Kohler Applies Its Product Development Process to Waste Materials

Read the full story at Environmental Leader.

At Kohler Company, there is more than meets the eye. The American manufacturer might be best known for their gleaming kitchen and bathroom fixtures, but the Wisconsin-based family business also produces tiles, cabinetry, engines, and generators. In addition, the company is developing new materials from foundry waste.

Ceramic artist Theresa Millard started working at Kohler in 1988 supervising the Artist Editions production team. After moving over to industrial design, she traveled to Costa Rica in 2005 to study biomimicry, an approach that draws inspiration from nature.

“What I really learned about was sustainability,” she says. “It changed my personal understanding of the world relative to systems thinking and the boundaries of the planet.”

Millard’s realization coincided with a time when the company was asking bigger questions about sustainability. She joined Kohler’s cross-functional environmental leadership team in 2007, and began focusing on sustainability full-time for the company around 2011.

Now she is project manager for Kohler’s new Waste Lab, where she heads up sustainability and stewardship with a team that includes her husband, technical designer Jim Neiman. The team is developing its first high-end tile product, expected to go on the market later this year. Recently we caught up with Millard to learn how the lab helps Kohler see value in foundry dust, clay, and material scraps.

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