Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

EC 010: Interview on e6s Methods Podcast about Lean Six Sigma and the Environment

49 min read
earth consultants lean six sigma green environment


For the next podcast, I wanted to play an interview I had with Aaron and Jacob. They run the e6s Methods podcast. We recorded one back in 2015, just a year ago. That was going over Lean Six Sigma and the Environment. It ended up being two different podcasts, so I’m going to combine them together, and play that for you now.

I definitely encourage you to check out the e6s Methods podcast. You can find that at Their podcast is really good. It’s really good for learning about Lean and Six Sigma, and going over some of the tools that you might have been trained on, but maybe you haven’t had a lot of support or reinforcement of those tools, so they go through and talk on different topics and tools and give their best practices and tips from their years of experience with that. So it’s really valuable as a refresher, or if you’re learning some of the new tools. They’re considered “a source for expert training, consulting, and leadership in business performance and continuous improvement methods, like Lean and Six Sigma

I met Aaron at the Engineering Lean Six Sigma Conference in Atlanta in 2015. We were both speaking at that conference. It was put on by the Institute for Industrial and Systems Engineers, which is IISE. We hit it off pretty well, so he asked me to come talk on his podcast about some of the things I’ve been working on with Lean Six Sigma and the Environment.

So check out this longer podcast from the interview we had. Hope you enjoy!

Relevant Links

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Actual interviews on e6s-Methods podcast: Episode #92 | Episode #93


­Brion (B): For the next podcast, I wanted to play an interview I had with Aaron and Jacob. They run the E6S Methods podcast. We recorded one back in 2015, just a year ago, and that was going over Lean Six Sigma in the environment and it ended up being two different podcasts, so I’m going to combine them together and play that for you now. But I definitely encourage you to check out the E6S Methods podcasts, and you can find that at or you can look for it on iTunes and I think Stitcher has a link there as well.

Their podcast is really good for learning about Lean and Six Sigma and going over some of the tools that you might have been trained on but maybe you haven’t had a lot of support or reinforcement of those tools. They go through and talk on different topics and tools and give their best practices and tips from their years of experience with that, so it’s really valuable as a refresher or if you’re learning some of the new tools. And so they’re considered a source for expert training, consulting, and leadership in business performance and continuous improvement methods, such as Lean and Six Sigma.

I met Aaron at The Engineering Lean Six Sigma Conference in Atlanta in 2015. We were both speaking at that conference. It was put on by the Institute for Industrial and Systems Engineers, which is IISE, and we hit it off pretty well and so he asked me to come talk on his podcast about some of the things I’ve been working on with Lean Six Sigma and the environment. So check out this longer podcast from the interview we had and hope you enjoy.

Welcome to the E6S Methods podcast with Jacob and Aaron, brought to you by E6S Industries, your source for expert training, consulting, and leadership in business performance and continuous improvement methods, like Lean and Six Sigma. In this episode, 92, we speak with Lean Six Sigma practitioner and speaker Brion Hurley, who offers insights into the Lean Six Sigma applications in sustainability and environmental programs. Check out Brion’s work at Here we go.

Aaron (A): Hey, Jacob. How are you?

Jacob (J): I’m doing great, Aaron. How are you doing?

A: Jacob, I am doing great. Jacob, this is a very special episode. We have our first listener submission and we have our first guest that we’re jointly interviewing. His name is Brion Hurley. Brion Hurley, welcome to the show.

B: Thanks for having me.

A: Brion submitted his idea. Brion is going to be a presenter at the Engineering Lean Six Sigma Conference for 2015. That’s coming up in a couple of weeks, September or October 1 or 2?

B: Yeah, I’m on the second I think.

A: You’re on the second and that’s going on in Atlanta, Georgia, so if anybody is in and around that time, be sure to check out Brion’s topic. Brion, you’re going to be talking about Lean Six Sigma tools specifically used for the environment, right?

B: Right. The topic I’m covering is how sustainability or environmental sustainability fits into your Lean Six Sigma program.

A: All right. So before we get into that, how about you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

B: Sure. I started and went through college at the University of Iowa. I got a statistics Bachelor’s degree, and then I continued and got a Master’s in quality management, and then I landed into a manufacturing support role with Rockwell Collins, which is an aerospace company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. My background was statistics, so they needed someone to backfill a position there and then, over the years, I just always had a support role where I was doing a lot of training. We had a Lean program at the time that had just started, maybe a year before I started there, and I started learning some of the Lean concepts; I already had a Six Sigma background. Basically, what I’ve been doing over the last, I’ve been there 16 years now, so the last few years, I’ve been trying to integrate our Six Sigma initiative with our Lean program and trying to have a nice blended approach, so I was teaching myself and learning how the Lean side worked and then trying to bring in the Six Sigma piece.

A: That’s interesting because, usually, people who come into this program or the Lean Six Sigma, I think, often come from engineering and start off in manufacturing. What brought you from statistics to try to go into industry?

B: In school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or how statistics would be helpful, so I feel like I landed into that. I always liked the applied side of it, I disliked the academic part of it, and so I was definitely looking for a way to utilize it in a real-world setting. The Master’s program I went through had a combination of industrial engineering, business management, and statistics, so it set it up as this support for businesses. Basically, a Six Sigma program without calling it that. This was still late 90s, so it was still a pretty new concept. And so as I got in there, I realized where my skill set could fit in and then just continually tried to build up the employees to know what to do, some of the real basic stuff, not even Green Belt level really, just mean standard deviations, histograms, and control charts, and started to get into a little bit of capability, but starting really at the basics.

A: Right, and even though looking at it now, and especially as a statistician, you do look at that as the basics, but in some parts of manufacturing especially, or actually any business, those are kind of…

J: Pretty advanced.

