It should come as no surprise that Kohler engineers and designers are once again hard at work developing next generation sanitation solutions. Partnering with Sanergy, a Nairobi-based organization focused on sustainable solutions for nonsewered sanitation, Kohler is developing a container-based sanitation (CBS) option for people living without access to safe sanitation systems.
If you’re familiar with our Believing in Better philosophy and Innovation for Good® and Safe Water for All initiatives, you’ll recognize this exciting partnership as a natural evolution of our collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and their Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, and our commitment to safe sanitation. Today, an estimated 4.2 billion people live without access to safe sanitation. That's why we continue to enlist our brightest minds and deeply passionate associates in addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation.
A SYNERGISTIC PARTNERSHIP
Bringing sanitation solutions to communities that lack infrastructure to safely manage waste requires a partner like Sanergy that understands how to address specific sanitation issues in nonsewered, informal urban communities. Founded by three MIT students, Sanergy’s practical knowledge and experience complement the 148 years of design, industry, and manufacturing know-how that Kohler provides. By combining their expertise, Kohler and Sanergy are designing and testing a full-value-chain approach with the goal of delivering safe sanitation in communities that lack the infrastructure to safely manage waste.
As lead engineer on this new solution, Mike Luettgen is impressed by Sanergy.
In addition to their robust on the ground operations, Luettgen notes their innovative approach to reusing waste as another factor that figured into the partnership. “Not only do they collect and treat the waste, but they’re also turning it into viable products like animal feed and fertilizer,” said Luettgen.
A SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION
When it comes to design, our approach to container-based sanitation solutions is the same as any of our other products. It all comes down to designing something that people aspire to own. Its value to individuals and the community—functionally, aesthetically and economically—needs to be such that they benefit at every level.
For Hiro Chung, Kohler’s lead industrial designer on the project, details make the difference. Chung explains, “The color reflects the precious quality of water, and the Brancusi-inspired ripple across the surface mimics the movement of water.” The geometric shape is intentional as well, mimicking a piece of furniture that can blend into the living space. Functionally, the toilet is designed to separate urine and feces to manage odor and facilitate the waste management.
The toilet is also designed to have as minimal a footprint as possible. “The plastics we use and the way we manufacture makes the toilet very easy to recycle,” said Luettgen. “We also chose a fabric bag for waste collection that can be sanitized and reused. While more expensive to implement, it will be more effective in the long run and avoids putting single-use plastic bags into the environment.”
ASSOCIATES IN ACTION
Working as a team, Luettgen and Chung are enthusiastic about the next step in the process. Several of the toilets will be field-tested in communities in Nairobi over the next few weeks. Sanergy will be executing the trials, gathering information daily from the participating families about their experiences, and Luettgen and Chung will take that feedback and continue to tweak the design to better meet their needs.
Both Luettgen and Chung are involved with Kohler’s inhouse incubator, Innovation for Good, where the design for this container-based sanitation solution got its start. Innovation for Good is a start-up business within Kohler that brings to market innovations that have a social purpose. They do this by inviting all associates to apply their talents and passion for positive change to global issues aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The process, as well as the output, has been life-changing not only for the communities served, but also for the associates involved.
Chung stated without hesitation that this project is by far the thing he is most proud of in his career. “While Innovation for Good and taking on projects like this are a great opportunity for employees to do a good thing, we’re also doing it for ourselves. It is very, very fulfilling.”
For Luettgen, “Just to be able to work on a project like this that helps a little is humbling and an honor.”
Watch Laura Kohler’s conversation with Sanergy Cofounder David Auerbach on their ongoing partnership and collaboration to bring innovation solutions to unsewered sanitation around the globe.