Here at ACI, we have challenged our members to align their corporate climate strategy and targets with the 1.5°C ambition, which strives to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050. Across the cleaning products industry, companies are taking bold action to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5°C.
Ecolab, a recognized global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions, is helping combat climate change in its own operations and in its customers’ operations through technologies and smart water management solutions that help reduce emissions and achieve more efficient, sustainable operations.
ACI spoke with Emilio Tenuta, Ecolab’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Sustainability and Chief Sustainability Officer, to learn how Ecolab is driving collective action to meet the commitments laid out in its 2030 Impact Goals.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ACI: Ecolab’s climate commitment includes, not only a goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but intermediate goals as well. What are these intermediate goals and what key steps has the company taken to reach these milestones?
Emilio Tenuta: As part of Ecolab’s 2030 Impact Goals, launched in 2020, we aim to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 on the road to getting to net zero by 2050. This includes some clear milestones that we have to achieve along the way. For example, we have set science-based targets for carbon that focus on not only our Scope 1 and 2 emissions – in other words, our direct emissions as well as our indirect electricity use in our operations – but also our Scope 3 emissions around supply chain.
To achieve these goals, we’ve started to map out a path to 2030 that looks at expanding energy efficiency projects in our Ecolab manufacturing sites and campuses. We partnered with renewable electricity developers to add additional capacity to the grid by engaging in a virtual power purchase agreement, which was completed in 2020 and will cover 100% of Ecolab’s annual electricity use in the U.S. and Canada. We’re also moving to electrify our fleet of service vehicles.
As an RE100 company – a company that has made the commitment to go “100% renewable” – our goal is to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Right now (2021), about 58% of our electricity use globally comes from renewable sources. We’re hoping to increase to 75% to 80% in the next year.
Because we have a science-based emissions reduction target, we are also working with our supply chain partners – which make up 70% of our Scope 3 emissions – to adopt similarly ambitious climate goals, like science-based targets, by 2024.
ACI: Ecolab’s 2030 Impact Goals include a focus on water. How did Ecolab identify water stress as an important piece of its climate strategy, and how are water and energy related?
Emilio Tenuta: You really can’t address the climate challenge without focusing on water. The effects of climate change are often expressed in water, whether it’s drought, flooding or extreme weather events. In fact, according to the World Resources Institute, the world will experience a 56% freshwater shortfall by 2030, if nothing changes. That’s an increase from a 40% shortfall projected by the UN in 2015.
In addition, the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate indicated that water stress and scarcity are the greatest physical risks to companies resulting from climate change. We know that water, energy and carbon are linked because to use it, you need to heat it, cool it and treat it, which has an impact on business operations. When organizations reduce water use it helps reduce energy use, which in turn, helps save money and also lowers greenhouse gas emissions.
ACI: What are some examples of ways that Ecolab has approached water and climate action in its own operations?
Emilio Tenuta: As the global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services, we have the opportunity to leverage the technologies that help our customers across 3 million locations in over 170 countries. One example of our solutions is the 3D TRASARTM for boilers and cooling towers, which helps drive efficiency, water conservation and reuse, and energy efficiency in our own operations as well as in our customers operations.
In addition, as part of our 2030 Impact Goals, we’re working to restore more than 50% of our water withdrawal in at-risk locations around the world, and also achieve Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard certification in those sites. This certification focuses on the concept of water being a shared resource, which is what stewardship is all about, and emphasizes water balance, water quality, water governance, partnership with other water users in the area, and the connection between water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Ecolab currently has four global sites that have achieved AWS certification.
ACI: Over the past year, Ecolab has been working with supply chain partners to accelerate sustainability and climate goals within operations and product manufacturing. What about Ecolab’s business model puts it in a position to be a driving force in the cleaning product supply chain? How has Ecolab worked with supply chain partners to respond to water stress and reduce energy use?
Emilio Tenuta: Because our suppliers are also our customers, we have a unique business model. Through our solutions, technologies and digital expertise, we can support our suppliers’ needs when it comes to their Scope 1 and 2 operational water and energy management and actually help them achieve their business and climate and water goals, which in turn lowers our Scope 3 emissions.
Through programs at Ecolab like the Strategic Supplier Initiative, we're focusing on how we can drive innovation and product stewardship with the suppliers within our value chain, while using less resources when it comes to water and carbon. Examples of how we continue to innovate around sustainability include collaborating with ACI and American Chemistry Council (ACC) members to innovate around package design, and moving from liquids to concentrates to super concentrates, which reduces the amount of water in formulated products and thus decreases emissions from transportation, helping our mutual customers reduce their carbon footprint.
In the hospitality space, which includes our hotel, casino, restaurant and cruise ship customers, we have developed a unique on-premise laundry technology called Aquanomic that uses 40% less energy due to high performance at low temperature, as compared to traditional hospitality laundry services.
ACI: Where does Ecolab see opportunities for the cleaning product supply chain to improve in the area of water and climate action, and how does Ecolab plan to help drive these improvements?
Emilio Tenuta: The chemical industry has a huge opportunity to drive collective progress with a unique position on the value chain. We need to be able to get out in front and work together to lead when it comes to these types of ambitions and targets.
The first step is to work on setting meaningful carbon and water targets, which starts by measuring and understanding where you are today in terms of your carbon and water footprint. The second step is to report on your footprint and to demonstrate performance against your goals. Because it's not only about disclosure; it's also about performing.
At Ecolab, we’ve developed the Ecolab Smart Water Navigator, a free, publicly available online tool that helps organizations understand the value of water in their operations and even take steps to achieving corporate water goals.
We’ve also had an opportunity to convene leading organizations to address water challenges at risk watersheds. We’re a co-founding member of the Water Resilience Coalition, a CEO-led initiative which brings together multi-national corporations to combat the global water crisis. And we're a founding member of the California Water Action Collaborative, which brings together industry and other stakeholders to manage the challenges that we're seeing in Southern California, especially as the Colorado River Basin continues to drop in levels and impact that region.
ACI: How can Ecolab’s customers also help advance action on climate and water issues?
Emilio Tenuta: Ecolab has customers in over 40 different industry segments, and many of our customers have also set water and climate targets for 2030 and beyond. One of the best things they can do is to get to work driving sustainable operational changes to support those targets. We’re working to help them realize those targets, both through our solutions and our expertise on site, and through collaboration in watersheds that are common to us.
As part of Ecolab’s 2030 Impact Goals, we’ve set targets to help our customers do more for people and the planet, including saving 300 billion gallons of water, which is equivalent to the annual drinking water needs of a billion people, and helping our customers along the way become carbon neutral by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 6 million metric tons. This particular target will prevent 10 million pollution-related illnesses.
If we want to go further, faster, we’ll have to work together, and for Ecolab, partnering with our customers is the way we do that.