EC 002: Introduction to W.A.S.T.E. Walks


For the 2nd episode, I am posting a video course I created recently, called W.A.S.T.E. Walks, to teach people how to use the “gemba walk” lean approach to identify opportunities to reduce environmental impacts of water, air emissions, solid waste, toxins, and energy. These event formats also do a good job of engaging employees in seeing the environmental waste in their work.

You can view the video version of this course for free by contacting us, so we can send you the free coupon code for the video course.

The following episodes will cover the full process for conducting a W.A.S.T.E. Walk, and go into details for events focused on water, solid waste and energy.

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I thought I would get started with the podcast by posting the video course, actually the audio from the video courses, that I just recently develop on the Udemy platform. The course is called “W.A.S.T.E. Walks” and the idea is to identify the different environmental impacts of your business, organization or community, and you can think of those as waste or: Water, Air emissions, Solids (solid waste), Toxins or Energy, and you pick one of those and basically do a gemba walk, and go and observe and look at the current state of what’s going on with that.

So in the training, we get a break down of the three more popular ones, the water walk, solid waste walks (that should be the dumpster dive), and the energy walk. So I’ll be posting those, along with some introductory topics, and a summary of the whole process we use, including the planning, going through the different walk processes, and then deciding as a team which ideas to pursue and getting engagement with everybody on that initiative.

So if you’re interested in helping your business or organization move forward with lean and affecting the environment, this is a great starting point and that was the whole intent of the course. So I’m going to post the next five podcasts around that topic, and really looking forward to any feedback you have, let me know if that works or not, if it is something you’re interested in pursuing.

If you actually go and perform a waste walk, I’d love to get the feedback and hear your suggestions for improvement. That’s the whole idea here, is to get people to take action on something that seems very easy to follow and do and engages a lot of people, get some interested because you can’t just have individual people going off and trying to make improvements, we need the whole broader audience and larger number of employees looking for these opportunities.

So really looking forward to your feedback and good luck with implementations afterwards.


Welcome to the WASTE Walks course. This course is the first training in a series of topics focused on improving the environment by using the proven methodologies of Lean and Six Sigma popularized by major corporations, such as Toyota and General Electric.

In this course, we will define a WASTE Walk, and discuss the 4 step Walk process

We will talk about 3 major types of waste walks, Water Walks to reduce water usage, Dumpster Dives to reduce solid waste and landfill charges, and Energy Walks to reduce energy usage.

We will discuss how to follow up after an event to reduce the number of ideas to a more manageable list, and we’ll recap what we learned.

Let’s jump right into it!

In the lean methodology, waste refers to any task or activity that is not valuable to your customer or audience

In our context, we use WASTE as an acronym for common environmental impacts that many businesses, organizations and communities should be trying to minimize.

  • W stands for Water, which is looking for areas where water is being wasted or could be reused for another purpose
  • A stands for Air emissions, or any pollution and gases that are expelled into the air that can cause harm to people and marine life, or increase the greenhouse effect causing climate change
  • S stands for solid waste, which are items that are consumed, and then thrown away into the landfill
  • T stands for toxins, which are hazardous waste, toxic chemicals and other pollutants that are dangerous for people and difficult to dispose of safely
  • E stands for energy, which is energy consumed, typically from natural gas and electricity, that also contributes to the greenhouse effect and climate change

These wastes not only impact the environment, but they have a financial impact, and they also have an impact on the employees and community from a safety and health perspective. Reducing these 5 impacts can make a business, organization or agency more sustainable.

The WASTE acronym provides an easy way to remember the opportunities you should try to seek out in a company or organization.

Credit: The WASTE acronym was provided by the Purdue Technical Assistance Program Green Manufacturing Specialist program at Green Manufacturing at Purdue TAP

Before we explain what a WASTE walk is, we need to first define a term that you might not be familiar with, gemba.

Gemba is a Japanese word that translates to “the real place”. This represents the place where the work happens and the value is created within the organization, such as an office, factory, in nature or within your home.

