The University of Minnesota is getting $5 million from St. Paul-based Ecolab to support its environmental sustainability research and education programs, it was announced Thursday.

The gift, the largest ever from the Ecolab Foundation to the U, will establish a $2 million endowed chair for its Institute on the Environment.

It also will fund more than $1 million in undergraduate scholarships in science, engineering, environmental and sustainability-focused fields. Another portion of the gift will be used to create a conference series aimed at driving progress on major environmental challenges.

Funding through the Institute on the Environment will provide financial aid for local and global experiences and internships for about 60 students over a five-year period.

“This support allows a greater diversity of students with different needs to be able to participate in those [experiences],” said Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment. “For Ecolab to show that leadership in building up that kind of young person is really important.”

The contribution will go toward the U’s “Driven” campaign, a fundraising effort that has raised more than $3 billion toward its $4 billion goal. One of the campaign’s priorities is to protect and sustain agriculture, food and water.

Students who are named Ecolab Scholars will receive $7,500 renewable awards, beginning in their sophomore year. Undergraduates in the Carlson School of Management will be eligible for similar awards as a way to encourage future business leaders to consider environmental issues in their work.

“Our gift is designed to support sustainability thought leadership for years to come,” said Doug Baker, Ecolab’s CEO.

The investment, Baker said, will encourage the U and the business community to work together on ideas about environmental sustainability. As the global population grows, he said, the pressure on resources such as water and energy will continue to increase.

“These are huge-scale problems,” Baker said. “To solve big-scale problems, you need big-scale operations but you also need the right ideas. The right ideas come from collaboration. … We can’t think of any better partner to collaborate with than the University of Minnesota and the Institute on the Environment.”

U President Eric Kaler said the private-public partnership with the Ecolab Foundation will “accelerate research into practices that ensure safe water, clean, renewable energy, healthy landscapes and sustainable food.”

Said Hellman: “It is a partnership that is really needed to move the needle on sustainability in our state, in our country and around the world.”

The U’s Institute on the Environment was founded in 2007 and aims to support research, develop leaders and foster collaboration and partnerships to address pressing environmental challenges.