Amie Hedblom is the Senior Manager of Corporate Sustainability marketing at Ecolab Inc. where she is responsible for engaging Ecolab associates, customers and stakeholders on how Ecolab technologies and solutions not only deliver business outcomes that matter but do so at the highest economic and environmental return.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I’m so excited to have with us today Amie Hedblom. She’s the senior manager of corporate sustainability for Ecolab. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Amie.
Amie Hedblom: Thank you so much, John. It’s an honor to be here with you today.
John: And it’s so nice you’re sitting in beautiful Saint Paul today. I’ve been there and I think Saint Paul’s one of the nicest beautiful cities in America. And I’m here in Fresno, California. So, again we have the wonder of Zoom that lets us connect, that lets us connect with our audience today. And before we get talking about all the important work that you and your colleagues are doing at Ecolab, Amie, share a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how do you even get here?
Amie: Yeah, sure. So, like you mentioned, I’m sitting in Downtown Saint Paul right now at Ecolab’s global headquarters. I actually grew up in the suburbs of Saint Paul, Minnesota. And like a lot of people of the area, I decided this was a great place to stay. So I actually went to school at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. And I received my degree in Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, which is a long name for a unique program that actually stems from the University’s agricultural engineering school. My focus has really been on innovation and products from bio-based sources, think paper, food engineering, biofuels, etc. My interest and experience have always really been rooted in that area of sustainability in bio-based products. And my career path has probably been a little bit unconventional since that… I started with Ecolab almost 10 years ago now in our Research and Development Department as a chemical engineer. And I worked in our Industrial Food and Beverage New Product Development team, which meant that I was formulating in the lab, the kind of mad scientists, mixing chemicals that you think about trialing new products with our customers, launching programs that we’re really focused on, protecting food safety, and saving water, energy, and waste[?]. I then made the move into the realm of corporate marketing and wound up joining Ecolab’s Corporate Sustainability team about three years ago now. Even in that short time, I’ve really seen the sustainability space, and especially Ecolab’s message and progress morph into what it is today. And so now as a senior manager in our corporate sustainability marketing team, what I do day to day is manage our Enterprise ESG and sustainability reporting efforts. I lead the development and support for Ecolab’s public water tool, the Ecolab’s Smart Water Navigator. And probably most importantly, I engage with Ecolab’s associates and customers on how Ecolab Solutions not only deliver great business outcomes but do so at the highest environmental and economic return.
John: So you grew up in Minnesota, which I’ve had the total honor and privilege to spend a lot of time in, in my life, my other life not as a podcast host but as a CEO of a recycling company with a lot of clients there. And Minnesota is probably one of the most amazing, beautiful states in the United States of America, but it’s also very green. Was that part of your upbringing? Did you have sustainability-minded household or was it just part of the community you lived in? Or was that some of the inspiration that helped inspire your journey here?
Amie: Yeah, I’d say our family has always been avid outdoors people. We have this thing in Minnesota that people are familiar with the[?] going up north, which is really just having a cabin near Lake Superior or the other lakes that are popular in the area.
Amie: And so you always had a chance to disconnect, get in touch with nature, and so that was obviously a big part of growing up. But I would say from a family perspective, I definitely tried to break the mold in going into engineering. Both my parents had gone to school for journalism. My sister was in public relations. And I said, I’m going to do science and technology. And then I want backup in marketing. Just like that. It’s awful. There were good intentions but you never stray far [crosstalk] from your root[?].
John: Before we get talking about the ESG and sustainability journey at Ecolab, let’s talk about Ecolab to start with. For our listeners and viewers that aren’t familiar with the wonderful and iconic brand Ecolab, tell us what Ecolab is, what your mission is, and how big is it right now.
Amie: Yeah, once you know about Ecolab, you’ll start to see it everywhere. But until then, it’s kind of a behind-the-scenes partner.
Amie: So, Ecolab is really the global leader in water, hygiene, and infection solutions and services. So you have probably seen and many of the listeners have probably seen hand sanitizer stations or soap dispensers with the name Ecolab on it in big blue, bold font but we actually work at nearly 3 million customer locations across 170 different countries and in more than 40 different industries. So from the restaurants and hotels that most are familiar with all the way to food processing to auto manufacturing, data centers, and many, many more. And we actually have an extensive sales and service team. So, about 25,000 of our 47,000 associates, our sales and service members who are working at those three million customer locations each and every day, and they’re there to provide insights and service to our customers to work on food safety, maintaining clean and safe environment, optimizing water and energy use, and really improving operational efficiencies holistically. Just to give you some scale too.
