Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

Green Your Work was written by Kim Carlson, who has led several different businesses through a green transformation, and well before all the “cool kids” were doing it.

Green Your Work: Boost Your Bottom Line While Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

The book is very well organized, into three main section, for a total of 14 chapters. Click each chapter link to see what content is covered.

I attempted to summarize some key points, and I add my own thoughts to support some of Carlson’s tips and advice.

The book is a “short cut for those who have the green will, but not the time to find an answer through trial and error”

This is a great book for getting others in your company to help green your company, getting leaders to see the need to do so, and to help you personally guide your company through a logical approach to a more environmentally sustainable business.

Here is a summary of the book sections and chapters

Part I – Why Should I Care?

The background on environmental issues and the new fundamental shift in business

  • Chapter 1 – Irresistible Reasons to Green Your Business: Money, People, Planetary and Personal Reasons why people want to “go green”
  • Chapter 2 – The Green Revolution: Green defined, what drives us to green, the market for green and green culture manifestations
  • Chapter 3 – The Green Business Zeitgeist: Business as change agent, small business equals big power, green businesswomen, a green tipping point, and more green business manifestations.

Part II – How Do I Care – The Office, Factory or Warehouse

Practical ideas on how to green your business using “low-hanging fruit” ideas, and inspiration for those already mature in their “green” transformation.

Part II is a large portion of the book, and it covers ideas and tips that are beneficial to most businesses trying to go green. Each section is broken out by department or green topic, and she even provides step-by-step details on how to move forward at the end of each chapter, called “Easy Steps to Green”

Part III – How Do I Get Them to Care? Ideas for how to sell green up and down the organization

How to get other managers and leaders to get engaged, and to communicate and engage the employees in your company.

Some of the key highlights of Part I:

  • “My companies have often been perceived as more trustworthy and honest because of how we treat the earth. We have an ethic of treating the earth well, so our customers and suppliers believe that we will treat them well.” (xii)
  • Employees in green buildings have 24% increased job satisfaction, 10% increase in productivity, and 45% reduction in absenteeism (p. 7)
  • Chemicals contained in household products, pesticides, flame-retardants and personal care products can lead to early puberty, imbalanced sex ratios, infertility, breast and testicular cancers, learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and neurological conditions (p. 9)
  • Half of employees feel their company should be doing more for the planet, and 33% would be more inclined to work for a company that is environmentally conscious. Generation “Y” employees list the environment in the top 3 things they are concerned about (p. 10-11)
  • What does “green” mean? Anything that conserves our natural resources while protecting ecosystem (p. 23)
  • The Business for Social Responsibility group has been very helpful to her, which includes company CEO’s like Ben Cohen (Ben and Jerry’s) and Anita Roddick (The Body Shop). Many of these companies have used their products to advance social and environmental causes. Instead of competing for revenues and profits, they were competing on how well they could leverage their companies for the good of the community and the world. Many companies are now realizing that they need to be a part of the solution, not reliant on government or organized religion to address these issues. To learn more about the BSR, visit their website at
  • She mentions Joel Makeover’s 1994 book, Beyond the Bottom Line, which describes the fundamental beliefs and principles that make a company “socially responsible” (p. 40)
      • Employees are the most productive when they are engaged in meaningful work for a fair wage in a healthy working environment, are respected, and have a say in how they do their jobs
      • Companies are the most profitable over the long run when they are located in healthy communities with a pool of qualified workers, adequate education, and low crime rates
      • Companies function best when they treat the natural environment with care through minimizing waste, using resources efficiently, and treating nature with respect.
      • Corporate reputations will become more and more important as a legitimate product and service differentiator, separating the responsible companies from those that are not considered responsible.
      • Companies need to go beyond just compliance to environmental laws in order to protect the environment.
  • She connects sustainability with business success, stating “…a healthy planet is just as important as healthy communities and people. The economy, planet and people are all inextricably connected. You can’t have one without the other two.” (p. 41)
  • A short discussion on the “total cost” of accounting is needed to make your company green. It’s not easy to change how expenses and profits are viewed, but companies need to move forward with capturing the environmental impacts of decisions, such as water and air polluting, carbon emissions, and hazardous waste. (p. 42)

Part II

Chapter 4 – Greening the Inside Space I – Maintaining Green

This chapter covers the greening of maintenance areas. Her advice on green cleaning products is very valuable. Train your janitorial staff to start with the least toxic cleaners, and gradually increase to harsher chemicals in order to deal with stains and difficult cleanups. Not every problem can be addressed with a non-toxic solution, but changing the mindset of the workers can dramatically reduce the use of those harsh cleaners. (p. 57)