A: Yeah. They’re cutting-edge. To look at anything other than average for any metric is pretty advanced.

B: Yeah, that’s a good point.

J: I would add, I think, Brion is in the aerospace industry, which might be a little bit more sophisticated than any average manufacturing environment, but absolutely spot on there, Aaron.

B: That was my thought, too, was the aerospace would be more advanced, but when you get into there, it’s still the basic problems of not having the right data, not knowing what to do with that data, or that there’s tools out there that they can look at it differently, or understand how to break down the variation. Some of that stuff was not… Like you would go, maybe, into an automotive industry and that would be common knowledge, but at least I found that that was not a well-known thing.

A: I think you’re right. I came up through Pratt & Whitney, a different type of aerospace, but the tenure of the employee was 30+ years and not a whole lot had changed, when I got there, from 30 years ago. So it really was really working on a lot of legacy mindset and a very aged union environment and engineering environment and a lot of the engineers had come up through the ranks, so they hadn’t actually had the training and background that you probably came with as well. Did you find that to be sort of similar?

B: A lot of the discussions were around, “Yeah, I took that statistics class in college, but I haven’t had a chance to use it since then,” or it’s been 10, 20, 30 years since I took the class, so very rusty and just a base knowledge there. I felt like a lot of the training was Statistics 101 refresher for a lot of the engineering team.

A: Did you have the opportunity to dip your toe in in industry before you finished your Master’s or was it going all the way to the end and, “Okay, I hope you like it”?

B: Pretty much, yeah. I did not have an internship, I didn’t have any working experience utilizing it, so that’s where I struggled a little bit with trying to get into the job market of how am I marketing myself. Luckily, they had already had a statistician on staff before, so they were replacing that person and so it was a lot easier fit. But if I had to look back and do it over, I would definitely have gone into industry and done some internships or co-ops or something like that so that the education and the classes I’m going through make a little bit more sense and there’s a little bit more motivating if you can see how it’s going to apply versus the textbook examples. So that took me a little while to get used to it. Probably the first year, I struggled just trying to figure out how general business things work and where I fit in.

A: Are you still in Iowa now?

B: No, I’ve moved around a couple of different locations. I started in Iowa for about five years, then I went down to a facility in Florida, near Cocoa Beach, for six years, went back to Iowa, and now I’m in Portland. Actually, it’s Wilsonville, just outside of Portland, but I’ve been out here about two years now at one of the other locations.

A: I think you’ve touched just about every climate in our nation here then.

B: Yeah, I’ve gotten a good variety definitely.

A: All right, so let’s get into, really, why you want to talk about this. You’ve got all the stats, you’ve got all the industry. What made you want to go environment?

B: When I met my wife, she had a really strong background on it and I had a lot of questions for her and I started to learn a lot more things than I expected about some of the problems we have right now. It was, I would say, heading a little bit in that direction but not nearly as much as I am now. And then I started to look at what are those issues that are going on and, immediately, I honed in on, wow, this is a perfect alignment with the Lean and Six Sigma skill set I already have. Blending the two would be very easy to do. So then just started to add a bunch of education. I did a lot of research on my own and then started to take some more formal classes. Actually went back to Iowa to get a Certificate of Sustainability, and that was like a two or three-year program. It was like a minor and so I would do that, like a class or two at a time, just while I was working, so that was a little bit more formal education that I got into.

A: And in the education portion itself, did they make that link or did you make the link together between your skills? how did that lightbulb go off in your head to say, wow, this really links up well?

B: I think it was just the initial looking at data and, obviously, you gravitate towards that with a Six Sigma background. So looking at that information and trying to figure out, yeah, you can do a lot of different things with this. So, no, it wasn’t really brought out that there’s business approaches that work and that they can be used to help with that. They would mention stuff like ISO-9000, but it was like 5, 10 seconds of content on that, and then they were talking more about solutions and more of the technical how does the earth operate and going back to like fifth-grade science class.

A: Earth science, yeah.

B: Yes, basically. So that was really helpful because a lot of that you forget, but in terms of a process to deal with a problem at a business where they have some environmental waste, how to methodically go through that and solve that problem and not just jump to a, “Here’s a list of five different things you can just do to try to improve that,” what process can we have people walk through so they all arrive at that same solution?

A: Okay. So I guess sometimes when I hear sustainability, I think sustainability on the business side, which is also a lot of more regulatory now and also gets into social responsibility. Was there an overlap there or do you treat environmental sustainability and, call it, social sustainability differently?

B: No, it’s all under the same umbrella. I guess the popular term is the triple bottom line. So you have this idea that the most successful businesses will last the longest if they balance out not only their profits but also what impact they have on the planet and then how they treat their people. I think traditional businesses that you go for the lowest cost and try to cut money and make the most profits as you can, but if you aren’t looking at those other two areas, then your business is at risk, whether you’re going to be more vulnerable to changes in the environment, to price increases, to regulatory things that come down the line. The businesses that balance out those three areas the best will be in the best shape to survive in the long term. So that’s the overall sustainability term, it’s this long-term success, but it is broken up into those three pieces and the two pieces of people and planet, often, are the ones that get left behind.

A: Right. So there’s a bit of a segue into the projects you’ve worked on because I’ll say some of the challenges I’ve had in even trying to get some of these environmental related projects going has been pretty difficult because, generally, as far as the bottom line financial benefits, they don’t really rise to the top. So what have you worked on and what challenges have you had with the financial benefits or was it necessary?