Amie: Three million sounds like a big number, but our solutions really touch more than a trillion gallons of water for our customers every year. And those types of solutions help us save energy, avoid millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases every year. On the food safety side, we help customers safely feed 1.4 billion people every year through the production of 45% of the global milk supply, 36% of the world’s processed food supply. And then on our healthcare and life sciences businesses, which you’ll see in hospitals and long-term care facilities, we actually help clean more than 60 billion hands a year, provide medical care for 70 million people, and clean over 800 million hotel rooms every year. So those are a lot of big numbers but that’s how big Ecolab really is.
John: Whoa! The impact that you’ve made positively, Amie, is clear. It’s really massive. What I’ve learned in this journey with this podcast the last 15 or so years is bigger can be better. Because when great brands like yours move the needle in ESG, sustainability, circular economy, and we’ll get into all those facets, it really does move the needle. And in terms of… it’s great when small brands and startups are into sustainability and circular economy as well, and there’s no denying we have a massive birth of loads of wonderful brands that are shooting up in Silicon Valley and around the world now being incubated, but truly when brands like yours that, as you just pointed out with all those eye-popping numbers, really get into the field of sustainability, wow, change can really happen. So let’s get into that a little bit. When did Ecolab start their journey from your perspective in sustainability?
Amie: Yeah, we often say it’s from day one. So next year we turn 100 as a company. We’ve been in the business for 100 years as of 2023, and sustainability has been core to everything that we do at Ecolab from day one. We’re really addressing some of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges around water scarcity, climate change, food safety, and then public health as well. Like I mentioned, Ecolab has customers across nearly every industry and a lot of them have set water and climate targets. We’re seeing out to… setting that 0 by 2030, 2050. And like all companies who have set these goals, one of the best things that they can do is get to work, and they can’t do it alone. And so Ecolab’s really the partner for our customers across these industries to use less water, use less energy, avoid emission, and manage their processes so that they can meet those really ambitious climate goals that they’re studying. And in addition to the work that we do with our customers, we have those goals for ourselves.
Amie: We’ve set those goals for our own operation and we set the science-based target to have our own emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. And we’re also working to achieve a positive water impact in our high-risk watersheds, and we’ve made tremendous progress towards those goals. But we see we’ve reached this point in our evolution that the work that we have in front of us over the next decade really can’t fall on the shoulders of a vital few. It can’t just come down to the corporate sustainability team.
John: It’s fascinating. So let’s go into that because like you just said, it breaks down into external, you work with your clients and supporting their goals and making them better and helping them achieve their goals. But there’s also an internal facet to this. So, you mentioned a little while back the Global Sustainability Network. What is that and how that come together and why now?
Amie: Yeah, like I mentioned we have had a corporate sustainability team for many, many years. We’re making great progress with our goals, but we really recognize that we need to involve more people to make the progress that we need to make. And so that was the impetus for launching our Global Sustainability Network this year. And the Global Sustainability Network is really expanding opportunities to all Ecolab associates to help us on this journey. And this is engaging them, building awareness, providing education on how each and every Ecolab associate can have a direct impact on sustainability through their work, no matter what they do, no matter where they are in the world, and that’s putting the Global Sustainability Network [inaudible] for them. So, this past April on Earth Day, we actually launched the Global Sustainability Network, we call it the GSN, and it’s an employee-led community group, like an employee resource group that works to accelerate our growth through education, communication, and then collaboration on environmental sustainability issues.
John: And that’s internal. Sustainability Network is all internal at Ecolab.
Amie: That’s correct. So it’s by Ecolab associates for Ecolab associates. You might think about traditional green teams that organizations have typically organized at the office level to help employees, like Go Green, use reusable water bottles or avoid plastic straws or here’s how you can compost at home.
Amie: This group is different than that. It’s certainly talking about some things that you can do personally but it’s more on the impact that because you work at Ecolab you can have a greater impact than just you as an individual. Like you said, organizations with this amount of scale really have a broader impact than just one person on their own.
John: That’s true. But what I’ve found to be true also is bigger is better in terms of making the impact that you can make, but it sometimes becomes the counterproductive to communications. So, given that, like you said, you were educated as an engineer but now you’re really in the communications business, is this really one of your… Was this advent of Global Sustainability Network one of the initiatives to create better communication among the bigness of Ecolab, which is 47,000 employees?
