Efficiency in Water and Energy Use with Ecolab’s Emilio Tenuta

July 26, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited and honored to have with us on the line right now Emilio Tenuto. He is the Vice President of Corporate Sustainability for Ecolab. Welcome to Green is Good, Emilio. EMILIO TENUTA: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re so honored to have you. We’ve never had Ecolab on before. You guys are doing such important work, and this is gonna be such a great interview, but before we even get to talking about Ecolab and all the great stuff that you do there, talk a little bit about Emilio and your journey. Was this a dream of yours to go into sustainability? Or, talk about the journey, how you became the Vice President of Corporate Sustainability for Ecolab. EMILIO TENUTA: Sure, John. I have been with Ecolab now for 29 years and my undergrad degree is in chemistry, so I have the technical background and as I worked in a number of industries in my career, one industry that I was fortunate enough to be a part of in leading food and beverage for Nelco, which is now part of Ecolab, and in that journey, we manage a lot of the water and process systems for a number of food and beverage customers globally and my passion for sustainability, I think, was grounded there where we saw that the food and beverage industry really was a pioneer in sustainability, namely because a lot of the public exposure that they have to their consumers and the impact that they were making around managing natural resources and given the work that we did in terms of helping them become more efficient in water and energy use, that just transcended to what I wanted to do as I moved on in my career within Ecolab, which today I’m the Corporate Vice President of Sustainability. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Now, I’m on your website and for our listeners out there that want to follow along, it’s a great website. It’s Ecolab.com. Now, it’s a very familiar name. I feel very close to the name and a brand that I have great feelings about but I truly don’t know about the great work your company’s doing. Can you share with our listeners out there first the platform? What do you guys do? EMILIO TENUTA: Certainly. Ecolab is a global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services. We serve more than 1 million customer locations around the world, so we have an incredible reach. We have 44,000 associates in more than 170 countries including a field team of 25,000 associates that work on site in supporting the needs of our customers in many industries. Sustainable solutions is an important aspect of what we do to promote food safety, maintain clean environment, optimize water and energy use, and improve operational efficiencies for customers in industries such as food, health care, energy, hospitality and other industrial markets. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, I’m on your website. I clicked on the sustainability tab and I’m on your sustainability section. It’s amazing so you guys have been recently named one of the world’s most ethical companies. You focus on innovation and sustainability as part of your core DNA. Talk a little bit about what that means then. What does that actually mean to your customers and eventually the consumers that it all trickles down to? EMILIO TENUTA: Well, we’ve been recognized and we’re proud of the recognition that we’ve received over the years, namely because sustainability is embedded into the products and services we provide our customers to help improve efficiency, safety, and sustainability of our operations, whether that’s customers of restaurants, hospitals, or manufacturing plants, and it starts with a strong partnership with our customers to understand their needs and drivers and allowing us to develop new products and solutions. We take what I like to call a total-impact approach, which means that we consider the entire life cycle of our products from manufacturing to packaging to transportation to use and disposal and just as an example of what total impact is all about, we’ve over the last two years introduced a warewashing technology in restaurants and food services, as an example, that not only does the technology provide optimum performance in cleaning, but it does so with less energy and the chemistry is also designed to reduce packaging and waste throughout the life cycle from our manufacturing to the actual footprint at the customer’s site. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, I’m on your website and it’s just a beautiful website. Again, for our listeners out there, Ecolab.com. I’m on the sustainability section and I’m seeing the different areas of focus of your company; clean water, safe food, energy and healthy environment and all that other kind of stuff, but water is one of the critical issues that not only our generation, Emilio, is talking about, but our children or our grandchildren’s generation is very focused on because it’s truly really becoming more and more critical every day. Why is your company focused on that so much? EMILIO TENUTA: Water has been a long focus area for our company and there have been two really good reasons for that. First, the supply is fixed and fresh water on this earth has been fixed for generations. Demand continues to rise and so only 2.5% of the world’s water supply is fresh. Less than 1% of that fresh water is available for what we call human consumption, and the reason for that is the rest of it is frozen in the polar ice caps, so very difficult to get at so demand for fresh water is currently outpacing population growth by a factor of two, so according to the UN, the population is growing at a rate of 77 million people per year and nearly 80% of that, by the way, is growth occurring in Asia and so we’re expecting 2 billion more people on the earth by 2050, so we’ll reach a milestone of 9 billion people on this earth, being at 7 billion today, so economic development for these additional people and the needs and wants of more processed populations, the middle class is growing in these emerging economies so this will place unprecedented pressure on the water supply. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, Emilio, everything we’ve heard in the media, sometimes the media, for their own purposes, for the biggest fire, the biggest explosion, gets eyeballs. Their coverage of the water shortage and their making up of droughts and water shortages is not really truly overblown in this situation. You’re saying it’s a very serious issue? EMILIO TENUTA: It is a very serious issue, because there’s really no new water. All we have is here already, as I mentioned, but the challenge is that demand will continue to increase because of the population growth and the demands that that population growth will place on our natural resources. In fact, the World Economic Forum, global risk report that was issued in January of 2013 placed water scarcity among the top four global risks in terms of likelihood and greatest impact. Ranking ahead of issues such as food shortages, terrorism and even climate change, so water scarcity affects every continent and region of the world, including China, India, Africa, the Middle East and some of these growth economies that you keep hearing about. The shrinking availability of clean fresh water poses serious risks to our communities and the ability for businesses to operate so experts predict that this business as usual management practices will put us at risk in the future if we don’t act now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Emilio, I have a home in Fresno, California, and that’s where I raise my children and our headquarters is actually in the Central Valley of California in Fresno and of course, Fresno is one of the greatest agricultural communities, not only in the United States, but in the world. Talk a little bit about fresh water and the consumption of agricultural and the agricultural industry and its needs for fresh water currently. EMILIO TENUTA: Certainly, yeah. On average, when you look at the fresh water use, that less than 1% we talked about, on average, agriculture is responsible globally for about 70% of the global freshwater withdrawal. Business and industry withdraw about 20%. The remaining 10% is for domestic use; people taking showers, drinking water, all the things that you can think of and so even though ag is the largest category of fresh water withdrawal, you need to consider that a good portion of that water that is needed to hydrate those crops is coming from rain water, so the challenge for manufacturing plants at facilities are typically that they’re located more in urban areas where the highest population density is and so the challenge becomes you have a competition of water being used to support the manufacturing needs as well as the communities because typically, that water is surface water or groundwater that’s very precious in terms of being able to replenish it on a timely basis. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do business owners truly understand what kind of water challenges we’re all facing and what are they doing today to address that? EMILIO TENUTA: Well, water is a critical component of most manufacturing processes. There’s a growing concern and awareness among business leaders about water scarcity, more so than ever. Many large multinationals, like some of the companies that we’re familiar with, consumer brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, SABMiller are starting to address the water impact, limitations. Many have on their operations by rethinking the process of how they use water. They try to find ways to recycle and reuse water. They look at not only their operations, John, where they manufacture their product, but they’re also looking at the supply chain so they’re looking at the complete value chain because they realize that if you go upstream, there’s a significant amount of water that we call hidden that people don’t actually think about when it comes to making consumer products. For example, our cup of coffee this morning, you know that it takes 55 gallons to produce a cup of coffee. It’s not necessarily the processing of a bean in a coffee plant as much as it is if you think of all the irrigation water, rain water, other water that’s used along the supply chain leading up to that coffee plant. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, wait a second. For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so excited and honored to have Emilio Tenuta on with us. He’s the Vice President of Corporate Sustainability of Ecolab and I’m on their website right now. It’s a beautiful website, especially their sustainability section. Go on to Ecolab.com. Hit the sustainability button. There’s so much information here about what you guys are doing but I just love this mission statement: “Ecolab is working to make the world cleaner, safer, and healthier.” We’re talking about with Emilio the issue of water. What does Ecolab do to help businesses improve water conservation in their operations? EMILIO TENUTA: So, because we’re on site in more than 1 million locations, we see firsthand how the world leading companies are tackling water challenges and we’re working along side them to really meet their water goals and a number of them, more and more we’re seeing that a number of them are having publicly states water goals where you wouldn’t necessarily see that five years ago so we have a host of water experts. We talked about the 25,000 field experts who conduct plant assessments to determine opportunities to reduce water, reuse water, and improve what we call waste water quality so the water that leaves the property, to make sure that it meets quality standards so our water experts really assess where and how water is used in these different industrial processes and they determine ways to rethink the process. How can we look at it differently to use it more efficiently? Treating water, we condition it, we take an approach that not only uses automation, but also chemistry along with the knowledge that we have and we help our customers in many cases reuse water as much as possible in both the utility functions and production process of their plants so if they’re making coffee, as we talked about, or if they’re making soft drinks or if they’re producing steel, those are important water intense processes that require not only technology but also the expertise to know how to use that technology. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, beyond Ecolab, what other insight can business owners do? Are they more cooperation? Are they sharing best water practices now since this is sounding like it’s becoming more and more sort of a dire situation? What’s going on among businesses in terms of collaborating now with regards to water conservation? EMILIO TENUTA: It’s important for businesses to evaluate their water use within their operation. More and more we’re seeing that they’re looking at ways to protect and preserve the water that they’re using because of the consideration of other stakeholders, like we talked about so in business, we need to think about not only how to conserve within the fences, but then also how do we begin to work with stakeholders in the community; government, NGOs, non government organizations, and other businesses, to really share best practices? If you think of a watershed, John, and a specific watershed, you have a number of users, a lot of manufacturers, a lot of small businesses, a lot of communities. They’re all dealing with the same challenges. For example, having high silica levels could prevent a facility from conserving the amount of water because they’re limited by silica. That is knowledge that could be shared with other users in that watershed that would allow them to understand how they’re dealing with that high silica level. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. I’m on your website here, and I just see under the helping customers area and I love this. You guys make it so simple; “Helping customers, clean water, safe food, abundant energy, healthy environments,” so your sustainability section is so well done because Ecolab is really hitting all the issues of sustainability; clean water, safe food, abundant energy, healthy environments. You can’t beat that. We’re down to about three minutes, Emilio. If you could share a little bit about The Alliance for Water Stewardship, you’re involved with that organization. It’s a great organization. Can you share with our listeners a little bit more about what you’re doing with them and what their main mission is? EMILIO TENUTA: Sure, John. It’s really exciting. There’s been, as we talked about, more and more stakeholders are supporting the private sector really to address this compelling issue on water risk. The one that has really begun to emerge is this Alliance of Water Stewardship. This alliance is made up of really a number of NGOs and private sector companies like Ecolab where we’re looking at really mobilizing on international water standards and these international water standards are in pilot phase today but will be released in January of 2014 globally and it’s intended really, like I talked about, in any given watershed anywhere in the world, how do we develop the right framework and principles to measure, manage, and ultimately improve our water use, not only within the fences, John, but also the impact it has outside the fences that the concept here being that a coalition would develop and really provide not one person, not one company, but a collective action of a group of constituents to come together to make an impact in managing the water resources in that area. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. We’re down to the last minute or so. Do you have any final thoughts? We have lots of young listeners, not only in the United States, but around the world. Do you have any final thoughts about where we’re going with sustainability and how they can become part of a solution as they grow older and look for career and things of that such? EMILIO TENUTA: I can’t stress enough that when you think of sustainability and specifically water that water is something we can no longer take for granted and we need to act now to insure that everyone who needs water will have enough and there are solutions available today, existing solutions. We don’t have to wait for that next great innovation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Well, thank you, Emilio. We’re so thankful you came on today. Again for our listeners out there, go to www.ecolab.com. Emilio Tenuta, you are an inspiring eco-evangelist and truly living proof that green is good.