Sustainability Innovator Courtney Panther: Driving Change at Sleep Number Corp.

Courtney Panther, Sleep Number material recovery manager, embraces a good challenge.

Sustainability Innovator Courtney Panther. Driving change and progress in sustainability at Sleep Number Corp. Learn more about her journey!". Courtney Panther
Courtney Panther

Most people want to avoid problems. Courtney Panther is not most people. 

As the material recovery manager for Minneapolis-based manufacturer and retailer Sleep Number Corp., creating solutions is a central part of her role — and one of her biggest passions. Over the past several weeks, she’s been visiting Sleep Number’s seven assembly and distribution centers across the United States to train teams on a new, more efficient returns processing system she devised. 

That’s just one example of Panther’s far-reaching position. So, how did she land what she calls “the perfect opportunity?” Well, it found her. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University, Panther worked as a continuous improvement engineer and production team lead for Ecolab, a hygiene solutions company based in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

“That’s where I realized that at the intersection of problem-solving and people — when those two come together — that’s my jam,” Panther says. 

Enter Sleep Number. When the company was strengthening its internal supply chain, it contacted Panther to lead a new facility in Irving, Texas. In March 2023, after three years as a senior production manager, Panther advanced to the position of material recovery manager. Although 2023 was not the start of Sleep Number’s sustainability journey, Panther clarifies that was when the company “took the pivot to make it a dedicated resource.” 

One of her favorite things about the job is the variety. “It’s a lot of having conversations to drive change and progress. And partnering across all these different departments, learning what they do, what their role looks like and how material recovery fits into each space,” Panther says. Her holistic approach entails collaborating with teams from customer service to sales to home delivery. 

Sustainability Innovator Courtney Panther. Panther speaks at the Texas Assembly and Distribution all-staff meeting in Irving, Texas.
Panther speaks at the Texas Assembly and Distribution all-staff meeting in Irving, Texas.

Another key, according to Panther, is taking a proactive rather than a reactive approach to sustainability. By partnering with the product development team, she helps identify ways to improve material circularity through design, such as extending a product’s life or selecting components that aren’t destined for a landfill.

Panther acknowledges that sustainability and profits can often be at odds, “because sometimes the most sustainable solution is not the most cost-effective.” Striking the right balance can be difficult, but if Panther has made one thing clear, it’s that she doesn’t shy away from a challenge. 

“I think my favorite piece is having an idea or a concept, being in a creative space of ‘How could we do this?’ Then operationalizing it and hearing our team’s positive feedback.” 

Being open to feedback has also served her well. “I think a lot of the success I’ve had in my career is not being afraid to sort of swing for the fences but being humble enough to accept feedback at any point.” 

Although long-term solutions are the norm for Panther, right now, she has one short-term goal — going home to her bed after weeks of work travel. “As corny as it is to say, I am very grateful for a good night’s sleep. Especially when I’ve been traveling. I miss my Sleep Number smartbed,” she adds. But whether she’s asleep at home or in a hotel, the same thing gets her out of bed every morning. “I love being tied to purpose,” she says. “The idea of improving people’s lives through sleep is something I think is worth working hard for.”

Read about more mattress industry rising stars, Industry Rising Stars: Spotlight on Tanner Van De Hey of C³ Corp.

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