Amie: Yeah, that’s definitely a component. There’s this piece of education that’s going to be foundational to everyone, is understanding what is sustainability today. What are the trends that are out there? How do we get that to our 47,000 associates across the world? And we’re a US-based company but we’ve got operations around the globe and so it’s how do we mobilize in each of the key markets where we are to make sure that we’re reaching everyone. And it’s not just this corporate English message that’s coming across.
John: For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Amie Hedblom with us today. She’s the senior manager of corporate sustainability with Ecolab. To find Amie and her 47,000 colleagues at Ecolab, go to www.ecolab.com. Amie, this is interesting to me. 20 people out of 47,000, did you have to apply where they’ve chosen? How much did you use data analytics or how subjective was this really or how scientific was it on the other side?
Amie: Yeah. So, you’re talking about the leadership team that now we have put in place to lead the Global Sustainability Network. So I’ll talk a little bit first about how we made that structure.
Amie: First and foremost, the network operates per member. So, Ecolab associates can sign up as general members to participate in event trainings, volunteering initiatives, etc. Now, the leadership team is about 20 leaders that were actually hand-selected from across the globe. And they’re responsible for setting the strategic plan for the group and then really executing on the purpose of the network, which is to engage all of those members.
Amie: Yeah, we actually created a pretty robust charter and bylaws governance documents for the network and this led to the leadership team selection process. We received almost 250 applications and nominations from within Ecolab to apply to be on the GSN leadership team. I can’t tell you but the candidates are amazing. The leaders of the organization coming together, and we narrowed down the pool through a really rigorous interview process and ended up having about 8 to 10% of those who applied be on the leadership team. What it came down to really was significant focus on achieving diversity of this team.
John: I see.
Amie: Because we are so spread out, we wanted to make sure that we had geographic, functional gender, ethnicity all covered from a diversity perspective to make sure that we could really create program in them catered to the entire organization.
John: That’s really brilliant.
John: Yeah, because as we know diversity just creates better ideas and better solutions. So that makes total sense. What you just said makes total sense.
Amie: Yeah, [crosstalk] absolutely.
John: That you are fair[?]. I’m sorry.
Amie: No, it’s fine. I was just going to give you details on the final 20 members of the inaugural leadership team. Fifty percent are women, which we’re very proud of, and they represent each of Ecolab’s major markets. So, from the US to Europe to Greater China, everywhere in between, they support six different functional areas of the business from our sales and service force, which is a huge chunk of our associates to marketing, to our [inaudible]. We’ve got finance represented, which is obviously up and coming in the sustainability in ESG world.
Amie: And then they’re organized into four different committees. So there’s an Executive Committee, it’s run by a president, vice president, like similar employee resource groups. There’s an Education Recruitment, and then Communications Committee that really put everything together for members. So they had a very robust strategic planning process that took place shortly after we launched on Earth Day.
John: And I know April is only 4 or 5 short months ago, so I know it’s very early in the process but share with our listeners and viewers what the most important initiatives that you’re working on, and how is it going so far? Let’s keep in mind, it’s so, so early. So I want to be sensitive to that fact and things of that such. But what are you working on? What were the first group of initiatives that you… that the Global Sustainability Network chose to work on?
Amie: Yeah. Well, it’s early but because of the intense interest that we’ve had in this group, we’ve been able to make a lot of great progress. And so just from… I’ll give you some quick stats to that.
John: Yeah. Let’s hear it.
Amie: Let’s put some scale to itself, but the network actually launched on Earth Day with over 550 founding members. So, before we’d even launched, people had been signing up ahead of time to join the group and it’s grown to almost 1,300 members in just the 4 months that it’s been established. So, it’s about a 200% growth in membership to start with.
John: That’s good[?].
Amie: I think that’s just a great illustration for the transformation that we, as a company, are undergoing. Associates from all throughout the organization have seen the challenge that we have in front of us and want to contribute. I will say we’ve got a great membership base that is helping us and obviously the leaders of this team have gone through a robust planning process to deliver on what they’re doing now. So, let me talk about what we’re doing. I mentioned they’re separated into three different committees. So education, first and foremost. This committee helps to provide trainings and initiatives that really break down what sustainability means in our industries and the industries of our customers, and how to apply those learnings to the work that they do every day. And so this is primarily accomplished through a calendar of life training and communications that highlight the work that associates at Ecolab are doing to advance our goals. And this is really focused on climate change, water conservation, product stewardship, and the circular economy. So, we place a really heavy emphasis on no matter where you are in the organization, whether you’re in Sales, Finance, HR, there’s something that teams in every business and function can be doing. And so we provide examples of that and the GSN is kind of the convener for bringing these stories to life so that we can share these best practices across these teams.
