Rivalry between Suez and Veolia is legendary. One area of competition between these two grand French-based companies is over thought-leadership. Both companies are members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for example, and at previous EMF 'accelerator' meetings in Paris, Berlin and Oxford, Suez and Veolia competed for attention with their respective investments in innovative circular economy technologies. Veolia talked about waste paints and coatings, Suez offered MDF and conversion of waste plastics to heating fuels.

Last year, Suez highlighted issues of resource efficiency with reports and seminars, but on 2/3 November this year the Veolia Institute plans to trump its rival by organising an ambitious two-day conference with Oxford University. Lord Stern, Paul Ekins, Thomas Graedel and Sheila Khama will be speaking, investigating questions about the extractive industries in a low carbon economy. This is a topic area Oakdene Hollins understands well, having contributed extensively to studies on critical raw materials over several years for the European Union. We are currently working on a project investigating secondary minerals in the circular economy, and expect to network at the invitation-only conference with people who are likewise involved in this area of commercial research.

Both Suez and Veolia position themselves as credible partners for the largest global brands and manufacturers. Having begun business in the UK by landfilling wastes, they both sort resources for recycling and for electricity and heat generation. Next, they plan to become not just materials managers but product managers in competition with some logistics and FM businesses. The circular economy framework suits them both.

Is Veolia aiming to overtake Suez leadership on the resource efficiency agenda? Perhaps the Oxford conference on 2/3 November will achieve just that. But we hear that Suez is already planning its next thought leadership moves for 2018. Ideas become investment. This corporate rivalry benefits us all.