The sub-topics include:

– Controlling Pests Naturally
– Freshen the Air
– Green Cleaning
– Energy Savings (through improved lighting and tuning up heating and cooling systems)

Chapter 4: Easy Steps to Green (p. 66)

1) Take an inventory of what you have done already
2) Build a team to develop and implement a plan to be greener
3) Select a test area or building
4) Identify a baseline
5) Train the staff
6) Communicate changes to occupants
7) Evaluate and tweak as you go

Chapter 5 – Greening the Inside Space II – Building or Remodeling Green

Her company was one of the first to build a green building back in 1995, before most of the current infrastructure was in place, so it’s much easier today. There is often confusion about what is a green building. LEED certification is one way of defining it, but she explains that a green building is a holistic approach to building as a living system, incorporating the following components:

– Energy efficiency
– Indoor air quality
– Resource efficiency
– Sustainable landscaping
– Waste reduction
– Toxics reduction
– Smart growth
– local sources

A San Francisco company (RREEF) reported that the demand for green buildings will increase quickly, so property owners need to quickly adapt or risk having higher unoccupancy rates. It’s not just new buildings that can benefit. Greening an existing building can provide economic benefits (p. 73) such as:

– Productivity increase as much as 10%
– Job satisfaction increase as much as 24%
– Reduced absenteeism as much as 45%
– Lowers utility costs by as much as 50%
– Reduced life cycle costs by at least 25%

Chapter 5: Easy Steps to Green (p. 84)

– Make it somebody’s job
– Find local professionals
– Have several brainstorming meetings
– Apply the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)
– Look for pots of green money
– Consider green building certification

Chapter 6 – Greening the Outside Space – Lawns, Plants, Drives and Roofs

Everyone lives downstream from someone, so we all need to take care of how we manage and deal with water (and air), especially pollution. We want other companies and communities upstream to be concerned about what they discharge, because we will be the recipients of it. Environmental problems do not just affect your community, it affects everyone.

On a side note, this widespread impact makes environmental problems more complex and harder to trace back to the source, but these issues can actually bring us all together towards a common goal (which is very difficult to do in any other part of society, whether it be politics, sports teams, religion, economics, morality, etc). If protecting our planet becomes a global challenge that almost everyone can agree to support, imagine how much we can accomplish? All our petty differences will seem so insignificant.

The sub-topics include:

– Storm Water Management
– Green Space
– Water Savings
– Green Roof

Chapter 6: Easy Steps to Green (p. 102)

– Identify trigger points to begin greening outside
– Make greening a priority during contract negotiations
– Find local experts
– Check local ordinances and codes
– Look for rebates and credits

Chapter 7 – Greening the Operation – People, Policies, and Practices

Operation is a broad term, but it pertains to all the other things related to your business, not called out specifically in it’s own chapter of this book. Improvements in the DNA of the company can help acquire and retain talented employees, continually save money, and provide employees with meaningful work that keeps them coming back day after day. Unfortunately, not every green improvement will have a payback to the company financials (composting, organic food in the cafeteria, telecommuting, incentives for carpooling, electric vehicle charging stations, etc), but there will be an overall payback to society. Green businesses see the overall impact, and make these investments with these external considerations factored in.

The sub-topics include:

– Paperless
– Garbage
– Green Employee Benefits
– Common Sense
– Mandating Behavior

Chapter 7: Easy Steps to Green (p. 122)

– Develop your organization’s green values
– Hire a sustainability manager
– Setup green committees organized across operational functions
– List and prioritize ideas
– Institute a green procurement program
– Develop a sustainability performance report

Chapter 8 – Greening the Fleet – Moving People and Product

Fuel for transportation is one of the biggest drivers of carbon emissions, so a major focus on company fleet and transportation is critical for businesses. Opportunities include idling, gas efficiency, optimized routes, driving best practices, and more. Transportation is also a form of waste in your business, and can help you find inefficiencies and extra costs and delays that are not necessary or not adding value to your customer, which can help save money.

