Big Books & Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller

Water conversation and corporate leadership with Ecolab CEO Doug Baker

A man wearing a blue button down shirt and sweater.
Ecolab CEO Doug Baker poses for a portrait at Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Doug Baker is serious about corporations fighting climate change. The Ecolab CEO told MPR News host Kerri Miller on Tuesday that he believes companies should take concrete action. For his part, he plans to present the Business Ambition for 1.5C initiative to his board this December. The campaign was launched by the United Nations to get big companies involved in the climate change fight and limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“I think there’s appropriate pressure right now to sign up for the 1.5 C effort, which really is saying, you’re going to find a way to reduce your carbon footprint by 50 percent by 2030 — that’s 11 years — and 100 percent by 2050,” he said.

Ecolab, based in St. Paul, employs 49,000 associates and prides itself on being a global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies.

Eighty-seven other major companies joined on the initiative at the UN Climate Action Summit in September.

Baker, whose been the CEO of Ecolab for nearly 15 years, spoke with Miller about the positive impact large companies could have on climate change.

“We also know there’s a lot of CO2 … and what we aren’t completely clear on is how that’s going to manifest itself. But if you look at all of the models, a number of them are pretty dire,” he said. “When you have an unknown bad, bad outcome, you’ve got to take it seriously and assume the worst.”

Baker said that although the outcomes may not be predictable, it's better to make an effort than doing nothing at all.

“Just because I can’t tell the board exactly how we’re going to get a 50 percent reduction in 11 years doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set sail on this course,” he said, “I think not signing up is worse than signing up and missing. We will be net better off, even if we miss.”

He said he plans on encouraging other companies that work with Ecolab to join as well.

He also said initiatives like a carbon tax, a fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels, could help reduce emissions.

“A carbon tax would be using the power of the market. If all of a sudden carbon is more expensive, we will use less of it, it’s for certain,” he said.

Baker and Miller's conversation focused primarily on water conservation, and corporate America’s global impact.

He encouraged young people interested in environmental issues to consider a job in the private sector, saying they could have a larger impact on the climate change forefront.

“Our capability to make a difference in water is much greater than any one nonprofit,” he said. “Having advocates inside the company is healthy for our organization.”

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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