turnover in this way?

Our ambition is to become the champion of the water transition by 2030, making responsible water management a reality where we operate

At Saur, our objective is to promote a shared and sustainable use of water. We are convinced that we need to rethink the existing models. For instance, in France, we are going to launch an experiment on alternative pricing with two municipalities. This will help to challenge the status quo and pull the existing water models to more strategic and global stakes. Furthermore, today, it is no longer a question of selling volumes of water but rather water savings and performance of the operations but also of the infrastructure. We are shifting from a water utility to a water technology company. We do not only provide services but also water solutions based on data, AI and digital solutions to enable automation and contribute to closing the loop on the water cycle.

Saur currently operates on 5 continents, making it a global company; however, it also works on a local basis, in very specific territorial areas, both in large cities and small towns. How does that duality influence the way Saur works?

Two of our main assets are our agility and our swift decision-making process: we decide very quickly, and we are able to execute very quickly as well. These assets are key to operating in both small towns and large cities. Operating in small towns and large cities also allows us to offer tailor-made solutions to our customers and to provide each of them with our innovations according to their specific challenges: our customers are at the heart of our approach! 

Our objective is to promote a shared and sustainable use of water and are convinced that we need to rethink the existing models

And because we are locally implemented, and close to our customers, we have developed a strong culture of listening to our customers and close proximity across all business units in all countries; we are also in a better position than our competitors to anticipate and understand their needs and meet their objectives. Today, we are partners with more than 9,500 local municipalities and industrial customers in more than 100 countries.

Water sector PPPs projects are being given increasing importance in the water sector. What do you think of these types of partnerships?

Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the water sector are globally becoming a common way to provide water services to populations. PPPs can help to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability of water service distribution, while ensuring the availability of water for agricultural, industrial, and private uses. It can also allow a better resource allocation and risk balance between private and public actors while providing the needed investments in critical infrastructure by implementing advanced technologies thanks to the how-know, the investments in R&D and innovation, and the existing hi-tech solutions of the private actors. But it is also a kind of partnership which requires a balanced regulatory environment and strong political will and support. Saur, as a private actor, has a wide range of modular offers to meet the specific needs of each of its customers. Our tailored approach is not opposed to PPPs, and my teams and I are always open to exploring new partnerships, whether PPPs or other types of partnerships, while remaining aligned with our DNA and values.