Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

In this podcast, I re-read a recent post I made about the Earth Charter written by Toyota in 1992, which is their commitment to the environment. This is one of the early examples of corporate sustainability, and it happens to come from the company that brought us Lean, with their focus on “respect for people” and “respect for humanity.”

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In this podcast, I read off an article I wrote recently about Toyota and some of their environmental efforts. The article is called 1992 Earth Charter: Key to Driving Toyota’s Environmental Efforts. I published this on December 15, 2019 and it’s on the website if you want to check it out or link to it.

If you study Lean methods, you know that Toyota is the company that’s responsible for developing the infrastructure behind almost all of the methods, but what I found very interesting is that they’re also a leader in sustainability and corporate environmental leadership. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Over the last decade, most major companies published a corporate sustainability report to explain to stakeholders, such as 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 1982, Toyota was ahead of the game when they publish the Earth Charter document. I’ve got a link to that charter you can look at in the article.

The document was, “an effort to promote companywide environmental conservation activities.” The charter is a short page, so I would definitely encourage you to read the entire document. Here are some key quotes from the document that I found really interesting.

The first one was: “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.”

The second: “We at Toyota have prepared this Earth Charter as a framework for stepped-up efforts in the name of safeguarding the national environment.”

And three: “The time has come, however, for us at Toyota to redouble our commitment to safeguarding the environment.” They even mentioned the word global warming, and remember this is 1992, so I thought that was pretty progressive, 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.

Side note. You see companies that talk about going green or adding recycling and composting to their cafeterias and those are all great efforts, but at the end of the day, if their products and services aren’t top of mind and they’re talking about how they’re going to green those and make those more environmentally friendly or more socially responsible, then I think they’re missing the boat.

Toyota specifically focused on the following four areas within two major categories and that’s what’s called out in this Earth Charter. The first one is vehicles, which makes sense. They are trying to minimize the overall exhaust emissions, purge harmful substances from emissions, and develop vehicles that run on alternative energy sources. That probably comes as no surprise, given that what type of products they’ve put out in the last decade or two. And again, this is 1992, so we’re talking about coming on 30 years.

On the production side, they’re trying to minimize the generation of harmful substances and production processes. The first thing that comes to mind is the Prius. The Prius was developed and first made available to the public in 1995 at the Tokyo Motor Show and then it first rolled off the Japanese assembly lines in 1997 and then worldwide in 2007. You can see that 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 Earth Charter document is structured in the following way:

Basic Policy, which is in three categories: Comprehensive, preventive, and social contribution.

Section 2: Action guidelines, and they list out a few different ones:

Part A: Assign top priority to environmental concerns, both vehicles and production.

Part B: Conserve and recycle resources.

Part C: Corporate with suppliers and partners.

Part D: Implement programs worldwide.

Part E: Promote a broad perspective on environmental issues.

Part F: Support and participate in activities unrelated to automobiles.

Part G: Propagate a broad understanding of environmental issues.

And then the search third section, under organization, it basically focuses on the environmental committees that they’ll set up.

And then in April 2000, the Earth Charter was revised and modified into two main categories. The first one is, again, Basic Policy and they break it up into four sections:

1: Contribute towards a prosperous 21st century society

2: Pursue environmental technologies

3: Take action voluntarily

4: Work in cooperation with society.

And then the second section under there is Action Guidelines.

The first bullet under there: 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.

In the article, I’ve got a summary document that has Toyota’s guiding principles and then the April 2000 Earth Charter, the newer version.

As we head into the year 2020, the next growth areas are the 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 vehicle. The Toyota Mirai was released in 2014 but development of the fuel-cell vehicle in Toyota actually was started in 1992. That might not be a big surprise to you now that you know about their Earth Charter. You can also read about my tour of the Georgetown, Kentucky facility and their environmental initiatives back in 2013 and I’ve got a link to that article that I wrote.

This leads to the ultimate question: does a company using Lean or TPS, Toyota Production System, methods naturally become a company that also cares about their community and their environment? I’d like to think so, but I’d also like to hear some comments, so feel free to email me through the Lean Six Sigma for Good website or at website. Let me know what you think and, if you know other companies are using Lean and also a really good stewards of the environment and good about community, let me know.

The other piece I didn’t talk about here was really the work with TSSC, which is the Toyota production system support center which is the nonprofit arm that goes around and works with government agencies, suppliers, and nonprofit organizations. You can go view all of their social and community outreach work at That’s another great resource that’s a whole other discussion. This article was really kind of focused on the environmental piece.

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