Executive Insights

Rethinking the value of wastewater to enable long-term growth - An Exclusive Interview with Emilio Tenuta, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability, Ecolab

By Mike Henley


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Droughts, population growth, and commercial use all place stress on water supplies—to the point that industrial users are under pressure by regulators and the public to reduce their “water footprint” through conversation and reuse. It all raises the question: Is there such a thing as “wastewater”?

To Emilio Tenuta, the vice president of corporate sustainability with Ecolab/Nalco, the answer is “no”, because he sees wastewater as also having value.

“I’m trying to change the mindset that we shouldn’t refer to it as wastewater but instead as post-treatment water. I feel the term ‘wastewater’ doesn’t truly depict the fact that gray water or effluent can be conditioned, treated and managed so that it can be reused or recycled, making it a valuable resource,” said Mr. Tenuta in a recent interview with Ultrapure Water. He goes on to note that wastewater streams are a reusable resource. When considering the water business, he distinguishes water into three categories: pretreatment, process treatment, and post-treatment.

Mr. Tenuta’s water career began 32 years ago when he took a position with Nalco five days after graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire with a degree in chemistry. He began in the Midwest and eventually found his way to Oklahoma in his early work as an application’s engineer. Mr. Tenuta’s first experience at Nalco was with the automotive industry and from there he expanded into the primary metals industry (steel and aluminum). 

“I got to see firsthand how water was put to work by industry. Before that, I didn’t have an appreciation for the critical role water plays in the production of goods and services,” he said.

As his career progressed, Mr. Tenuta went on to work in the food and beverage industry where he spent 9 years leading that global water business for Nalco. Mr. Tenuta has been in his present position for six years. 

Mr. Tenuta had this observation about the food business: “In the food and beverage industry, it is fascinating to see how water is used starting with the agricultural fields to the processing of food and beverage plants. Each phase of the food and beverage value chain requires significant amounts of water to deliver a desired quality product to consumers.”

Mr. Tenuta’s experience has also involved hotels and lodging, healthcare, and quick service restaurants (e.g., fast food) where water use could be around 1,500 gallons a day, compared to a poultry plant that requires 2 million gallons of water daily. Overall, Nalco is involved with more than 40 market segments that use water to make products or provide services.

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