John: Got it.
Amie: Go ahead.
John: Go on[?], go.
Amie: Well, I was just going to give an example of some of those stories because I think they’re really powerful too. One of the recent projects that we’ve done with our customer Kraft Heinz, which is one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world…
Amie: …they set goals to actually achieve net carbon, that zero carbon by 2050 and get there halfway by 2030, the same as Ecolab. And so our teams actually partnered with them on hundreds of projects at manufacturing sites across North America. And we focused on water reuse, cleaning efficiency, and we help them conserve millions of gallons of water. And this work has been put into a great, no, case study on how other [inaudible] service teams can use that type of process with our other customers. And the impact, just to Kraft Heinz where we’re large, but by sharing this across our Global Sustainability Network, it helps others see that they can do the same things.
Another example of our operations, so at Ecolab’s manufacturing site, we have a site that’s located near Mexico City, Lerma, Mexico, and they took it upon themselves to create a risk assessment of our manufacturing site and implement water savings projects. They built a rainwater collection system. They installed high-efficiency bathroom fixtures and it led to great water savings but also certification to the Alliance for Water Stewardship, which is the gold standard in water stewardship assessment in the world. And so we shared that through the GSN with other teams and now we’ve got more and more sites pursuing that Alliance for Water Stewardship certification. So, that’s really the Education Committee team’s number one goal, sharing what we’re doing, how others can do it too.
John: Speaking of how others can do it, there’s a lot of companies out there that will be listening to this podcast and say, wait a second, it’s a great idea to create some sort of network in our company to better communicate. Most companies are looking to better communicate anyway. What a great idea to bring people together on sustainability because who doesn’t agree that they want their children and their grandchildren to breathe cleaner air and drink clean water? It’s something that brings us all together, no matter what our political differences or all sorts of other things that go on nowadays that can literally be differentiating items that we could have interesting debates on. Sustainability is one that brings us all together. What’s some of the better advice that you can share and learned lessons from your launch in April to where you even are today and already the success, like you said, with so many people signing up for your Global Sustainability Network, with other companies that are looking to do something like this to make a difference, to better communicate and make it more of an impact with their customers and their employees and communities that they serve?
Amie: Yeah, John, I’d say I’ve got two pieces of advice. First is to ensure that, if you are a company who wants to start up something like this, that you have unwavering commitment from your leadership to put this idea into action. So, we did an extensive stakeholder analysis grouping, all the way from the CEO to our chief human resources office to our diversity and inclusion team that helped manage our employee resource groups. So, having that backing and support for your organization on all associates’ participation is so, so critical. And what, I’d say, really helped them get on board is understanding the implications to the business in terms of risks and opportunities both from an environmental perspective but also coming from a place of talent acquisition and retention.
Amie: So, there’s employees driven by values and especially along the environment and sustainability. And so the risk of not aligning an organization can meet and exceed those value-driven interests, is too big to ignore. So, that’s my first piece of advice.
Amie: My second would be regardless of what you’re hoping to design or build, always keep that end member or end user in mind. Ask yourself, what’s the experience that they’re having today? How is what we’re going to put together, make it better or different? Is this providing value to them? Is it actually solving a problem? And so innovating with that compass, especially with all of these different environmental and social and economic structures, is really the smartest way to design for the future. And that’s what we did with the Global Sustainability Network. We recognized there was a need and a want for Ecolab’s associates to learn and become actively involved in our sustainability strategy. They didn’t just want to know about it, they want to do something about it.
Amie: I think, when people think about climate change, there’s so many different reactions to it and some can be paralyzed by the enormity of the issues sometimes. Well, others are called to action and what we see by and large is that Ecolab’s associates are called to act. And so we created this group to allow them to do just that.
John: That’s great. Earlier, when I asked you what Ecolab is and you did a great explanation of the immense impacts that you make across so many industries with millions upon millions of transactions and clients, you did bring up the issue of water. And water has become a paramount issue around the world: water shortages, water cleanliness, accessibility. Share a little bit about your thoughts about where we are going with regards to water availability access, cleanly… clean water, and the technology that your Ecolab is leveraging and using to help bring cleaner water to more of us around the world. Because you do make a big impact. And there are lots of updates with regards to not only science and technology, and you are an engineer by education, but also predictive analytics and AI and other great technologies. Can you roll that up and share some of the better things that are going on at Ecolab with regards to water and water technology to make the world more accessible… give the world more accessibility to cleaner, better water?