The idea is that any problem solving or decision making should be done at the gemba, involving the workers in that area, not done in an office or conference room. Only when the workers are part of the decision making and problem solving will true root causes and solutions be uncovered. In fact, problems and solutions become evident when seen in the context of the work area.

This also shows the worker that they are respected and knowledgeable (not just a pair of hands), and that their brains are also essential to the company’s success. It is disrespectful to make decisions about the work being done when you have not observed and interacted with those doing the work.

Yes, this does take a little longer to perform, however, the goal is to solve problems completely and thoroughly, not to solve them quickly but ineffectively.

A waste walk is a specialized version of a gemba walk or “go and see” activity

The intent is to use the “go and see” walk process to focus on one of the 5 WASTEs

After completing the walk, the observations and opportunities are collected and condensed into actionable tasks for the team to implement

The generic walk process involves 4 main steps:

  • Prepare
  • Event
  • Combine
  • Decide

During the prepare phase, we need to get organized before we conduct the event. We will fill out the Planning Worksheet, which requires a business case, scope, location of the event, schedule and key team members. It also requires approval from management to proceed.

Once approval is received, the event is conducted using the event process. The event process can vary depending on the type of environmental impact being investigated. This can take a couple hours or a couple days to complete the walk, depending on the size of the team and the size of the work area being reviewed.

After the walks are completed, the team transfers all their observations and ideas onto sticky notes. Similar ideas are combined together using an affinity diagram, so there is one master list of ideas.

Next, the impact of the idea and the cost and ease to implement it discussed with the team. The specific savings and costs will not be known at this time, so it will be an estimate at this stage.

The ideas are placed on the Impact-Ease Matrix based on how much of an impact it might have, and how easy it would be to implement the idea

After all the ideas are plotted, each team member is given 3-5 dots, and they are asked to “vote” on the ideas they think are best (a technique called multivoting), based on what they observed, their own experiences, and the impact-ease matrix. They can place all their dots onto one idea, or spread them over multiple ideas.

The 3 ideas with the most votes are selected for further investigation.

We will cover each of these 4 steps in more detail in the following videos.

But first, let’s talk about the event phase in a little more detail

Within the event phase, we will introduce specific events for 3 of the 5 WASTEs

  • Water Walk
  • Dumpster Dive
  • Energy Walk

There are many commonalities between the three focus areas, but each one has unique ways of conducting the event to get the most benefit, which we will cover in the next few modules.

Here are some of the common problems and complaints we often hear

  • You’re not sure how to get started with environmental improvements, so you don’t do anything
  • Maybe there are too many solutions and ideas to implement, so you don’t know where to begin or what to work on first
  • Many of the ideas and solutions are high cost, and require capital investment or manager approval, such as new equipment and lighting upgrades
  • Perhaps the opposite is true, and you are getting push back that all the easy improvements and “low hanging fruit” has already been identified and implemented, and there is nothing left to do
  • Others might push back and say that they can’t afford or don’t have approval to bring in outside experts to help identify the next level of opportunities
  • Many of the people who are looking for new ideas are often too close to the problem, and are not able to see all the possible opportunities.
  • It also seems like no one seems to care about the environment, and they don’t understand how their daily actions and decisions have an impact.

When you successfully apply the WASTE walk approach, here are some of the benefits you will experience:

  • You will have educated employees, who are now able to look for and identify opportunities every day, not just during the event
  • These employees will be more engaged in looking for improvements in their work, not just limited to environmental problems.
  • The walks will uncover opportunities that would not be found otherwise, using a fresh set of eyes, getting into the details of how the work is being done, and getting input and ideas from those who actually do the work
  • The walk does not require experts and much upfront cost, so it’s easy to get scheduled and conducted without major approvals and delays
  • At the end of the walk, you will have a condensed list of 3 improvements, not 20-50 ideas, and these 3 improvements will have a much higher chance of being implemented

In the next video, we will dig into the first event type, the Water Walk