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Ratish Namboothiry - Director - Innovation for Good & Sustainability at Kohler Co.

Sustainable Nation

38min

Ratish Namboothiry is the Director for Innovation for Good and Sustainability at Kohler Co.

Innovation for Good (IfG) is Kohler’s internal volunteer think tank created to incubate new ideas for social impact products that deliver positive solutions. Namboothiry was appointed as the business leader for this team when it was formed in 2018.

Namboothiry is responsible for both strategic and operational leadership for IfG. This includes driving sales and distribution of social impact products, such as the KOHLER Clarity water filtration system, and converting ideas into successful products, technologies and business concepts. Ratish’s passion lies in innovation and solving social problems through the power of business and creative capitalism. Namboothiry earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from University of Mumbai and Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Ratish Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:

  • The importance of transparency in meeting sustainability goals
  • Consumer demand for sustainable products/environmental declare labels
  • Net Zero environmental impact at Kohler
  • The Gates Foundation and Safe Water for All initiative
  • The 50 liter home
  • The Kohler waste lab - converting manufacturing waste into useful products
  • Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders

Ratish's Final Five Question Responses:

What is one piece of advice you would give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?

As a practitioner and a follower of sustainability myself, and I've seen so many people around me who are that way; one thing I've noticed is a lot of us are passionate about the topic and with a lot of passion could come this idealism to a certain degree. There could be frustration that we're trying to drive our projects or goals or initiatives forward, and if we're not successful in implementing them, the word of advice I would offer is don't get frustrated. Always think about how can you move the needle in the right direction, even if it's a really small step. As they say, don't make perfect the enemy of good. If something big cannot be accomplished, don't be disappointed. Instead, think about what are the little things you can do to progress in the right direction. Then over time, some of the bigger steps can be taken.

What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?

This is just an exciting time to be in the business of sustainability or driving sustainability into businesses, I should say. We're finally seeing sustainability emerge as a real business priority. Not only are companies responding to increased customer demand for sustainable products, but we're also seeing a really remarkable shift in their strategies to integrate it as part of their core operating model. That to me is probably the best place to be as a sustainability practitioner in an organization to be able to drive that sustainability thinking and sustainability practices into the day-to-day of how we make decisions in our companies. From that standpoint, it's no longer about saying that we have a suite of sustainable products. It really is about saying: here's how we're actually integrating sustainability into everything that we do. This is becoming second nature for us.

What is one book you would recommend sustainability leaders read?

I'll go back to the passion on innovation topic. This has been something that has inspired me along the way. I read a lot of innovation books and one of the books that has truly stayed with me along the years is this one called The Innovator's Dilemma, written by late Professor Clay Christensen. He was a professor at Harvard Business School. He wrote this book back in 1997. It's amazing how forward-thinking his ideology was. He offered such usable framework for how large corporations can plan for disruptive market forces and stay ahead of it, and really stay out of some of those external forces that you don't see coming. He coined the phrase of "disruptive innovation." Till this day, I think about it almost on a daily basis as we think about innovation for good and designing our next product and business strategy, and think about how some of those principles from that book can be applied. I really recommend that book to anyone who's interested in reading about how innovation can actually solve some real problems in the world. 

What are some of your favorite resources or tools they really help you in your work? 

We live in such a resource heavy world today. It's very decentralized to be honest. I go to many different resources. When it comes to specifically sustainability and innovation, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Bill Gates is a tremendous resource. If you look at podcasts offered by Bill and the one with Rashida Jones that he's hosting recently; amazing resource. All of the things they talk about in terms of what has inspired Bill; how he grew up, how it led to what he's doing today. All of that is amazing. I think that's really inspirational. When it comes to other topics like leadership, one person I really follow and admire is Simon Sinek. I follow his talks, I read a lot about his work. Very inspiring, but also very practical and actionable in the environment that we live in today.

Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and your work at Kohler?

They can find me on LinkedIn. I'd love to connect with your listeners and understand how they're driving sustainability into their strategies and their organizations. To learn more about Kohler, our website is full of stories and updates on our environmental sustainability and social impact initiatives. You could go to our main webpage, which is kohlercompany.com/social-impact. You'll see a lot of really good resources in terms of our annual report that we referenced earlier; our projects and key initiatives there, and our Safe Water For All initiative, which is our signature initiative. You could go to safewaterforall.com to understand what we're doing today and our future projects coming up.

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