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Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

EC 008: Using Go and See Events to Reduce Water, Energy and Landfill Costs

18 min read


For the 8th episode, I am posting the audio (and video of the slides) from a presentation I gave at the IISE Annual Conference last month.

The video showing the presentation with slides is shown in the transcript, if you want to see the slides with the audio of my presentation. Email me if you would like a copy of the slides in PDF format.

There is also embedded videos in the transcript, that I showed during the presentation. I highly recommend watching those videos about Energy Treasure Hunts below.

Relevant Links

Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) >>>

IISE Sustainable Development Division >>>

Article about Restore volunteer project >>>

Access our past podcast episodes >>>


I recently attended the Institute of Industrial Engineers conference in Anaheim at the end of May 2016. IISE is the name of the organization. It’s a good organization. I’m not an Industrial Engineer, but I got connected with them through their Sustainable Development division, which is a group of people who are looking to help Industrial and Systems Engineers, to see how they can provide solutions, and get more involved in sustainability activities at their work or in their community. So part of their initiatives that the Sustainability division works on, first of all is just education and awareness on how engineers can apply and think about sustainability in the work they do. The other thing we work is a volunteer project that takes place the day before the conference begins. This year, our volunteer effort was at the Habitat for Humanity, or the Restore, building, which is a used construction store. We brought about 20 volunteers, and broke up into two groups. One group was assigned the task of assembling furniture that was donated, and getting it out onto the sales floor, so they could be sold. The other group that I was involved with was unpacking some donated chinaware and silverware that came from an airline. It was kind of fun to try to setup efficient processes and flow with those tasks. That’s one activity they do, is every year try to setup this volunteer project and help the organizations, usually a nonprofit, run their processes more efficiently, using lean and industrial engineering techniques.

The third thing they are working on is trying to make the conference a little bit more green. I just noticed that next year’s conference in Pittsburgh is going to be held at a convention center that has LEED certification, so it looks like some of the effort has been paying off, and they are starting to consider those things when planning and setting up a conference. That’s a good program. I go to this conference usually once a year. I’ve been there the last four years, and I usually give a presentation.

This year my presentation was called, “Using Go and See Events to Reduce Water, Energy and Landfill Costs”

During the presentation, I played two videos. They were only a couple minute each. In the podcast, you’re not going to hear the videos themselves, so I’d encourage you to go to the website and look up the notes for this podcast. In there, you’ll see the links for the two videos. There is a third one that I did not play, that I also talk about in the presentation. The podcast takes about 30 minutes to listen to my presentation, but I’d encourage you to go and actually watch the videos that go along with that.

Transcript of video

First thing I wanted to start off with is, “How many of you have a green team or sustainability person at work currently?”

An earlier presentation from West Monroe gave a statistic of around 37%, that kind of shocked me, that only that many companies have a team or even a volunteer team, or dedicated resources to look at sustainability. Here is one way you can get started with that effort, that I think is pretty effective, which is a “Go and See” approach.

There are very effective ways of getting engagement with your employees, it’s simple and easy to get started. So you can get started as an individual, and just stay late one night and walk around and look at opportunities by yourself, all the way to the point where you get your whole company involved, and get other companies to help you out as well with an exchange. We’ll talk about that real briefly, but you can go very small and simple, all the way to very large and expansive. So we’ll go through a four step process. I kind of wrapped my head around how these type of events can work. The formats are very similar, it just depends on what you’re looking at and focusing on, for that environmental impact you’re trying to improve.

The standard Rockwell Collins “who are we” slide. We have about 20,000 employees now. We provide navigation and communication display equipment, so a lot of the stuff in the aircraft, communicating with other aircraft, or displaying information for the pilots, so there’s a lot of things that makes the flight safer. We’ve had a Lean Program since about 1997, so we were pretty early on in getting started with that. I think we should be further along, like a lot of companies, you think you should be further along after 20 some years (almost 20 years) of doing that, so we have opportunities. We have been able to adopt some of these practices into our sustainability efforts.

How many of you have heard of “Go and See” or “Gemba Walks” before?

That’s what I’m going to go through. There are other terms like treasure hunts or kaizen events or the “go and see” approach. Basically you are going to go to work, where the work is being done, and that’s where you make decisions and make observations and figure out what’s going on. Not in a conference room, not based on things you heard, but actually physically go to the areas and look at it.