Amie: Yeah. You started at the macroscale, right?
Amie: So, well, the start is there and then I can narrow in on what Ecolab [inaudible] [crosstalk].
Amie: But the water issue is it’s huge and it’s inherently tied to climate.
Amie: The first effects of climate change are going to be felt through water scarcity. And currently, 2 billion people around the world are living in water-stressed areas. The same will be true of more than half the world’s population by 2050 if no action is taken. So, Ecolab is part of a group of 150 companies that can directly impact approximately a third of the world’s water use. That’s a huge impact that 150 companies can have.
Amie: And we believe that we have a unique responsibility to address the global water crisis. So collectively, Ecolab has founded, has co-founded initiatives like the Water Resilience Coalition which is an industry-driven initiative of the United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate. And we, along with about 30 other companies now, are working towards this idea of Net Positive Water Impact, especially in areas of high-risk water scarcity, water quality. And so this collective partnership I think is really instrumental in driving change. So I want to say that first.
Amie: Narrowing down into Ecolab specifically, we have a water management business called Nalco Water, which we acquired about 10 or so years now, and through this business, we’ve really evolved from traditional treatment processes and reuse and recycle processes, now integrating digital technologies and service technologies hand-in-hand with more traditional solutions. And so we find that through these digital technologies like our ECOLAB3D platform, which helps monitor water use throughout industrial facilities and identify issues before they become issues, almost predictive, that we’re helping our customers really conserve water in the areas that they need it most. And so I think that merging of digital technologies with traditional ways of operations, especially in industrial areas, is really helping to deliver on some of those big impacts like saving 215 billion gallons of water for customers every year. And we actually have the aspiration by 2030 to save 300 billion gallons of water every year with our customers which is equivalent to the drinking water needs of a billion people, so helping to support this growing population as well.
John: I know you created something at Ecolab called the Smart Water Navigator. Can you explain to our listeners and viewers what that is and how they could make great use of this too great tool?
Amie: Yeah. So, the Ecolab’s Smart Water Navigator is a publicly available tool online, www.smartwaternavigator.com, and it’s really a water management tool for organizations that are looking to identify their risk in all levels of their organization. It drills down both from that corporate level of setting ambitious goals down to a facility level and get that[?] those actionable insights based on context-based risk. So, no matter where you are in the world, you can use it. It’s looking at the geographical locations that pulls in data from World Resource Institute Aqueduct tool, and it helps you actually set facility-level target too. So, not only having those big, broad, ambitious water goals but bringing it down to each and every site or hotel or manufacturing location. Whatever industry you’re in, you can set a goal for water reduction or reuse, and this tool helps you to do that and gives you actually a checklist and an actional plan on how to do it.
John: With regards to the future of Ecolab, you said next year you’ll be celebrating 100 years and there’s a whole new generation of young bright leaders like you, Amie, that are coming into not only leadership positions but also are really passionate about sustainability and ESG and circular economy and things that are going to really make the world a better place. Share a little bit about the great future that Ecolab has in front of it and where you, guys, are going.
Amie: Yeah, I think obviously sustainability is a passion, it’s a core purpose for Ecolab. And it’s the future, so we’re going to continue to impact climate change, water scarcity, food safety, and public health concerns that are never going to go away. So, we are where the world needs us today and we’re going to continue down that path now. I’d say that we’ll continue to push the boundaries too, so maybe an example of bringing digital into some of the systems that have been so traditionally manual. And it’s this thinking beyond the conventional way of doing things. And we have to reach higher, further, and faster goals, but the simple problems have already been solved, right?
Amie: So, the ones that we’re facing are messy and complex, then they hardly have one root cause and the way that people can work on these has to change. And so I think we’re all really motivated by a passion to tackle those hard problems and to bring others along with us.
John: Well, it makes me really happy that these great young people like you will carry the torch forward in the future for the next hundred years at Ecolab. And for our listeners and viewers again, to find Amie and her 47,000 colleagues, you go to www.ecolab.com. If you want to read their 2021 Sustainability Report, you could go to ecolab.comcsr. Amie, thank you for spending time today at the Impact Podcast but more importantly thank you and all your colleagues at Ecolab for making the world a better and cleaner place.
Amie: Thank you so much for having me, John. I really enjoyed our conversation today, so[?] great.
John: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.