B: That’s a good point because when you start looking at how much water or how much electricity does this one machine produce, it’s sometimes pennies and you’re dealing with a yield problem or you’ve got tens of thousands of dollars in material going through that process, it does get dwarfed and overlooked in the big picture. It’s helpful to take a step back and look at the aggregate at the facility level and say, yeah, individually, at these of each processes, when you look at it by item, it’s not a big number, but when you look at the total utility costs, there is some significant cost there. That’s the best way to start is just look at where their most spend is – is it in their electricity? Is it in their waste hauling? Maybe there’s some hazardous material or chemicals and permitting that goes on. Wherever there’s a financial impact, that’s probably the best place to start because you’ll get that support naturally.

So that was one of the places I started with the electricity reduction project was basically looked at the Pareto of where the electricity dollars were spent and it pointed to one huge facility at our headquarters. That was easy to make a business case when you have millions of dollars a year in electricity, that, hey, maybe there’s some opportunity here we could save a few dollars. So that one was fairly easy to get some support around. I think they were just looking for someone to take the lead. It’s not something you get assigned to, you’ve got to raise your hand and say, “I think there’s opportunity and I know how I can methodically go through this and solve it without having a solution mind.” And so that’s basically what I did and I put together a charter and got buy off on management and got a few people to help out and we were able to make about $300,000 in savings through a setback program on our air handler system.

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A: If I heard you right, you weren’t responsible for this, nobody was asking for anything, and you just stuck your neck out and said, “Hey, I’d like to take this on. Can I have some time and some resources to do this”?

B: Yeah, pretty much. Now, they had set aside some money. The company was working on a carbon reduction initiative, so I linked into that and said this is one way we can make a dent in that. After we got that launched, I needed some help from the maintenance crew and we did have an energy manager. Actually, no, that was later. Initially, we did not have anyone assigned to it. Later on, they ended up making a position to look at that. I think they realized that there’s enough there to continue that effort and there’s enough cost there that someone should be managing that and working on some projects, so they did end up setting a position after that.

But I just went to the ES and H department. I think they’re a good ally for a lot of businesses with tying in Lean with your Environment, Safety, Health and your Facility group. I think that’s one key point is to try to get your Facilities, your Environment, Safety, and Health, and your Lean teams together and start talking about how you can work together on providing a methodology to help them with their… Usually, at least what I’ve been familiar with, is Facilities has the electricity and the utility costs, and then Environment, Safety, and Health might have some safety things, which fits into that social piece. They’ve got the hazardous chemicals, usually, and some of the waste falls under their bucket, like the solid waste and landfill stuff.

A: And the recycling of coolant and all that, cutting fluids.

B: Yeah, air emissions go through, usually, ES and H and a permit of some sort. So I think if you’re at a company and you’ve got those groups and you’re not working together and you’re not pulling them into events that you have or you’re not helping them with their own events, I think that would be a great place to start just to get the alignment right there because those three groups can really do a lot of good work on the sustainability side of it.

A: Yeah, and a big company like that, at least Pratt & Whitney, they didn’t require a lot of business case development for a program like that. It was justified because, from top-down, they said, “Actually, it was justified because, hey, a few years ago, we got cited by the EPA and we really need to have this really, really strong program, so whatever you guys can do to make this better, you’ve got our full backing.” Was it similar there or is it more proactive?

B: I think it was a little more proactive. I don’t like there was anything, any pressure like that coming down, at least at this facility. But yeah, definitely that’s a lot of motivation for some companies is that they’ve got that fine or they’ve got the potential for that fine or a lot of pressure and going through a Lean and Six Sigma methodology and running an event really looks favorable, especially if you come out with really strong results on it.

J: I was just going to ask, the one challenge – Aaron and I both came from a chemical manufacturing world, that’s how we met each other – but in our world, if I recollect right, Aaron, there were definitely areas with the EHS team with our corporate quality assurance team who was basically trying to make sure our certifications of all the different ISO levels that we had, there were all the opportunities for these, but I never once, ever, saw anybody bring the conversation up we need to definitely tackle or find something to improve our environmental or our overall energy efficiency. I think they might have come, but there was not necessarily an avenue for somebody to prioritize it and make it a key or initiative or a program. So my question was going to be, besides you, Brion, was there anybody else who was actively interested or actively supporting this cause, in the senior leadership team or somewhere in the organization, that brought them to rally behind you or your thoughts or was it just a normal progression?

B: I wouldn’t say the senior leadership. The company has a corporate responsibility report they publish every year. They have initiatives going on, they have got some LEED-certified buildings. I think they do a lot of good stuff, but it was really the champion was somebody in the ES and H department. She was a manager and she was responsible for publishing the corporate report that goes out. It’s a carbon disclosure project, which a lot of companies sign up and say, “This is our carbon footprint and this is what we’re going to do to improve on it.” It’s an international thing that gets published and then if you don’t meet those goals, there’s a lot of pressure to understand why didn’t you do that and a lot of customers are driving other companies to do that. It’s a voluntary effort. So that was really the biggest motivator behind that is we signed up for a 15% goal to reduce our carbon and this was one of the projects that I could link into and say this is one of the things we can do to help reduce that. So that got support, but there wasn’t necessarily an executive or senior leader that was saying we need to cut our energy down or we need to reduce our chemical usage or reduce the amount of money we’re spending on a permits or wastewater treatment or anything like that.

A: Jacob, you did a wastewater treatment project once, right?

J: Yes, or attempted.

A: Sort of, okay.

J: Yeah. I think the motivation behind that was, again, not necessarily environmental conscious, it was more of the cost-conscious where we wanted to find easier… Our wastewater treatment was backing significantly every so often and we were just not able to handle the volume of production to make that more efficient and make that more smooth was the main motivation behind it. And then amount of time being spent in that process, how to find ways to make it more efficient was the driving motivation factor behind that.

A: So it was affecting capacity, really, operations?

J: Yes, that was the driver.

