Lean Consulting and Training Specializing in Lean Systems

Lean and Green


Lean and "Green": The positive impact of lean systems on the environment

Research has shown that lean systems are much more efficient, quality-driven, and customer-driven than traditional practices. But one aspect of lean that is yet to be fully examined is the impact on the environment. The impact of lean systems on the environment are beginning to surface but there is certainly room for further research.

One thing that lean systems and environmental movements have in common is their shared goal of waste reduction. If one examines this even further, other environmental benefits are revealed with respect to lean systems. For example, under traditional manufacturing philosophies it is viewed that machines must be running at full capacity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, the lean philosophy dictates that machines are only being utilized when needed in order to fill a customer order as opposed to running constantly just to fill warehouses with excess product.

Therefore, one benefit to the environment is that we use less power and reduce emissions. Furthermore, in lean systems we do not overproduce simply to fill warehouses. This also means we generate less physical waste. Less consumption, less waste, reduced emissions; this all adds up to a cleaner environment. In fact, many businesses are beginning to realize that aligning lean efforts with environmental efforts are not only better for the environment; but very profitable.

I use the analogy of operating a motor vehicle. The motor vehicle is a piece of equipment, a machine used to complete a job; that job being to transport you to and from any destinations needed to complete a series of errands. Compare that vehicle to machinery in a manufacturing environment.

Under traditional systems machines we're expected to be running constantly; typically for 3 shifts, 5 days per week, every week of the year other than scheduled shutdowns for holidays. If a machine was down for any reason management personnel wanted to know immediately why it was not operating; producing product. Employees are even disciplined when a machine is down. Even when there are no customer orders the machines must still be running to build inventory.

Let's examine the operation of a motor vehicle. Under the traditional manufacturing system machines must be running! This is no different than saying your motor vehicle must be running even when there are no immediate errands to run. In between errands you must drive the vehicle around in circles just so it is constantly operating. This is no different than demanding manufacturing machinery runs constantly even if we are building inventory. Let us look beyond the obvious - the wasted resources, wear and tear, and costs - and look at the impact on the environment. The wasted time, resources, and the emissions would have a horrible impact on the environment.

Again, this is no different than traditional manufacturing systems. Traditional methods have had a terrible impact on the environment. Of course, we are intelligent enough to not operate our motor vehicles 24 hours, 7 days every week. We are intelligent enough to operate that machinery only when needed. But what does this say about the level of intelligence in traditional manufacturing settings? It "seems" we would be  bright enough to see the waste and effects on the environment, but many firms still operate under traditional methods.

If we truly examine our systems and implement lean methods we can not only reduce waste, defects, and cost but have a tremendous impact on the environment; reducing our footprints. It is time. Some say mass production is the only intelligent approach but I say the exact opposite. Lean is not counterintuitive. In fact, it is the only intelligent approach.

We can assist in not only improving productivity and quality; but align environmental efforts with your lean implementation. In fact, we can help you develop a vision and mission that does so. Customers are not only demanding better products at lower prices; they are demanding we do our part to better the environment.

We have discovered numerous benefits to the environment, but I would like to hear from others. If you have implemented lean systems and have observed direct benefits to the environment I would be very interested to hear your story. Share your story with the world. Submit your articles and I will post them here for you.

I would also like to hear about research projects specific to lean and the environment. Furthermore, we have found that aligning efforts to improve the environment can easily be aligned with lean systems. We can also look beyond simply doing less damage to the environment; but can also develop methods of improving the environment while increasing financial gains.

If you would like more information feel free to contact us. We will be than happy to help you make the transition to lean and to align these efforts with environmentally safe practices. 

Brian Lean (c) 2007

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