Kohler than most

Bindu Gopal Rao
Sunday, 12 May 2019

A bathroom brand that has an immediate recall is Kohler, thanks to its cutting edge design and innovation. We chat up Laura Kohler, the senior vice president – Human Resources, Stewardship and Sustainability, Kohler, to find out where the brand is headed

Laura Kohler, the senior vice president – Human Resources, Stewardship and Sustainability, Kohler, has a one-of-its-kind interaction with people where she talks about her experience in India, her responsibility towards her staff, society and the environment.

What do you think of India as a country?
I’ve been coming to India for about 12 years. I learn how vibrant India is every time I am here. Be it our offices in major cities, at the plants, or even when I am travelling to get to a destination, I see a culture that is changing. The landscapes change and people are always extremely active. Our teams here are constantly learning and actually pushing the rest of the world to do things in a new and different way.

In your role as overseeing worldwide Human Resources organisation and leader of Stewardship, Innovation for Good and Sustainability programs, what do you do?
I think I am fortunate to have the responsibility for both people and social impact.Kohler does its best to bring the two together to get our people involved in social impact and we call it ‘associates in action’. What makes us unique is what we call ‘believing in better’ where we strive to make the world a better place by figuring out a way to get you involved. We do this is in every part of the world we work in.

What are the sustainability measures that your company is taking?
We are focused on waste reduction whether it is energy or water. And as far as reduction in greenhouse gases is concerned, we are looking at reducing the impact with our manufacturing footprint and working on a responsible lifecycle of our products. 

What kind of sustainability programmes do you have in India?
In India, we are focused on solar as a captive source of power in our plant in Jhagadia. We are also looking at improving waste management and how to use byproducts more effectively. More importantly, when we look at products, whether it is a toilet or a shower faucet, we are bringing in technology that uses as less water as possible without compromising on the performance of the product.

Tell us about your WasteLab Project.
We are very proud of The WasteLab Project. It took about two years to launch and the idea came from the innovation for good business team to take pottery and foundry waste and dust and combining it to create a tile. We then managed one of our business units to adapt the process and take it in and became part of their factory process. We launched the product in Las Vegas in the Kitchen and Bath Show in February 2019 under our Ann Sacks brand.

Tell us about the Innovation for Good (IFG) programme in India.
It is an incubation business unit and we essentially develop new ideas for the developing world and align with UN Sustainability goals, especially number 6, 7 and 12, particularly clean water and sanitation. Wastelab came out of that and repurposing waste and the clarity water filter came out of here and we are now working on waterless sanitation. 

What are the Community Partnership programmes you run in India?
We believe we need to strengthen the communities where we live and work. In 2018, we focused on two villages just outside our factory in Jhagadia and we put in over 200 toilets in the villages to ensure each house had one as well as hand washing stations.

Now we are also impacting schools with these. We believe strong communities help families grow and become vibrant and that will sustain the community and company over time.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?
I am very passionate about work and this being a privately held family business in the fourth generation, it is passion that drives me. My first job however is to be a mother and I have three girls who I am proud to say are independent and strong women. I would tell anyone who is balancing a lot of pressure in their lives to take care of themselves because if you are strong, others can continue to work with you.

Do you have any women-specific policies in your India organisation?
We have a brand new “back to work” programme that is focused on women who return to work post their maternity break as we want people to choose to remain with Kohler. We have counselled the managers of the women as well.

What is your advice to young women who are staring their career?
I want them to take risks and try things that they may be interested and it is okay to make a mistake as you are still learning. You need to move out of the house and learn to be independent.

Tell us about your upcoming product launches.
We are focused on new faucet finishes, especially rose gold and new glazes on our plumbing products like matte, stone and colours. Our team in India is working on global product launches as well.

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