B: That’s a good point. If you were to start off and you’re at a company and you don’t really have even a Lean or Six Sigma program, there’s a lot of benefits you’re going to get just by applying those concepts to the environment just by default. Every form of waste comes with it, some environmental impact as well. If you’ve got Inventory, you’ve got to store that somewhere and you’ve got to buy shelves and you have to heat and cool that area and you’ve got to keep it packaged up so it doesn’t corrode or wear out or get damaged. And so if you can cut down your inventory and you can reduce defects and you can reduce overprocessing so you don’t have as much overtime and people aren’t staying late and leaving lights on and heating and cooling, each of those wastes comes with some environmental impact. So if you can do nothing but just Lean out your processes and make it more efficient, you’re going to, by default, without even trying, get some environmental gains right there. So that’s another benefit.

We just got done with a Lean event here where we relaid out the area and one of the benefits that we weren’t intending to get was we got rid of a bunch of carts that we move our product around on. Because it was cluttered and there was really not a lot of organization around it, so we made parking spots for each of the carts and then when we got done, we were 20, 30 carts fewer than we needed. They were going to have to replace those for ESP purposes, but now, the order just got dropped by 20 or 30 carts because we don’t need them anymore because we Leaned out the process and, by default, we just saved on a bunch of material and like $10,000 worth of spend on those carts. So that’s the nice thing, too, is you don’t really have to be focused on the environment; you’re still going to help out just by doing good Lean and Six Sigma projects.

J: I was probably going to add to that. I think the point which, Brion, you’re making is people might just not be recognizing that they’re doing things to make it more effective or make it more social and environmental conscious. It’s just maybe taking that extra step back and evaluating it. I completely agree, Aaron, until you pointed out that we did a wastewater treatment plant project, I would have never thought about it because I did not associate that with an environmentally conscious sort of an effort, but I’m sure, now that I think about it, I could probably quantify what improvements we made out of it.

B: A lot of companies just aren’t capturing that benefit, so they’re already doing great stuff, they’re just not showing that there is again there.

J: Yeah, they’re not associating it with that particular reason. I think it comes down to the fact that the motivation behind doing some of this is a different reason and, as a result, they’re just not looking in this direction for any impact.

B: I think that’s the best approach is it’s got to tie in somewhere to the business. If you’re trying to do a project in an area where it’s not the core business – I would have loved to put solar panels on the roof, but unless I can connect it to new technology we’re going to use or something that’s going to somewhat tie into what the company does, it’s a much harder sell. Whereas if you can link into cost or capacity concerns or storage and floor space, the common metrics that most managers are going to be looking for, if you can link it into that, that’s going to make it so much easier to get those types of projects done. If it’s so far off in left-field, it just looks like a one-off, “We’re just going to do this for the environment and, by the way, then we’re going to go run our business.”

You really want it to become just a blended thing where this is part of how we make decisions and maybe it’s just more motivation for why we should do the business improvement because now I’m capturing that not only am I saving five minutes off this assembly line, but we also got rid of waste that was 25 minutes of processing and paperwork that we’re dealing with all the hazardous material, and so not even capturing that time or that extra labor that goes into that business case. I think that’s what you’re talking about here, not only in just the savings, but the reason why we need to do the Lean improvement or justify it.

A: I can see a lot of these sort of programs, in order to have a benefit, you’d have to really make the connections between several business units because, say, energy savings, a lot of that just falls into an overhead bucket, or any kind of utilities that is absorbed by the entire plant. How does that all come about where you’d have to say I’m only going to save this guy $50 a month, but I’ll save the entire plant $1000 a month. Have you ever had that situation?

B: That’s especially if you start looking at how departments and how the costing of the product is done and how those overhead costs are allocated, that can really play against it where you say you’re going to get this much in your budget for electricity based on your headcount or your floorspace. It’s rarely, at least in my experience, not many places seem to have it nailed down to say this is your footprint and this is your piece of the electricity bill and that’s because you have three really energy hog equipment running in here and the group next to you has a completely different electricity allocation for their budget because they don’t have that same equipment.

Usually, it’s a blanketed thing across the board and that does make it very hard for if I’m in one part of the building and I want to make an upgrade, I don’t get all the benefits of it. So I spend it out of my budget, but I didn’t get the full benefits of it, so now you have to go explain to your manager why you spent $10,000 and you only got $500 back in return. So it does make it harder to try to show those benefits when you can’t isolate it to the specific piece of equipment or at least in a certain area.

A: It wasn’t really a project but it was one a-ha moment when I was doing EH and S at Pratt & Whitney. The tire plant was shut down and all of the water meters, the brand-new water meters they put in said you just used 100, 000 gallons of water last weekend. They said, “How can we have done that and we weren’t even here? nobody was using anything.” A little bit of an investigation and they found that for their waste treatment sump pumps, there’s two spigots of water constantly running at, say, two gallons a minute just to keep those wastewater pumps primed all the time and that’s just like one of those simple things to say, okay, do we need to keep that primed all the time, because it’s not pumping right now? it’s a shame when you see that kind of thing because we’re talking three days, hundreds of thousands of gallons of freshwater that went directly down the sewer. It’s insane.

You mentioned that these things, you made the connection but you also mentioned that Lean Six Sigma, at least the tools and the methodology, may not be straightforward applied. How did you make that happen?

B: What I found a lot of useful resources was on the EPA website. They have actually put a lot of time and effort into making toolkits for how does a business use Lean and Six Sigma to reduce their impact, so that was really helpful. They have toolkits on energy reduction and water, chemicals, and a lot of case studies as well. So that’s a really good resource I would recommend to the listeners that and there will be a lot of good resources out there and examples you can look at.

