Spotlight: Business Innovation at the Nexus of Resource Needs

Raj Rajan, RD&E vice president of Global Sustainability at Ecolab, helps drive top-line growth for Ecolab and its customers by embedding sustainability considerations into innovative systems. He has 28 years of experience in environmental process engineering and water cycle management for the food, beverage, chemical, petroleum, utility, transportation, energetics and paper industries. 

To-date, the private sector has approached climate change, population growth and resource scarcity as issues of risk management and mitigation. But are there also growth opportunities for businesses that adapt to tackle those mounting global challenges?

Ecolab thinks so. Following its merger with Nalco in December 2011, Ecolab has aligned its newly integrated organization around providing and protecting clean water, safe food, abundant energy and healthy environments.

“The challenge of limited resources calls for unlimited resourcefulness,” said Raj Rajan, RD&E vice president of Global Sustainability at Ecolab. “The macro trends facing society – population growth, economic shifts, aging population, rising resource demands, and growing food safety and infection concerns – create enormous challenges, but also great opportunities for innovation.

For Ecolab, the most significant opportunities lie at the nexus of water, food and energy.

“Water is most essential, not just for human survival, but for the survival of human commerce,” Rajan said. “Food and energy are not far behind, and both require considerable water inputs. Ecolab’s focus is on the interdependency of those factors which are vital for life.”

Customer-Centric Solutions

Ecolab provides products and services to the food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality markets in more than 160 countries. Much of Ecolab’s sustainability initiatives are driven by the company’s 22,500 field experts that service more than 1 million customer locations across the globe. 

“We always think of sustainability in the context of performance,” Rajan said. “While our own progress is important, Ecolab’s greatest impact comes in helping our customers solve sustainability challenges. We take an ‘out of the box’ approach to tackling those challenges in our R&D process, with the goal of delivering solutions that exceed leading standards for both environmental outcomes and performance.”

Take DryExx®, a dry conveyor lubricant used for transporting bottles, cans and other containers down conveyor lines. In the past, food and bottling plants relied on water-based lubricants to accomplish the same goal.

DryExx reduces water usage in the processing phase by up to 1.8 million liters of water per conveyor line, and also saves money and energy needed to treat wastewater.

DryExx customers include major multinational corporations like PepsiCo: a company that has publicly asserted a goal to improve operational water use efficiency by 20 percent per unit of production by 2015.

By using DryExx in combination with several other Ecolab technologies, PepsiCo was able to reduce water consumption by more than 662 million liters of water across its plants last year.

“Our goal is to deliver transformational innovation,” Rajan said. “Our solutions help customers mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reduce adverse impacts of resource utilization, and promote positive impacts by protecting valuable assets and increasing their productivity.”

Ecolab and the GAIN Index

Rajan commented on the applicability of the GAIN Index at the Annual Meeting & Scientific Convening of the Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN) in May. The GAIN Index summarizes a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other challenges, along with its ability to successfully absorb and apply private sector investment resources toward those challenges.

“The GAIN Index is an effective tool for understanding how prepared various geographies are to manage resource challenges and for identifying where there is momentum to drive new customer innovations forward,” he said.

Rajan also expressed optimism about GAIN’s plans to pilot a more localized Index. GAIN, along with the Tecnológico de Monterrey, recently received a grant through the John Templeton Foundation to implement a localized GAIN Index in Mexico.

“With a broader local-level version of the Index, and the overlay of data that already exists with other organizations, additional indices can be created to provide direction for adaptation and to guide new investments,” Rajan said. “It’s an exciting proposition.”

Rajan said that existing aggregated data in the private sector and at NGOs such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship or the World Resources Institute can be used to create the new indices.

“A granular understanding of the ability of various geographies to be resilient in meeting human needs should be a key consideration for companies not only as they consider where to locate new facilities, but as they seek new opportunities to grow their business through innovation.”