For a waste “go and see,” we’re actually going to focus on a particular types of waste, and try to figure out what’s happening, and focus our observations around that specifically. That aligns really well with a lot of the lean activities that might be going on.  So if you’re company has a Lean program…

”How many have a Lean program or process improvement group?”

Probably more companies have that than a sustainability department. So you can build this into your existing structure and say “Hey, we’re going to focus our activities around this effort.”

Today, how we reduce environmental impacts:

First of all, people get frustrated with “I’m not sure where to get started, so where do I begin?”

There might be too many ideas or solutions out there, so you get caught up in “We have a lots of things to go do, but which ones do we start with?”

A lot of the solutions are high cost in capital investment, and that can derail a lot of efforts. The team says “Hey, this could be great” and management says “No, we’re not going to spend money on that”, and the team just falls apart and they go back to work. We don’t want to have that either.

I’ve heard comments like “We’ve tried and done everything we can now, and the only thing left to do is major renovations and upgrades.” We’ll talk about how that can help get us out of that mindset.

Or we say “Now we need to bring in experts”

“Well, we don’t have a budget or funding to go do that,” so that’s out of the question.

The workers and employees, maybe aren’t able to see the opportunities, because they live too close to what’s going on. One example is we came in on odd hours, and all of a sudden the employees were hearing the air leaks, and the air leaks were on all the time, but when things are running in the factory they can’t hear it, or they gotten so used to the sound that it is just in the background noise now.

Then you get a chance to, and someone else comes in and says, “I hear all kinds of leaks hear” and they’re like “Oh yeah, that’s true, I’ve kind of just blocked those out over the years.”

Sometimes they are just too close to the opportunities. It’s good to have outside eyes come in. Sometimes there is this perception that no one really cares, or that they are not paying attention, they don’t really care about the environment, so what’s the point.

I got this [WASTE] acronym out of a class I took at Purdue [University], and I think it’s a good way to think about where would I start focusing my efforts at my company. So you look at water. You look at air emissions (things you have permitting related to). You could have solid waste or trash. You can have toxins or hazardous materials, or energy reduction. So it fits in nicely with the Lean concept of WASTE.

“If you think about, currently, where would you guys think your opportunity is at your company, of those five areas, which one is the biggest opportunity?” [Energy, Water, Toxins]

Those are just those five areas, there are other things that are included that go beyond that, but these are five easy ones to remember, and pretty big categories.

Best place to start. Where would we begin with this effort? We’re going to dig into that.

Once you decide what your WASTE area you are going to pick, then this is the process that we’re going to walk through. Basically, we are going to prepare for that activity, then we are actually going to conduct the activity, then we are going to combine our ideas together, and then somehow decide on which three or very few ideas we’re going to go off and pursue. We’re going to break that down here.

First is preparing for the event. We’ll have basically a planning worksheet that we’re going to put together, and most of you are probably familiar with some kind of charter form or some document that says “why are we working on this, of all the things that we could be working on?”

  • What’s the business case?
  • What area are we going to focus on?
  • Is there a scope around it?
  • Who should be involved?
  • What kind of schedule do we have?

That’s kind of wrapped up in a document of some sort, we call it a planning worksheet. Basically, you’re filling it out. You identify the different items, list out the names of people, the scope, why you’re doing it, timeframe, and then you have some kind of approval that says “we are ready to go, we have the right people, we have it laid out, we have a plan, now let’s authorize it, and let’s go execute it!” And that’s pretty standard, nothing “earth shattering” on that.

Then we actually get into the event, we look at it at from different perspectives and different times. When you normally think about process improvement and lean, you’re going to see the work when it’s being done, and this is a little different because sometimes we have to go where the work isn’t being done, or at times when the work is not being done, because that’s where the opportunities are at. That’s when you see that the lights are left on, that’s when you see there are leaks, or that the machines are running still and no one is working, or things aren’t being handled properly, or they are being left out overnight. Those are where some of the observations are made.

Usually we’ll start with an off-shift observation period. Those usually start on the weekends, we’ll pick like a Saturday afternoon, when we expect not many people, or hardly anyone would be there, and you start making observations at that point.

Then you look at the start of the shift, as people come into work, what are their activities that they do that align with that. Do they turn on their equipment right away or do they wait until when they actually need the equipment? And then the actual working time, how is the energy being used, how are the items being thrown away or recycled? And how’s that happening during the work hours? That’s the typical observation time, but that’s just one of three or four different times we’ll do the observations. Then the shut down or transfer of shifts, so as people are leaving their work for the day, what happens? Is that when they take everything out to the recycle bin, or is it when they power down equipment, or they leave it up, assuming the next person’s going to use it? Those are the observations you’re trying to make.