Some of the things that they recommended were like modifications to some of the tools, like the value stream map. One of the ideas was just adding in some of these metrics into the data boxes so that you’re bringing them to light and at least making people aware of what’s going on there. Whether it’s the total amount of usage or the efficiency of the water or chemical or how many kilowatt-hours you’re using, but actually putting some environmental metrics into the data box, that was one good suggestion. And then another one I saw was they actually changed instead of using the timeline at the bottom, they actually replaced it and put the actual amount of material that was being used. This one that I saw was like a water value stream map and so it had how many gallons of water went into the process and how much was used and then you could see a yield or efficiency of the water being used and then you could see here is where we’re losing a lot. Maybe there’s some weeks or something going on in that area that we need to focus and dig into.

A: Is there a way you could supply me with an example, a picture of that sort of value stream map? I can post it for listeners.

B: Yeah, absolutely. I can give you the links to those different toolkits.

A: Excellent. What else? I see you have an acronym. I love acronyms here, but you have an acronym for WASTE, so what’s that all about?

B: I took a class through Purdue University. It was part of their technical systems program and they had partnered with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and come up with a green manufacturing specialist certificate. I went through a couple of days of training there, that was part of that education period I was going through, and that was really good. They had this acronym called WASTE and it stands for water, air, solids, toxins, and energy, and so it helps me think about the different areas. So if I’m having a discussion with someone in the ES and H group, I can, in my head, walk through those five acronyms and say, “Do we have air permitting issues? what is our baseline? what spend do we have with pickup hauling charges for our trash? what is our electricity usage? how much are we spending a month on natural gas?” Those types of questions makes it easier when I think about the WASTE acronym.

A: So they remind you to talk ask about these certain things. How do those sort of interplay with the traditional Toyota wastes or do they?

B: I would actually think of those as some of the metrics or some of the categories for what would be considered environmental opportunities in a business, so they probably will fall into one of those five buckets. And then within those areas, if you look at the processes, you can start to see that now I’m looking for those seven forms of waste or eight forms of waste in the process of using the energy or of using the chemicals or how we process and utilize the water. And then with each of those seven forms of waste, they each come with an environmental impact that may be related to what you’re trying to improve or they might be something else.

A: Okay, so something ancillary?

J: As you were explaining this, Brion, it comes to mind it’s almost like the 4Ps or the 6Ms. It’s just a different way, if you’re doing a fishbone or mind map, to start thinking about what are some of the areas where you want to make sure that none of this is happening or none of these wastes are happening.

B: Yeah. If you have a Lean event going on, then you can think about the acronym of the WASTE and try to think about do any of these apply to this part of the process and should we be pulling that into the discussion? is there something more you can capture in terms of cost to help justify what are improvements here? or is there something that this is highlighting another bigger issue that’s going on in just our efficiency of that process? so yeah, I think it can be more useful maybe when you’re not focused on the environment but you want to try to bring those discussions into the general improvements that are going on.

A: A couple of thoughts come to mind because, basically, the way I’m hearing it or seeing it, because it’s often difficult to get financial benefits directly from environment, but you do a project that has an environmental benefit, maybe as a side benefit, that benefit is almost its own currency in a way, if you’re monitoring that sort of thing. Did you find that that currency is able to be spent? A lot of companies out there say, “We’re green,” and they try to attract more customers with that branding, depending on what they mean by that, but has the green brand helped the company or do they leverage that or is it just something they know they have to do?

B: As far as taking the benefits, I think that’s part of the corporate responsibility report. So definitely, anything that comes out of events where we’re going to improve the environment or we have an impact on one those metrics, then we would try to share that or report that up into our end of year summary. That report is separate from our normal annual financial statement and annual report. So yeah, definitely, they’re always looking for examples to share and to try to show that, yeah, we are keeping an eye on these things. We’re trying to reduce our impact, we’re trying to be good stewards and good community partners, and so that definitely helps in that respect.

But I think for a company to really, I would say, come out and say we are truly a sustainable and very environmentally friendly company, I think they’ve got to start to show that they’re impacting their products and services. It’s great that they might put up solar panels and they might have a good recycling program, but if they still have a product or service that they provide that is not very eco-friendly, then it sends a different message that we’re not going to change how we run our business; we’re just going to do some things around the side to show people that we’re trying to do a little bit. But I think the companies that are looked on most favorably, they’ve really tried to integrate that into what they offer to their customers and then try to separate themselves from the competition by what they actually provide versus, “Buy our product because we have done some other side projects.” The best companies are the ones that are saying, “No, this is our offering and our product is going to save you energy,” or it’s using recycled materials or it has less packaging or something that you don’t have to sell it on the side.

A: Yeah, I think that selling it on the side makes it difficult. One of our last companies, it was, okay, we have a recycling program, we’ve reduced our gross tonnage of cardboard or whatever to satisfy this, but we can’t take the lead out of our solder. That’s still there.

B: We actually went through and took some of the chemicals out of the humiseal process and went to a water-based humiseal and there was environmental reasons to do that and there’s safety reasons to do that. I was involved in a project that we had to put it back in. We had to go back to the old, more toxic stuff because of it wasn’t actually performing. That was very frustrating to be involved, but the DOE didn’t really lie; we were having problems with the functionality of the product with the water-based.

And so, unfortunately, the data didn’t lie and, for now, we’ve had to go back and use the older stuff, but I think as long as that’s still always an option we keep looking for other ways to solve that problem and keep working through that, that’s the most important thing, always making progress. Even if you have some setbacks, that’s not like, well, that was a waste and let’s not do that again, but what did we learn? just like any good Lean company, what did we learn and what value did that have and how do we go forward with this information that we obtained and use it as something positive going forward and not looked at as the experiment didn’t do what we wanted it to do, so it was a failure so this stuff doesn’t work.

A: Jacob, I’m recalling a very large 5S event I did, that you probably heard about, where we went in and the 5S pretty much ended up costing the company a whole lot of money in a lab pack that was three tape trailers large. It’s hard to justify financial benefits when your project is the one that’s making the money land on the books. Brion, have you ever have had that situation that you’ve seen or anything like that?

