1992 Earth Charter key to driving Toyota’s environmental efforts

If you’ve studied Lean methods, you know that Toyota is the company that is responsible for developing the infrastructure behind almost all of the methods. But what I found very interesting is that they are also a leader in sustainability and corporate environmental leadership.

Coincidence? I don’t think so…

Over the last decade, most major companies publish a corporate sustainability report, to explain to stakeholders (investors, customers, shareholders, employees, etc) how they are contributing positively to the local communities in which they operate, and reducing their impact on the environment.

However, back in 1992, Toyota was ahead of the game when they published their “Earth Charter” document as “an effort to promote companywide environmental conservation activities…”

The charter is a short page, so I would encourage you to read the document.

Here are some other key quotes from the document:

  • “Careful attention to safety and the environment is one of the guiding principles of Toyota, and the company intends to work within the new charter to protect the environment at all stages of operations, from product development and design to manufacturing, marketing, and final disposal.”
  • “We at Toyota have prepared this Earth Charter as a framework for stepped-up efforts in the name of safeguarding the natural environment.”
  • “The time has come, however, for us at Toyota to redouble our commitment to safeguarding the environment”

They even mention the word “global warming” (remember this is 1992), and how it is a global issue that “demands a global response.”

In order for most companies to actually make progress, they need to connect their products and services to these issues.

Toyota is specifically focused on the following 4 areas within 2 categories:


  • Minimize overall exhaust emissions.
  • Purge harmful substances from emissions.
  • Develop vehicles that run on alternative energy sources.


  • Minimize the generation of harmful substances in production processes.

The Prius was developed and first made available to the public in 1995 at the Tokyo Motor Show, and first rolled off the Japanese assembly lines in 1997, and sold worldwide in 2000.

You can see how this vehicle came as a direct result of the Earth Charter. Not only did it help achieve environmental reductions, but it was a huge success for Toyota. As of January 2017, the Prius liftback is the world’s top selling hybrid car with almost 4 million units sold.

The document is structured in the following way:

I. Basic Policy

A. Comprehensive
B. Preventive
C. Social contribution

II. Action Guidelines

A. Assign Top priority to environmental concerns (Vehicles and Production)
B. Conserve and recycle resources
C. Cooperate with suppliers and partners
D. Implement programs worldwide
E. Promote a broad perspective on environmental issues
F. Support and participate in activities unrelated to automobiles
G. Propagate broad understanding of environmental issues

III. Organization (environmental committee)

In April 2000, the Earth Charter was revised, and modified into two main categories:

I. Basic Policy

  1. Contribute toward a prosperous 21st century society
  2. Pursue environmental technologies
  3. Take action voluntarily
  4. Work in cooperation with society

II. Action Guidelines

  1. Always be concerned about the environment
  2. Business partners are partners in creating a better environment
  3. As a member of society
  4. Toward better understanding

As we head into the year 2020, the next growth areas are all-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Fuel cell vehicles generate electricity to power the motor, generally using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen, that emit only water and heat. Therefore, it is classified as a zero-emissions vehicles.

The Toyota Mirai was released in 2014, but development of the fuel cell vehicle (FCV) in Toyota actually was started in 1992. That might not be a big surprise to you, now that you know about the Earth Charter.

You can also read about my tour of the Georgetown (Kentucky) facility and their environmental initiatives back in 2013.

This leads to the ultimate question: Does a company using Lean (TPS) methods naturally become a company that also cares about their community and the environment?