You break up into smaller groups and go and focus on a certain area, depending on the size and scope of the effort. If you have a whole large facility, you’ll have quite a few little teams going off, or maybe they’ll all go into one certain section. You have a mix of people who have knowledge of the area, and other people who have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever, so we can get those “fresh eyes” perspectives. You want different levels of management and employees, so individual employees who work in the area, all the way up to as high of level of management as you can get, so they can kind of see with their own eyes what’s going on.

I got a couple videos I want to show you. GE did a good job of doing treasure hunts for energy savings. These will be a couple videos that they’ve covered.

The third approach, they call this the “Better Buildings Challenge” or Swap. Basically what they did is, they had Whole Foods and Hilton, each took a team to the other’s facility and the other team couldn’t help them at all, they couldn’t be involved. There’s like a three or four part episode that goes along with this that’s pretty good. I won’t go through it today, but it might be something you want to check out. They got to a point where they said “Alright, I think we found all the opportunities internal, now let’s let other people come in and take a look at it.” You can tell they are kind of nervous about bringing other people in, but they all found new opportunities, because maybe that company had gone down a path of recovered heat, and this other company had gone down the path of LEDs, and they each could bring that knowledge to the other company. It’s kind of like the next level of “go and see”, actually exchanging with other companies. So if you have a partner company that you work with, this would be a great idea to get you both started in the right direction.

Rockwell Collins about 5 or 6 years ago, we started to incorporate this “go and see” approach, and we did 7 or 8 of these events in Cedar Rapids [headquarters], and some of the main culprits (like I mentioned) were like:

  • Air leaks
  • Compressed air issues, where we were using two sets of compressed airs [tanks] and we probably could get have gotten away with one, if we had addressed some of those issues.
  • Or there’d be leaks in the pipes or in the tubing
  • General equipment left on. We have a lot of test equipment and those would just be left up and running.
  • Fans on
  • Lights on (of course)
  • Ovens
  • A lot of manufacturing equipment that are left on for various reasons. Some seem legit, others are just, there’s really no expectations around what should be left on or not.

Some were fairly easy opportunities.  In the site I’m at now, the day after Christmas, we actually had three people who were willing to come in and do a little tour of the site. It wasn’t a full event, like I was hoping, but I kept pushing for it. I couldn’t really get a lot of people excited about it, but I found three people. We all got together and did it.

That’s step one, and it started because I stayed late a couple of times and I saw there was opportunity here, and this is what I saw, “Are you willing to come out and take a look at it too, with me?” And let’s write it up formally and see what happens, right after a holiday. We saw occupancy sensors were in place, but weren’t working. There was a section of lights that were on, even though there was occupancy sensors. It was basically broke, and you’d never know that unless you’re looking for that specifically. A lot of personal fridges and heaters in the cubicles, those aren’t technically allowed. They have to go get approval for those, and those weren’t approved, so some people were probably upset the next day. They got a notice that they have to go through proper channels.

Tons of light fixtures, as we started going around, and actually counting up light fixtures, it was massive. In fact, that’s the path we’re going down now is looking at lighting, because it’s so many fixtures, and so much lighting. Kind of like the bathroom example on that video, we are the most well-lit facility you’ll be in, and it’s clearly excessive from a form of WASTE.

Some areas did a lot better than we expected. There’s a couple of labs, where everything was shut off and powered down and we were like “that was awesome!” and “that is exactly what we want everyone to be doing.”

But it’s just hit or miss, so you can observe good and bad behaviors from that [go and see event].

The third section there, we are trying to find ideas and opportunities and get them all on the page, so as you are walking around and are making notes, and then you get back together and come up with these ideas.

Have you seen this WASTE pyramid before? Kind of the areas you want to start at, first step, number one is REFUSE anything, and then all the way down to, so here’s recycling down towards the bottom. A lot of people think “Well, I’m recycling, I’m doing a lot of good stuff” but you need to start way up at the top here.

What’s an example of refuse? In terms of drinking coffee?

