The goals of Lean manufacturing are to increase efficiency and reduce waste, but Lean initiatives also have positive environmental ramifications. When a company implements Lean best practices, we all benefit from reductions in the volume of material, water, energy and chemical usage.
What is environmental waste?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental waste as an unnecessary or excess use of resources or a substance released to the air, water or land that could harm human health or the environment. Environmental wastes can occur when companies use resources to provide products or services to customers, and/or when customers use and dispose of products.
How environmental waste and the seven Lean wastes are linked:
- Overproduction means more raw materials and energy are consumed in production than needed. More materials equal extra emissions, waste disposal, worker exposure, etc.
- Defects require disposal; they also require rework, which equates to increased energy use for heating, cooling and lighting.
- Inventory requires packaging and more storage space, which equates to more energy used to heat, cool and light inventory space. It also opens the door for deterioration or damage to stored goods, equaling even more waste.
- Over processing is unnecessary processing, which is an unnecessary use of energy – both environmental and human. A decrease in inefficient processes and repetition equates to less downtime, which in turn lessens the amount of energy, (heating, cooling and lighting in the production area), a company needs to produce products.
- Transportation uses energy and increases emissions.
- Waiting is one of Lean’s big wastes; it also increases the potential for material spoilage and damage, which increases landfill waste and wasted energy from heating, cooling and lighting during production downtime.
- Motion (see transportation).
What you can do to lessen environmental waste.
Lean methodology does not inherently consider environmental impact; however, you can leverage both Lean manufacturing techniques and environmental considerations to optimize improvements. If you only think about Lean manufacturing, you might miss the opportunity to change a material in your product that is more environmentally friendly. For example, if material A and material B cost the same and can both be machined exactly how you want, but material B can be recycled, what is stopping you from converting to the more environmentally friendly material? This type of thought process is what leads to creativity in Lean performance strategies.
Lean best practices to reduce environmental waste from the EPA:
Add environmental metrics to Lean metrics.
One simple way to understand how your company’s Lean efforts are affecting the environment is to add one or more of the following environmental performance metrics to your Lean metrics:
- Scrap/non-product output
- Air emissions
- Materials use
- Solid waste
- Hazardous materials use
- Hazardous waste
- Energy use
- Water pollution/wastewater
- Water use
Show management support.
Securing and advertising top-down management commitment to Lean and environmental efforts is imperative to ensure long-term success.
Include environmental waste in Lean training efforts.
The EPA recommends conducting a “waste walk” during Lean trainings where workers walk the shop floor and write down the environmental wastes they observe.
Make environmental wastes simple to eliminate.
Implement visual controls to support your company’s Lean and environmental efforts, and prominently display how individual production areas are performing in relationship to Lean and environmental goals.
If you’re in management, it’s important you recognize your team when it achieves corporate goals. This can be in the form of a luncheon or a simple announcement in the company newsletter.
For even more environmental lean best practice tips, download the EPA’s Lean and Environment Toolkit.