B: Are you talking about where you got more cost than what you originally were intending or it ended up costing more later on?

A: Basically, I’m talking about they kept this inventory of obsolete chemicals that they were never using and they were hidden for that long. But once you do the event to say we’re going to start saving you money now, we’re going to put everything in a chemical library that we won’t have to double order anymore, but first, we have to get through these hundreds of thousands of hazardous wastes to get there.

B: Oh yeah. I know that there are certain buildings that they can’t do certain upgrades to because of asbestos or maybe there’s some old processes that were done in the past that are buried and they’d really like to demo the building, but the cost to deal with that is actually more than just either leaving it as is or not doing anything. So I know that becomes part of the decision-making, but at some point, you have to deal with the problem and say we’re either going to bite the bullet and do the expense right now, we’ve been pushing it off, or we’ve been unaware of it or not sure how to proceed, but at some point, you want to try to take care of those things so it’s not lingering and hanging out there. That’s what a lot of the transparency that a lot of companies are getting into is, there’s superfund sites and someone owns those and those sites have hazardous material and they need to be cleaned at some point or not disturbed and a lot of companies are either acquiring those properties through acquisitions or they’ve had them and they’re just not sure what to do with them. But eventually, you can’t just let them sit forever.

So yeah, initially, there may be more costs incurred to deal with old problems. I think that’s fairly common to almost any improvement, too, it’s you go in and you’re dealing with employee issues that have been not dealt with and you might step backwards initially but, hopefully, if you have this end goal, you have to go through that point see you can actually move forward.

J: Yeah, it’s the case of clearing your old debts is basically what it’s getting at.

A: That’s right. I’m looking at some of these other things that you said, some differences that Lean Six Sigma overlooks, and something that caught my eye, you have one that says, “Waste occurs away from the gemba,” and then another one that says, “The data is often nonnormal.” Can you talk about both of those?

B: Sure. The waste occurring away from the gemba, normally, we’re taught to go to where the work is being done and observe and look for the inefficiencies and talk to the people who do the work. When you’re talking about electricity or heating and cooling or lighting, those might be operated or controlled, maybe it occurs where the work is being done, but it’s operated or it’s maybe even hidden, in some cases, from where the actual work is, so you have to go into the substation room. You might have to go look at the pipes that take the water in and see if they’re insulated, if there’s leaks, there’s condensation. So a lot of the things that the facility group might be in charge of, a lot of those things might be hidden from view.

One of the events that we put together, and we took this from I think GE had come up with it originally, but it was an energy treasure hunt. It’s the same idea around the go and see with the gemba walks where we go into the building at different times and we got people from that work area and we would go over the weekend and at night and during the shifts. The goal was to observe what was going on and look for opportunities based on what you see, but some of those things were not what you would normally look for. If you’re walking through the office area, most people aren’t looking at the windows to try to figure out if there’s condensation or maybe a leak or it’s not insulated well enough. So you’re looking around the work area but also maybe even completely separated from that for some of those opportunities.

A: Okay. And then when you’re looking at that, you also say there’s some confusion on whether or not the utility usage is value-added or non-value-added. How have you approached that situation?

B: It plays a dual role. When you are processing something through a machine the first time, then the electricity would be considered value-added, that’s maybe part of the cost you’ve already built into that. But if it’s for rework or if you leave the machine running while you go to break, I would classify that as non-value-added electricity usage. So depending on how it’s being used, you can categorize it into value-added or non-value-added.

There’s some confusion sometimes about I need the water to clean the parts, yes, but it should have been cleaned the step prior, so now it’s considered non-value-added but as part of maybe smoothing over the part, and it’s a laser waterjet system, then it’s a value-added use of the water. So it plays into both buckets, so you can’t just say water falls under non-value-added or value-added. It depends on its application at that time. Certain times, it’s value-added and, other times, it’s non-value added and we want to go after those times when it’s non-value-added so that we’re not worried about the electricity when it’s being used; we want to stop the waste of that electricity or the reworked parts or when you’re leaving it running, like leaving the oven on overnight because we don’t have a timer system for it. It baked the part after eight hours, but the remaining six hours it was on before someone came in in the morning, that’s the piece that is non-value-added and we want to go after that.

A: So that would describe the hundreds of thousands of gallons that we put directly into the sewer over the weekend.

B: So maybe for cooling and keeping the work area comfortable as part of the cooling system, it’s value-added, but not when it’s wasted when no one is there.

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A: Hey Jacob, do you remember when you used to work for me?

J: Sure.

A: Do you happen to remember how much money you were making back then?

J: Yeah, I do remember.

A: How much more you’re making right now?

J: I can do the math.

A: And how about the development plan that you and I put together during that time?

J: It definitely gave me some perspective and gave me some direction on what I need to focus on. I found that useful.

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J: I can vouch for that.

B: The other thing you highlighted was the nonnormal data and that gets into some of the – not always at the manufacturing level but just in general. I ended up taking a class on environmental data and a lot of the stuff, like water contaminants and air emissions and some of the natural processes that you might measure out on the river streams or in the air itself, a lot of those and of being nonnormal distributions, so a lot of the training was on non-parametric analysis. That was a good refresher. I think I had taken a class back in college, but everything is based on, especially in Six Sigma training, it’s around normal distributions and maybe you do some transformations if you’ve got nonnormal data, but they had a lot of good techniques for dealing with using nonparametrics, doing medians tests, and different ways of not transforming the data, keeping it in its current format and just utilizing different techniques for that.

