Ten years ago, a group of enthusiastic associates came together outside of their workday to brainstorm how they could use their engineering, design, marketing, and finance skills to develop products to serve a social purpose. These early ideation sessions not only yielded some very interesting ideas but also demonstrated a pent-up need at Kohler: its associates wanted to do more to help the world.
This skunkworks approach to innovation was formalized as Innovation for Good® (IfG), our incubator for products and initiatives with a social purpose. Aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the program refined its mission to focus on SDG 6, access to clean water and sanitation; SDG 7, access to affordable and clean energy; and SDG 12, responsible consumption and production. Since then, a number of products and initiatives have been developed through the IfG incubator, including the KOHLER Clarity® water filter, the KOHLER WasteLAB™, and the KOHLER Relief Shower Trailer.
In 2018, the call for innovation went out to all associates with the inaugural IfG I-Prize competition. Associates were invited to share their most creative ideas for addressing critical water and energy issues. Associates throughout the world stepped up to pitch viable business ideas, including a simple handwashing solution designed to reduce the spread of waterborne illnesses while requiring minimal water.
With the onset of COVID-19 highlighting the critical need for clean water and hygiene in all parts of the world, in 2020 Kohler asked I-Prize competitors to innovate around cleaner and more hygienic surfaces, spaces, experiences, and workplaces. The first round of submissions yielded over two dozen ideas. To help the competition’s semi-finalists shift from idea to action, each team was given access to executive coaching. And in the end, three teams were awarded incubation funding for development.
With the continued pressure for companies and communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the 2021 I-Prize competition challenges associates to explore ways to reduce carbon emissions specifically. Carbon dioxide is responsible for 76% of global greenhouse gases due to industrial emissions, consumer use of fossil fuels, land clearing and deforestation, and other human-induced impacts.1 As a major manufacturer of power and plumbing products, it is critical for Kohler to continually to look for ways to reduce its own carbon footprint and to help its customers reduce their environmental impact by providing energy-efficient products and services.
IfG and the I-Prize are all part of Kohler Co.’s commitment to building a better planet by harnessing the power and passion of its associates to address pressing global issues like water and energy. And we’re once again excited to see associates’ ingenuity and passion for sustainable innovations shine.