Is Green A Byproduct of Lean?

It would pretty hard pressed to find someone in the manufacturing industry that had not heard of or worked in a Lean environment. Lean methods have been on the rise for the last two decades across many industries.  If you asked someone what they’ve heard or seen as a result of Lean, chances are they will tell you about increased efficiency, reduced costs, improved customer response times and an overall improvement in productivity. Slowly but surly though, another benefit to Lean is making its presence known. “Green” has become quite the trendy word over the last decade, but it takes more than talk to make something “green.” Lean initiatives however, are putting the talk aside and showing the manufacturing world what it really means to be “green.”

Getting Green with Lean

Lean and Green

When the foundation of your processes is to eliminate waste, use fewer resources and streamlining your product, it’s hard not to think “Green.” Why it’s not a bigger focal point in most Lean initiatives is beyond me, but I think times are changing. A study by the EPA examined nine different companies and the direct effect Lean had on their Green impact.

 EPA Case Studies

Company Environmental Benefits
Apollo Hardwood Company
  • Designed equipment that can use smaller pieces of wood, which reduces wood scrap and alleviates the need to harvest large-diameter, mature trees
Baxter Healthcare Corporation
  • Over a three-day event, an interdepartmental team developed value stream maps (VSM) that detailed the plant’s use of water and identified processes for improvement potential with a byproduct of saving 170,000 gallons of water per day with little or no capital investment
Boeing Company (Everett)
  • Eliminated the use of 350 cubic feet of cardboard and bubble wrap packing material per 747 wing panel set
  • Reduced chemical usage per airplane by 11.6 percent
Columbia Paint and Coatings
  • Reduction of 15,000 lbs of paint solids from wash water
  • Saved 18,000 lbs of shrink wrap
  • Removed 2,820 lbs of hazardous materials from the waste stream
DuBois-Johnson Dieversey and Steelcase
  • Energy savings of a 60 percent reduction in the BTU’s required
  • Reduction in water usage by 80 percent
  • Waste stream was cut by 85-95 percent
General Electric (Peebles, Ohio jet engine facility)
  • Reduced fuel consumption for GE90 engine testing from 17,000 gallons to 9,000 gallons
  • Produced 5,000 metric tons less of GHG emissions from the GE90 in 2007 compared to 2006
  • Reduced GHG emissions from the CFM testing cycle by 1,600 metric tons annually
General Motors (Saturn)
  • Saved 17 tons per year in air emissions
  • Eliminated 258 tons per year of solid waste
  • Reduced hazardous waste generation from 9.0 pounds per car in 1992 to 3.2 pounds per car in 1996
General Motors
  • Eliminated 7 tons per year of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, hazardous waste, and transportation-related impacts in its supply chain by working with suppliers to eliminate a painting process step

 What’s Next?

The results from these case studies is outstanding for anyone considering or already a part of a Lean culture. The potential “green” impact Lean has is astonishing when you start to actually keep track. Many organizations don’t consider the financial impact of a “green” workplace when they are factoring in their Lean initiatives, therefore they don’t keep track of what Lean can do for “green.” Future Lean implementers must start to recognize and track the importance of sustainability within their continuous improvement process. The more data we have, the more information we have to make continual improvements to the system.

Clearly, Lean processes have the ability to produce substantial “green” benefits when they are kept track of. For many reasons, the environmental performance gains should be quantified into the financial justification of Lean initiatives. They are yet another major benefit to Lean benefits that continue to pile up.

 Source for case studies:

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