Better Planet: Helping Kohler Customers Reduce Their Environmental Footprints

Sep 19, 2023 9:00 AM ET
8 stages of innovation

Originally published in Kohler's 2022 Believing in Better Impact Report

Kohler’s Better Planet strategy is focused on improving our operational environmental footprint while paying uncompromised attention to designing environmentally friendly products that help our customers and consumers to reduce their own environmental impact. We have been tracking our environmental footprint since 2008 as a key part of our environmental sustainability journey, and we have established goals for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water usage, and waste to landfill across our operations. We continue to develop additional goals to drive improvement on other environmental metrics.


Our Design for Environment (DfE) methodology, which is applied in Kitchen and Bath and Energy businesses, is a data-driven process that enables us to understand the environmental impact of our products and rethink design aspects accordingly. DfE employs a multistage strategy that considers all aspects of the product life cycle, including the impact of using renewable materials, how decreasing water flow rates affects user experience, and how product materials can be recycled or repurposed.

To increase the adoption of DfE, we organized training on DfE methodology for more than 240 Kitchen and Bath associates in China and also developed an interactive DfE workshop and provided training to Kohler Power Systems associates in our Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) unit. DfE training modules were also launched on the Kohler Learning Academy and Engineering Academy, including modules on product transparency and creating sustainability impact statements.

As an internal status for our products, Kohler uses the Positive by Design® designation, which signifies that environmentally friendly aspects were incorporated using the DfE process. All products designated Positive by Design® have been internally verified to have a positive impact, compared to existing product offerings, in one of four key sustainability impact areas—water use, GHG emissions, solid waste, and material toxicity— combined with no negative effects in the other impact areas. In 2022 49% of NPD projects (excluding retail NPD projects) were designated as Positive by Design.


As part of our efforts to increase awareness of environmentally friendly products, we are a pioneer in providing at-scale solutions for product transparency, including supporting the climate-resilience and green building movement through Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Declare labels. EPDs are based on a third-party-verified life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) and Kohler has expanded our EPD offerings to include 100% of vitreous china, stainless steel, and faucets products. We are continually expanding our data inventory and our capability to produce EPDs upon request. 

Declare labels provide transparency on a product’s environmental impact through compliance with Living Building Challenge (LBC) criteria developed by the International Living Future Institute, a coalition of architects, engineers, manufacturers, and builders focused on green building. Declare labels and EPDs are used to help builders achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification for homes, commercial buildings, and communities from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Kohler continues to receive increased requests for product transparency documents, including EPDs, Declare labels, and other metrics such as embodied carbon or recycled content. In 2022 62% of our transparency requests were for EPDs, and 29% were for Declare labels with 80% of those requests from North America and 20% from countries outside of North America.


Kohler Power Systems (KPS) is developing innovative ways to help customers reduce or replace the use of diesel fossil fuel, which will reduce GHG emissions. In 2022 KPS approved the use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) fuels to replace fossil diesel in its entire range of mission-critical diesel generators, including the KOHLER KD Series™, with no adaptations required to the installed generators. The switch to renewable HVO fuel can help Kohler’s customers reduce life cycle carbon emissions by up to 90% compared to fossil diesel. 

Diesel generators used as back up power sources for data centers and other mission-critical uses have historically been tested monthly under load, due to inability of previous technology engines to operate at no load on a regular basis. Advanced technology and efficiency improvements to the modern diesel engine designs enable lower-exercise loading. Test and field experience with generators such as the KOHLER KD Series suggests that unloaded monthly exercise is allowable, as long as the generator is load bank tested annually. KPS is working with customers to reduce load testing frequency that, based on our study, can expect up to 40% reduction in pollutants, such as nitrous oxide (NOx), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), and hydrocarbons (HC), and 44% in fuel consumption annually.


Kohler continues to make its largest impact on water conservation globally through leadership in the development and use of water-efficient products. We received our thirteenth WaterSense® award in 2022 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recognizing that WaterSense-labeled KOHLER toilets, showerheads, and faucets are major contributors to reduced water consumption in America’s households. Kohler was honored in 2008 with the first WaterSense Partner of the Year award. Since 2007, cumulative savings due to Kohler brands in the U.S. was over 560 billion gallons of water, 12.8 million metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions, and $8.3 billion in energy and water costs.


KOHLER WasteLAB was established in 2014 as an idea coming out of Kohler’s Innovation for Good® incubator. WasteLAB associates are working to foster a circular economy in which we reuse, rethink, and repurpose our waste streams to design and produce artful tile and other products. WasteLAB uses a variety of landfill-bound materials left over from the manufacturing process, including wastewater sludge, pottery dry cull, cast iron slag, foundry dust, and enamel powder. From 2019 through 2022, sales of KOHLER WasteLAB tiles have diverted 25.5 metric tons (MT) of waste from landfills and diverted 9.3 MT of waste in 2022. 

In partnership with ANN SACKS in 2019, WasteLAB launched the Crackle Collection, a line of tile created from recycled dry cull. WasteLAB launched a new tile line in early 2022, the Abstra™ Collection, which is made of more than 99.5% recycled waste materials including pottery wastewater sludge, one of Kohler’s largest waste streams. Sales of the Abstra Collection have exceeded forecasts and the award-winning tile collection has been featured in several publications, including Interior Design, Cottages & Gardens, Elle Decor, and Architectural Digest. Kohler has committed to continued investments in KOHLER WasteLAB research and development efforts to identify additional waste materials that can be repurposed for new products.


Kohler’s Innovation for Good (IfG) program was launched in 2011 as an in-house innovation incubator for our associates to explore new business opportunities with a social purpose. The IfG incubator brings together associates from across Kohler to explore and develop products and solutions for pressing social and environmental issues, including safe water, sanitation, hygiene, and reliable power.

Read the full 2022 Kohler Believing in Better Impact Report here.