That class, for me, was a really good refresher of those ideas and actually shows that we probably should be using median and ranges a little bit more than we probably do today in general. There’s fewer assumptions around normality that you can use some of these techniques, so I got a lot out of that particular class. Like some of the electricity data may not be nonnormal or some of the water usage, but I think as you get more into the nature part of it, it becomes a lot more nonnormal and you have a lot of real aberrant values that you have to deal with a little differently.

A: I guess you get some of those extending tails for when you really, really messed it up. I think the trade-off for that is you just need more data. Less data if you assume normality, the perfect normal world, but yeah, that’s a really good point and one that we should consider in all our projects when we’re looking at them is don’t forget to check for normality.

J: Specifically, is there a reason why, besides a lower sample size, why would it be nonnormal? I understand the nature aspect of things, but still, a part of me just wants to disagree that it is nonnormal to that an extent.

B: It was a couple of years ago when I took the class, but there was a rationale behind why it wasn’t going to come out not normal. Maybe it’s part of the sampling and how that’s done or it seemed like there’s fewer… Like I was asking questions around constant monitoring and that did not seem to be something that’s done very often. It feels like there’s a lot of you go out to a site and you take samples of, let’s say, the hazardous material in the groundwater and that’s not something where you’ve hooked up a meter to that and you’re constantly tracking that data like with a control chart, because I was asking about control charting, and that did not seem to be something very commonly done. It’s like you go out one time and you take a sample and then you come back and you draw conclusions off that and that, of course, raises some other questions in my mind. So it might be something to do with the metering, it might be something to do with the properties of how you’re trying to pick up particulates in a water stream. I’ll have to maybe look up some of the explanation they gave on that.

A: When you’re talking about monitoring, some of it is an artifact of, exactly, the sampling because you’re going to have lower detection limits on both of those in some manner, so if it’s usually for a contaminant, if you have some sort of meter, it’s saying below a certain value and then, as soon as it registers above that value, which is above zero, it starts showing its distribution. And the same is similar for a particulate where it’s an entire sieve system that creates a nonnormal situation. So, Jacob, it might not be that it’s nonnormal actually in nature, and Brion, correct me if I’m wrong, but it could be that that’s all we can detect with our instruments is nonnormality.

B: Yeah, there’s definitely some stuff around that it can’t read below certain values, so it just gives you zero or gives you no reading or something like that or it says it’s greater than five and you don’t know if it was 7 or 25 or 100, you just know that it’s above five. And there were some tricks on how to deal with those types of data, it’s like censored data where you don’t really know the true number, you just know it’s at least this amount and it could be somewhere greater than that. It was a pretty interesting class, but I don’t remember, offhand, exactly the nonnormality piece.

A: Okay. So when you’re coming up on these projects here, which direction do you tend to gravitate, toward the statistical side, which is your upbringing, or the Lean side?

B: I think the approach that worked really well at the last facility I worked at where we did the projects and we had to go and see was a combination of the top-down project, where we did electricity reduction using Six Sigma project format, so we had a DMAIC and we went through the whole analysis with that. The other piece was that go and see effort where we did a bottoms up and where we were engaging people in the work area and, basically, trying to teach them how to see the waste and see the environmental opportunities that are there so that they can share that with their coworkers and start to notice, every time I walk by this equipment, it’s on or every time this machine processes, I can hear the motor churning or it starts to rattle a little bit more and it seems like it’s working overtime and that might be a sign that it’s going to break down soon. You’re just trying to engage a lot more people into that process.

So I like the statistics part of it, I love the data. I try not to gravitate up too much to it unless it’s appropriate, but in general, I think, starting off, I think Lean is much more broader and more encompassing to begin with, so I like that part of it, that you’re trying to engage people and teach them how to solve their own problems and learn how to make things run smoother and see the waste, so I like that part about Lean as well. So for these types of things, I think it depends on the situation, but if it’s not overly complex and you’re trying to change behavior, I definitely would lean more towards a Lean approach where I do maybe an event or we would have some go and see or we would just get the right people together and just start engaging them on discussion. Where it’s something more technical and more complex, then I like going down the data path and trying to show statistically where our usage is coming from and where there’s some opportunity and where there’s spikes in the data and what we can go dig into on those. It depends a little bit on the intent, but overall, I think Lean hits and touches more people or you have the opportunity to touch more people and get them involved in the problem-solving process.

A: And you actually recommend that if a company doesn’t have a sustainability program, that they should start with a Lean program first?

B: Yeah, that’s because, by default, by becoming more Lean, by reducing defects, by taking and eliminating waste, you are going to get some environmental gains without even really trying and then you can start to leverage that and bring in your support team, bring in your facilities into your events, your ES and H people. Get them at least on call or at the report outs of the events so they can at least ask those questions and maybe avoid some problems. Like you can’t move that equipment because I have to go get a new permit and that’s going to take three weeks, but maybe we could bring them in during the event, the person who’s doing the approval of it, and then when we go to get the approval, it might shorten that time down.

So there’s some things we can do to work around some of those constraints, but sometimes we don’t know about it if we don’t have the right people on board. So that’s why I recommend that maybe starting with Lean, but then if you have facilities and you have ES and H, or somebody who has that role, get them engaged on any of your events because you never know when they’re going to be able to provide some really good value or help out and either help identify the opportunities or capture the benefits that you’re going to get on the environmental side or avoid running into a problem later on that now we can’t you can’t finish the move because we ran into this issue or something happened and now we’ve got find, because we exceeded a limit because we didn’t realize what we changed up.

A: Right. Jacob, you got anything else that you want to ask about?

J: I don’t have anything as a question, but I did… Earlier on, Brion, you mentioned that one of the best resources you have for this is the EPA Lean section and I have to say it’s the first time I’ve ever heard any reference of a government or a federal agency that has a program that is actually very informative and is actually being used for the right reasons, so it’s definitely a shocker. I think Aaron and I have talked about different areas in the government where they can use a lot of Lean and efficiency improvements, but this is the first one I’ve heard about and I’m definitely curious and going to read a little bit more and see what they have.

