Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

The best way to convince your management to embrace sustainability is to show the success of others, especially competitors and customers who are doing the right thing. Pamela Gordon has compiled success stories from 20 international organizations in her book, Lean and Green: Profit For Your Workplace and the Environment.

The companies highlighted in the book include: Agilent (HP), Apple, British Aerospace, Compaq, IBM, Intel, Kyocera, NEC, Phillips, City of Santa Monica, Sony, Texas Instruments, and many more.

The book clearly “dispels the myth that a business or organization has to choose between making a profit and protecting the environment”. It provides suggestions on how to present environmental problems and opportunities in ways that business-minded employees understand, in order to get positive results and interest. Ideas are provided from the perspective of an employee, manager, top leader and outside observer, so this book is geared to everyone. At the end of each chapter, you’ll be given actions and questions to consider to implement the ideas discussed.

IBM even states that their environmental leadership has led to savings that “have offset the expenses by approximately two to one”. One company saved $6 million in savings by switching to reusable shipping boxes.

Lean and Green has three main sections. I will provide a quick summary of each section and chapter, to give you an idea of what is covered. Hopefully, you’ll find these topics useful, and will obtain a copy of the book to read yourself.

Part I – The Four Steps for Creating a Lean and Green Organization

  • Question Wasteful Practices – one creative idea at your company can make more difference than a lifetime of your environmental efforts at home.
  • Gain Lean and Green Endorsement Using Business Language – If you cannot speak the language of your company, you will not be able to get management interested.
  • Collaborate to Achieve Lean and Green Goals – Encourage employees to come up with environmental ideas, since they know where the opportunity exists. It’s better to have all your employees act as “environmental managers” then just a single department coming up with ideas. Recognize employees with the best ideas and help them implement it. Top-down and bottoms-up deployment is the best approach.
  • Track Progress for Environment and Profit – Track metrics to stay on track and validate improvements to leadership, and have them involved in auditing, to show the importance to all employees.

Part II – Real-Life Examples of Putting Lean and Green into Practice

  • Make a Commitment to Being Lean and Green – Set high goals, like Zero Waste, since waste is the enemy of product profitability. Establish an environmental policy.
  • Setup an Environmental Management System – ISO-14000 can provide a solid foundation to help you achieve your goals.
  • Meet and Exceed Customers’ Expectations for Environmental Practices – Customers are getting more interested in your environmental initiatives, so get ahead of them. This can also give you a competitive advantage over your competitors.
  • Translate Green Practices into Revenues – Green products often save customers money. It doesn’t have to be a choice between Lean or Green, usually they go hand-in-hand. Many businesses are profitable despite the higher costs of their green products. Selling their waste and recycling can also bring in profits.
  • Design Resource Savings into Products and Processes – The earlier you can get started in the process, the bigger impact you’ll have. Consider Design for the Environment (DfE) methods. Eliminating chemicals is not as difficult as it seems. Help the customer see the long term costs of your products, not just the initial cost (which is a small % of the total cost).
  • Reduce: The Best Strategy in the RRR (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Trilogy – Tips for reducing water, gas, electricity, packaging, paper, chemicals, lead, fossil fuels (including employee commuting)
  • Reuse: The Second Best Strategy in the RRR Trilogy – Tips for reusing packaging, chemicals, oil, plastic, and water.
  • Recycle: The Third Best Strategy in the RRR Trilogy – Tips for recycling solid waste, scrap, chemicals, lead, water, paper, glass, plastic, packaging materials, food waste. Offer product take backs to interact and communicate with customers. Change trash containers to say “LANDFILL” to send a message to employees.
  • Persuade Business Partners to be Lean and Green Allies – Evaluate suppliers and waste-disposal services, and suppliers of suppliers.
  • Make Your Buildings More Energy- and Cost-Efficient – Tips for saving energy and water and improving air quality in a building.

Part III – How to Make the Most Difference – the most important and quickest steps organizations can take to achieve the Lean and Green promise through leadership education and culture change.

  • How to Become an Environmental Leader in Your Organization – You need to take a leadership role in your company, even if you aren’t in a leadership position. Help your leaders create a vision and communicate it to employees, then listen to their ideas and help them implement them.
  • Work with Your Organizational Culture to Support Change – Adapt your plans to your culture and geographic regions, similar to your quality initiatives.
  • Be an Environmental Activist Using Tactics That Benefit Business – Start simple and gain success, which will drive momentum in the company, even if leadership isn’t fully on-board. Find common goals with employees (protect earth, love of outdoors, health issues with pollution, etc).
  • The Fastest Route to Lean and Green – Final words of wisdom from Lean and Green champions.

Lean and Green

Even though the book was published in 2001, the case studies are completely relevant today, and you’ll find the examples motivating and helpful for convincing your company to continue moving forward.¬†Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

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