“Corporate social responsibility has the potential to attract the masses and promote sustainable living”: Dr. Raj Rajan
By Swaliha Shanavas
Speaking on the sidelines of the International Cleaning & Hygiene Conference (ICHC) to Clean Middle East held recently in Dubai, Dr. Raj Rajan, RD&E Vice President and Global Sustainability Technical Leader for Ecolab, said it was a very interesting forum. Ecolab, headquartered in the USA, has a long history of providing cleaning and hygiene technologies and services, and Dr. Rajan said the company has a strong presence in many countries and more recently, established a strategic growth plan for the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“We now have a significant presence in the Middle East and Africa, because we see high growth potential in the region – particularly in the hospitality and food and beverage sectors. Food safety and public health are critical challenges for emerging markets, particularly for more sophisticated markets such as Dubai. It’s great that ICHC is fostering education and discussion on these important subjects,” Dr. Rajan stated.
When asked about the new concepts introduced on the opening day of ICHC, Dr. Rajan said he’s worked in various sectors such as oil & gas, energy, and pulp & paper, where environmental risks are often high. “On the flip side, these sectors provide significant economic and social value, because energy is a primary driver of economies. As long as we keep using energy, somebody has to help produce it in an efficient and environmentally responsible manner.”
“About a third of Ecolab’s business is in the oil & gas sector, where the company focuses on helping oil and gas producers reduce their water use and protect water quality. We also help them produce more oil from the same oil fields and deliver more refined products from crude oil. These are all efficiencies that ultimately lead to improved sustainability. Overall, we’ve been focusing on improving efficiency and sustainability within this sector because we understand that many of its services are essential for a high standard of living,” he stated.
In other industries such as food and beverage, it is a necessity to have the right tools to do things right, Dr. Rajan noted. The fact that more people in developing countries eat at restaurants and buy processed foods signifies further growth in the regional food and beverage industry; and relevant companies have to implement best practices from more mature markets. As opposed to the old paradigm where “business did not put its best foot forward in emerging markets,” they are now realising that these are the fastest growing markets in the world. “Emerging markets will continue to grow,
while some of the more mature markets may stagnate or even slow down,” he commented. “Moreover, emerging markets have some of the biggest challenges, including availability of resources such as water and energy, and a lack of public health infrastructure. As a result, businesses have more responsibility to put their best foot forward.”
Businesses in the food industry recognise that while these markets have great potential, there are also a lot of challenges. They often have to do more than in mature markets where the public sector handles more of the infrastructure needs. “Without healthy customers or customers that have strong purchasing power, it is difficult to grow a business. One of the things I keep talking about within my sustainability role at Ecolab is that food safety and infection prevention are core values for our customers and the communities in which they operate. So I emphasise that we need to talk about these challenges with customers and encourage them to engage with public health officials.” Dr. Rajan also underlined the need for more public hygiene awareness and fundamental changes that need to take place in society. Citing his experience while travelling in emerging regions, Dr. Rajan saw significant difference in education from one country to another. “While canoeing along a river, I saw one country focusing on eco-tourism and teaching pre-school children about the importance of keeping the surroundings clean, while the next country had much lower awareness levels. The need for more education was visually apparent as I travelled along the river.”
Another element is to make sustainability fashionable, he opined. There is a growing middle class, and brands have an opportunity to inspire people across all markets to consider sustainability when making purchase decisions. “I believe corporate social responsibility has the potential to attract the masses and promote sustainable living, not just for a company’s own green branding, but to uplift the entire community,” Dr. Rajan said. During a discussion about the major cultural differences that exist within the emerging markets,
Dr. Rajan said Ecolab’s customers often need to tailor their approach to different cultural groups. “One of the points I touched upon in my presentation was that we often wear the hat of the end customer to help our customers address this challenge. Ultimately, we help our customers derive more satisfaction from their customers. That’s why we think a lot more like a consumer products organisation, though we are not one.” There are cultural differences within emerging markets, and one challenge is water use, Dr. Rajan said, adding that he has recently worked with academics and consultants to develop a white paper focused on water use in hotels in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We identified three main cultural aspects that result in increased water use,” he noted. “First, people have the urge to splurge when staying at hotels. Second, in many instances, landscaping in the community is minimal, while hotels have well-landscaped grounds and swimming pools, including some on rooftops, which leads to a lot of water evaporating in a hot tropical climate. Lastly, many travellers are from more affluent countries and accustomed to leaving lights on or leaving water running longer.”
Hotels have an opportunity to reduce water use, and Ecolab uses different approaches to help customers understand the value of water to their business. “There’s a reputational risk associated with using too much water, especially during a prolonged drought period,” Dr. Rajan said. “We work through these challenges with customers and help make water use and associated risk a part of their regular decision-making process.”
Water Risk Monetizer
Ecolab recently unveiled the Water Risk Monetizer, a publicly available, online tool that provides actionable information to help businesses around the world understand that impact of water scarcity to their business. By entering their location and industry, and answering a set of questions, businesses can quantify those risks in financial terms and inform decisions that enable growth. “The Water Risk Monetizer is tailored for different regions and has helpful information built in, including water stress maps, climate change and drought impacts, and the water quality of nearby rivers and lakes.” “For instance, a hotel in Chennai might be paying 10 cents a cubic meter on water today,” Dr. Rajan said. “Through the Water Risk Monetizer, the hotel may find that the value of water to their operation is actually 2 dollars per cubic meter today and will soon rise to 10 dollars per cubic meter. So if that hotel chooses to put the value into their return on investment (ROI) calculation, they can more easily justify more aggressive conservation projects.” Appreciating the ICHC, Dr. Rajan said most environmental issues are local, though people have been lulled into thinking that everything is a global issue. “Most environmental issues are local, so it is important to have local forums like these where you can exchange ideas. Ecolab designs solutions in direct response to customer needs and the ICHC is a great opportunity to interact with customers to better understand their current and future challenges.”