Frontline associates do sustainability.

Sustainability workshops at the plant.

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Two-thirds of Kohler associates work in manufacturing, where some of the greatest opportunities for reducing our environmental footprint exist. Tapping into the ideas from those who work in operations day in,day out requires a customized program.

Traditional training tactics geared toward office associates or asking foremen to deliver sustainability messages during team huddles, when they had so many other messages to tackle, just wasn’t working. So, we took a different approach, piloting the Manufacturing Associate Sustainability Awareness Program in 2015.

"Sustainability can be overwhelming," said Brigitte Dillman-Cruce, Curriculum Manager – Sustainability. "Our foremen didn’t feel comfortable making sustainability part of their plant meetings. We needed something created specifically for this group."

Each training session is customized for that particular plant's needs and the basic topics are simple:

  • What is sustainability?
  • Why is it important to business?
  • Why is it important to Kohler?
  • How can you get involved?

Groups of 10 to 15 people gather in an informal session. After learning about Kohler's sustainability initiatives, associates start brainstorming. Brigitte asks them to provide three sustainability suggestions for projects centered on things like waste, water and energy.

"The manufacturing associates know their job better than anyone else," Brigitte said. "They know where we can make changes that will save water, reduce energy use or create less waste."

Ideas that emerge from these training sessions are documented and prioritized. Often, teams form to own and execute the resulting projects. And it's working. According to Brigitte, employees at Kohler’s facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, have put 31 projects into practice and achieved 120 percent of their environmental savings goal in just one year. "Associates are excited to see that their ideas are being implemented," Brigitte said. "After the training, many of them come back with additional ideas for more sustainable practices."