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How LIXIL’s SATO Toilet Helped Unite a $17 Billion Company


Episode description

Let’s talk about toilets.

One in three people around the world lack basic sanitation. Of that 2.3 billion people, nearly 892 million relieve themselves in outside spaces.  Beyond the obvious health dangers (nearly 800 children die every day from diarrhea caused by inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene), lack of access to safe and clean toilets expose women and children to the threats of violence and harassment, according to UNICEF.

LIXIL – the $17 billion global company you may have never heard of – made social purpose a core business driver and is on a powerful path to change millions of lives by addressing some of the sanitation challenges above.

LIXIL brands (notably, American Standard, Grohe, Tostem, and Inax) are in almost a billion households around the world. Jin Montesano, Chief Public Affairs Officer, Executive Officer and Senior Managing Director at LIXIL, joined Purpose 360 to talk about LIXIL’s long-term commitment to improve basic sanitation for 250 million people around the world by 2021.

LIXIL partnered with UNICEF to achieve this goal through the cheekily-named Make a Splash program. Core to the program is LIXIL’s social enterprise to manufacture and distribute the proprietary $5 SATO toilet. Beyond providing basic sanitation, LIXIL and UNICEF say that the toilet can “transform lives – boosting child survival rates, making communities healthier, and even improving children’s chances of attending school.”

In this episode, Jin shares the “three As” process -- Articulate, Assimilate, and Activate -- that guided LIXIL’s purpose journey, as well as experiences in the field that ignited that purpose for her and her team.

Here are some of our favorite highlights:

  • Parent companies and their brands can share a unified purpose. LIXIL created a dynamic solution to unify its reason for being among its brands and business units. Jin shares the decisions that led LIXIL to ask: “Why do we need to exist as a company? Why should American Standard belong to this Japanese company versus some other company? We wanted to dig deep and to understand what our purpose is, as a social ‘actor’ around the globe.”
  • Tap your employees’ passions. LIXIL’s unified purpose led to the discovery of two American Standard engineers developing a low-cost toilet, now the SATO toilet. Seeing an opportunity, Jin made an ask to her leadership: “I need these two guys to leave their current jobs to build this into a proper organization, because 2.3 billion people could be served with this product.” SATO is now its own P&L and central to LIXIL’s Make a Splash program with UNICEF.
  • Profit and purpose don’t need to be mutually exclusive. LIXIL’s CEO challenged the SATO team: “I don’t need you to make a profit, but you need to break even” by 2021. With this mandate, the SATO team grew the product into a viable social enterprise, reinvesting profits back into the business to accelerate growth. Their success earned SATO a 5-year grant from the Gates Foundation.
  • Ask your stakeholders to discover your company’s purpose. LIXIL started its purpose journey with an eye toward environmental and gender issues. Yet, when LIXIL asked employees which social issues they were most passionate about, they emphatically named “hygiene and sanitation.” Listening led to LIXIL’s commitment to provide 250 million people with access to basic sanitation.
  • **It’s okay to not always achieve your social goals. **Setting ambitious goals helps focus purpose-led initiatives. Yet, Jin counsels purpose practitioners not to fret if those goals aren’t met – as long as shortfalls are used to readjust and refocus efforts. In response to some of her team’s fears, Jin said: “If we don’t make [the goal], whatever that number we made is the number we achieve. Because if we hadn’t set the 100 million goal, then we wouldn’t have helped improve the lives of the ‘X’ million that we did reach.”

Resources + links

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