Bring your own cup everywhere you go, that’s an example of refuse. I’m refusing to get a new paper cup. How about reducing: What would be an example of reducing your coffee cup usage? Let’s say if don’t bring your own cup, you’re getting one or it is provided. So you can say “I’m going to use this paper cup for the rest of the day” or “I’m going to not go as frequently, I’m only going to go once instead of twice. So that’s reduce, how about reuse? Actually they’re kind of interchangeable. Reduce is actually cutting down frequency, and reuse is “I’m going to reuse that cup a couple of times before I dispose of it.”

And then recycling would be? The cardboard sleeve I can recycle. Can I recycle the cup, does anyone know? It’s got plastic in it apparently, so you can’t actually recycle the coffee cup. A couple places are trying to experiment, like Seattle Airport, but most of the places you cannot recycle a coffee cup, so that’s not even an option. And what’s recover? On a coffee cup example, can you burn it, incinerate it, and use the energy that went into making it, and re-extract that back out and use it for heating or something like that?

[Art project], that might be the reuse or downcycling I guess they call it.  Dispose should be the last option, right? That it goes to the landfill.

Is there a way to refuse, and go through those list of solutions you come up with? Usually it’s a brainstorming activity, a lot of you have been through something like that, where you got different post-it notes, and you try to group those into like items, and everyone has similar ideas, so you put those together, and you just trying to get good themes and categories for your ideas.

Then the last step is try to prioritize these somehow. There’s lots of different ways to do this. This is a just a real simple way of impact vs ease of implementation, and you’re trying to find the area of the items that are up in the upper section here. This one will be around saving energy, so 7 and 8 look like “turn off the ovens at the end of the cycle,” and “install occupancy sensors in offices and conference rooms.”

Those have a great impact and are probably fairly easy to implement, and some people can also add a cost element to that as well. Then you can also apply some kind of voting system, like multi-voting with dots. That’s a pretty common approach where everybody gets 3 dots or 7 dots, you get to put your dots on the items you think are most important. The previous matrix maybe more technical, but this one incorporates a lot of different things into that consideration, it allows people to be part of that decision making criteria, and maybe they came out to the same conclusion, but just getting people’s buy-in on the solution that “Hey, I voted for that and I’m supporting that.”

Then maybe two or three items can go forward. The problem I’ve seen in some of those [go and see events] is that we come up with a hundred actions, and then it’s just a huge list, and they try to work through 10 or 20 of these actions, and it’s just too much. Just keep it to two or three actions only. Everything else can get documented and stored and come back to it later. Focus everything around just a couple of things, and make sure those get actually done or pursued.

These are the three areas that you can do, like a water walk looking for water, so you would follow through the pipes in the building, look for leaks, look for where things are being diverted, what happens, go to the machines that are using the water, is it being used efficiently. We talked about the energy walk here. Another one would be called the dumpster dive or a waste audit, so you’re actually going and looking at where the solid waste is being generated, but also go through and actually dissect out, and get data on what is in the trash:

  • Is it recyclables that aren’t being put in there properly?
  • Where is the source of all this packing material? It’s coming from that pretty frequent supplier, can we work with them on reusable containers or something to cut the packaging material down?

In our business, that’s a huge amount of labor too, of unpackaging product, and we want to protect it, but if we are spending ten minutes for every part coming in, that’s huge dollars of labor that’s tied up in packaging, and it’s not only the trash getting generated, but it’s the labor involved, so that’s a big opportunity we’re looking at right now.

In the future, with these types of events, you can educate your employees, so they can start to see those opportunities every day. Just like lean, once they can start to see the waste, all of a sudden, it’s like “Hey, why is that on?” and they can start educating their co-workers and employees. You’re engaging them in the improvement efforts. You’re finding some “low-hanging fruit” opportunities that maybe are overlooked or wouldn’t be caught through other means. You don’t really need an expert, or huge upfront cost to get at some of these improvements. You want to keep a reduced list of improvements down, so they actually get implemented.

That’s kind of a recap here. A very effective approach that you can use, and you can start with yourself, then you get to a small group, then you do maybe this formal event, and then you can do something company wide, and then between companies at the end. You can scale it to wherever your company’s maturity level is at the point. For us at some sites, we were able to go right to formal events, and the site I’m at, had to start basically at individual and smaller events and groups. Then there’s a four step process you can follow, or there might be an existing process you already have, that fits into that nicely.

From there, I heard energy and water activities. Are there any concerns or questions how you could actually get started with that at your company?

Note: The rest of the podcast is the Q&A section, which I did not transcribe.


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