B: They actually have a Lean in the government piece and so it’s specific not to environment but just didn’t government in general and it just talks about Lean techniques and approaches you can use to deal with some of those. Because there’s a very strong overlap with air permitting, inefficiency, and the lead time, and how long that takes and applying Lean concepts to that. So the EPA, by default, naturally just spread out into dealing with just general government things that go on that are not Lean. It doesn’t take much discussion to come up with a laundry list of things that don’t run very efficiently. But that was an additional content that’s out there, there’s a section on Lean in the government itself.

There’s been a couple of cities and states that have really taken this and embraced it. The city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, I think, has a Six Sigma program. Tyler, Texas; Irving, Texas have pretty strong Lean Six Sigma programs. The state of Washington, just north of Portland here, they get a lot of influence from Boeing and other companies up there and they’ve got an annual conference and they have a whole department and they do training and their website has a lot of good videos from the conferences on efficiencies and Lean tools and stuff. So slowly, it’s starting to be adopted, but again, those toolkits were made over 10 years ago I think. Basically, they had a good rollout, initially, and they got some case studies and then they get off track and looking at other initiatives. I feel like I want to try to help keep that going and keep promoting those items because they’re very valuable and it’s a great starting point and they’re nice, easy to digest. They’re not Black Belt level stuff; it’s anyone can read through them and really get some good value out of them.

A: You talked about wanting to keep that going and you do, yourself, have a website and a blog and you do some curating of materials, so tell us a little bit about that.

B: I was trying to put together, just as I was doing some research, I’m really looking for good examples of not just environmental improvements, but where there is a Lean tool or a Six Sigma tool applied. So I’m really trying to find a lot of good examples out there for people to look at and see, like the value stream map. Here’s a value stream map where they added water to the data box and added it to the baseline or the timeline piece. Here’s a 5S where they were able to not only clean up the truck, but it reduced the weight, and so there’s a transportation and fuel savings because there’s less stuff and less tools in the trucks themselves. So there’s quite a few different examples.

I try to pull together any articles around Lean and Six Sigma in the environment. I put it on a website and I write just articles for that when I think of stuff or projects I work on. It’s, and so I’m always looking for if anyone has some projects they’ve worked on or experiences where they’ve applied these techniques, I think the more examples and case studies that are out there, people can resonate with and then they can see how they can try it out and, hopefully, get some benefit.

A: If any of our listeners have a case study that they want to share with you, how would they contact you to share that with you?

B: That they can either go to that website and just contact me through the form or I’m on LinkedIn, that’s probably the easiest thing for people to get a hold of me, and just connect with me there and then mention that you heard me on the podcast and then we can start to exchange some… I’m looking for pictures and maybe PowerPoint presentations or reports out, things like that that they’re willing to share. That would be great.

A: Brion, we’re going to start wrapping it up. Is there anything that you want to share that we haven’t yet talked about?

B: No, I think we covered quite a bit. I think the last comment I will make is there’s a lot of evidence coming through now that companies that spend a lot of their time balancing out those three areas and really looking at how do they reduce their impact on the environment and, by default, it works the other way around. I talked about how being Lean will get the environmental impact, but also by focusing on environmental wastes or materials that are being used and thrown away, if you can work on those, you can gain some efficiencies in your process as well.

For example, the other day, I was looking at a process and we were noticing how much time is being spent unpackaging items. So not only is there a bunch of bubble wrap and cost that goes with that, but the time that they’re cutting it open and ripping it apart and pulling parts out of bags. If you can figure out a way to make the process more efficient, you’re saving time and the business is succeeding there. So either approach can gain the business some success regardless of what the intent is going into it. Whether you’re just trying to do the right thing or you’re actually trying to make the business run better, it does fit nicely into having a positive impact on the environment.

A: Anywhere where you can eliminate especially that interim packaging. I’ve had similar situations, yeah.

B: That’s the only other thing is either option can get you in the same boat where you’re actually helping the business succeed. And if you do that, your efforts will get supported. If you’re trying to do something off the path, you’ll have a much harder time getting those initiatives approved and supported.

A: Do you have any last final, say, calls to action for anybody listening to this of how they can also consider the environment when they’re looking at their improvements?

B: I think if there was one action, I would say pull in your ES and H or Facility team members or support team into any Lean or Six Sigma projects you have going on and start to engage them upfront in the business case and what you’re trying to accomplish. And then if they can participate in the event or in the project, great. If they’re just on-call or just involved in the report outs or the monthly updates, then at least they’re engaged. And then help them run their own events because they already have, probably, a scorecard and metrics they’re trying to achieve that might align well. So just make sure there’s a strong connection with those three departments.

A: Okay. Jacob, you got anything else?

J: No, that’s it. Great.

A: Okay, so we’re going to say goodbye to our listeners now, and Brion, you just hang on and we’ll start to wrap this up, okay? All right, so thanks everybody for listening and do get in touch with Brion. Go to his website,, and submit your case studies and get in touch with Brion on LinkedIn. And if you are in Atlanta on October 2, come on out Institute for Industrial Engineers 2015 Engineering Lean Six Sigma conference in Atlanta, Georgia. And if you can’t be there on the second and you can only be there on the first, then come check me out there. Thanks again, Brion, and thanks, everyone, for listening.

A: Thanks for listening to episode 93 of the E6S Methods podcast. Remember to check out Brion’s work at If you would like to be a guest on the podcast, contact us through our website. Join our mailing list, subscribe to past and future episodes on iTunes or stream us on-demand with Stitcher Radio. Don’t forget to leave a review and share us with a friend. Find outlines and graphics for all shows and more at Journey through success.

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