With an eye to the future, Kohler is not only reducing its environmental impact, but helping consumers improve their own sustainability targets with eco home product innovations.
The Kohler Company, founded in 1873, is one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies. But with its sustainability targets and new home product innovation, it’s aiming to be one of the most relevant brands in the country’s future, too.
Kohler got its start in Wisconsin nearly 150 years ago when Austrian immigrant, John Michael Kohler, purchased a foundry that was making cast-iron and steel products. The company has become synonymous with luxury design for kitchen and bath, as well as a leader in clean energy solutions. It also own two five-star hospitality and golf resorts—one in Wisconsin, where it’s still based, and the other in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Kohler ‘Believing in Better’ report
In its 2020 “Believing In Better” report, released in July 2021, Kohler said the framework is allowing it to deliver on its environmental, social, and governance commitments as defined by three pillars: Better Planet, Better Communities, and Better Lives.
“We are committed to leaving the world a better place than we found it and are working toward net zero environmental impact by 2035,” reads the Kohler website, which details its sustainability efforts. “For us, this means reducing or offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions and sending zero solid waste to landfill; developing innovative energy- and water-saving products; and encouraging people to take action.”
The company notes significant achievements. Since 2008, it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 48 percent, reduced operational energy use by 22 percent, reduced waste to landfill 47 percent, and taken water usage down by 46 percent. Fifty-three percent of its electricity use in 2020 came from renewable resources.
Last month it announced the construction of a new sustainable factory for its plumbing division coming to Arizona.
“Kohler not only leads in its industry, but is equally responsible to the neighbors and community where it resides,” Craig McFarland, Mayor of Casa Grande, Arizona, said in a statement. “The company is recognized for reducing their environmental impact in its operations, demonstrating socially responsible practices, and creating products that define the sustainability landscape of the future.”
Environmental product declarations
Kohler’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) labels are what the company calls “nutrition labels for products.” It says these EPD show how a product was manufactured, what materials they contain, and where the materials came from.
“Knowing the material composition helps us understand how our products could impact human health,” says Kohler Environmental Project Engineer Olivia Fritz. It’s no easy task to develop an ingredient label for a Kohler faucet, for example. It includes everything from the material source to chemical reactions from something like enamel’s impact on iron’s chemical makeup, “it took many spreadsheets, calculations and smart minds to produce Kohler’s first Declare labels in 2018,” the company says.
“Better understanding environmental impact helps determine where we can invest to make the biggest difference,” said Mandy Montazeri, Project Engineer – Sustainability. “It gives us a comparison to our competition, and helps us develop more sustainable products that last longer and save consumers money.”
The EPD labels detail the chemical makeup of any given product, as well as its life expectancy, and the presence of materials that may be harmful to human health or the environment.
“Our ultimate goal is to become more informed and make better decisions about material components and supplier sources for Kohler products. This makes it easier for our customers to make informed purchases,” Fritz says.
The Kohler Waste Lab
Kohler is taking a hard stance against waste with the development of a Waste Lab. “Waste is only waste because we’ve defined it that way,” the company says. “It’s really just something we haven’t figured out what to do with yet.”
It points to nature and the lack of waste in those environments, “everything is an input for another organism.”
Kohler says it’s taking cues from nature and looking at waste as raw materials for new processes and products.
Kohler industrial designer Monty Stauffer was invited to join the WasteLAB team in the summer of 2017. “I was told, ‘We want you to make something out of something else and we don’t know what that something is yet,’ and I thought, ‘Cool!’”
That has turned into comprehensive efforts in testing waste materials including foundry dust, pottery cull, and spilled enamel powder, all making their ways into new products.
Kohler’s sustainable products
“While Kohler celebrates creativity, diversity, and innovation in all its forms, we know we can do more to protect the planet, build resilient communities, and enrich the quality of life for everyone,” Laura Kohler, senior vice president of human resources, stewardship and sustainability at Kohler Co., said in a statement last year. “That’s why we continue to focus on harnessing the power of our business and associates to address global challenges like water conservation and access, as well as education and well-being.”
It’s doing just that; since 2007 it has saved 388 billion gallons of water through Kohler’s EPA WaterSense compliant labeled products. In 2020 alone, it generated more than $1 billion in sales from environmentally favorable products.
Kohler has been a leading voice for water and sanitation issues globally. Last year it supported efforts in for Canada’s Indigenous First Nations communities that have high levels of unsafe drinking water. It also launched a three-year partnership with DigDeep, a human rights non-profit focused on clean drinking water in the U.S.
Kohler says it has been working on Design for Environment (DfE) projects in recent years, too, developing products that are good for the planet.
Last month, it launched an eco-friendly showerhead, the Kohler Statement VES Collection, which it says demonstrates the brand’s commitment to sustainability and water conservation.
The new showerhead boasts a sleek design and water-usage engineering aimed to deliver a “luxurious showering experience,” the company says. It carries the EPA WaterSense certification. The new showerhead conserves 40 percent of water compared with typical showerheads.
It also launched the Kohler Power Reserve, a modular home energy storage system that pairs with solar power systems to provide homeowners with access to solar energy regardless of the weather, time of day, or status of the grid.