The sub-topics include:

– Moving Employees and Customers
– Moving Product
– Online Selling
– Carbon Neutrality

Chapter 8: Easy Steps to Green (p. 141)

– Identify a green logistics strategy
– Reduce carbon use with incremental small practices
– Launch a telecommuting program
– Consider carbon offsets for what cannot be improved further

Chapter 9 – Greening the Product – The Holy Grail

Companies that can ingrain green into their products and services are proving that it is part of the business model, not just greenwashing. There is no such thing as a perfectly green product, so focus on making continual progress year after year. Start by reviewing what your product does, and determine how nature performs the same function. This can be the most difficult part of greening your business, but it can be the most impactful, since it affects how your company is perceived by suppliers, customers, employees, community and stakeholders. Failure to do so can put your company in jeopardy in the long run. Consumers are moving more towards services, not products (car sharing, music downloads, rental furniture, etc), and don’t want the overhead and upfront cost that goes with the physical product (buying a car, buying the CD and the packaging, buying the couch, etc) so think about how your company can transition to a service, so consumers can share the physical resources, and you benefit from the actual service they want. If you can’t provide a service, make your products more durable, easier to disassemble, smaller, or made from renewable/recycled materials and energy sources.

The sub-topics include:

– Product Trends
– Reinvention
– Life Cycle Assessment
– Environmental and Social Standards

Chapter 9: Easy Steps to Green (p. 161)
– Start small
– Set the bar
– Assemble a design team
– Assemble a supply chain team
– Find the money

Chapter 10 – Greening the Package – We Can Do Better

Although there will always be a practical need for packaging (to prevent damage, safety reasons and degredation), it should be as minimal as possible. Companies are moving towards reuseable packaging and take-back or recycling programs. They are also changing the materials to more environmentally-friendly options. Packaging also costs money and adds to shipping costs, so the benefits can be dramatic to the company’s bottom line.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition provides the following principles of green packaging:

– It is beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
– It meets market criteria for performance and cost
– It is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
– It maximizes the use of renewable or recycled sources
– It is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
– It is made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios
– It is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
– It is effectively recovered and used in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles

Sub-topics include:
– Less is more
– New materials
– Labeling

Chapter 10: Easy Steps to Green (p. 179)

– Talk to your current supplier
– Develop metrics for progress
– Continuous improvement
– Stay informed

Part III

The last major section of the book discusses the people side of your business, and how to get employees at all levels of the company engaged and interested in greening the business.

Chapter 11: Selling Green Up and Down the Ranks – Bosses and Employees

There are many reasons why people might support the green efforts: moral purposes, economic reasons, or fear of consequences. However, one of the best ways is through competition with peers (herd mentatily theory, p. 188). People want to be part of a group, and not left out, once they seen a sufficient number of people on-board.

The sub-topics include:

– Green Motivation
– Selling Green Up the Ranks
– Selling Green Sideways
– Selling Green Down the Ranks
– Selling Green to Your Supply Chain
– A Word about Resistance
– Vision-Mission-Values
– Train-Inspire, Train-Inspire, Train-Inspire

Chapter 11: Easy Steps to Green (p. 199)

– Tailor the approach to the people
– Provide a plan
– Don’t shame
– Find a support group
– Model green fun

Chapter 12: Marketing Green – A Formula for Success

There is no magic point when your business is ready to announce and share its green efforts to the outside world, but caution, authenticity and transparency should be the top priority before making that decision. Carlson suggests waiting until you have a few successes, so it doesn’t look like a one-time activity to get some publicity. Consider marketing to women, as they are the biggest consumers of green products, and also make many of the household purchasing decisions (p. 210).

The sub-topics include:

– Green Marketing Benefits
– Greenwashing
– Green Marketing Principles
– Creating Eco Legitimacy

Chapter 12: Easy Steps to Green (p. 216)

– If you don’t have it, hire it
– Go to green trade shows
– Hook up
– Try stuff

Chapter 13: Pitfalls to Avoid – Oh, The Mistakes I’ve Made

She openly admits that greening a business takes trial and error, and not everything will work out. Mistakes might not be the best word to use, since everything has provided her feedback to know how to do it better next time. Learn from what didn’t work in her businesses, so you don’t waste time.

The sub-topics include:

– Waiting to Get Started
– Promoting Responsible Consumption
– Not Engaging Enviros
– Being Green Obsessed
– Don’t Stop Innovating
– Zero-Tolerance Policies
– Trying to Do It All at Once
– Not Enough Agreement
– Hogging Green Knowledge
– Underestimating the Power of Green

There is no “Easy Steps to Green” in this chapter, as it is more for reference, not a roadmap for avoiding mistakes.

Chapter 14: Getting Started – A Kick in the Green Jeans

Carlson wraps up the book with an executive summary in Chapter 14, and gives you a final “Easy Steps to Green” for getting started. If you want to start here, and then dig into specific sections of the book, that would be an efficient approach (but I suggest you read every chapter at some point).

Chapter 14: Easy Steps to Green (p. 236)

1) Be It to See It
2) Engage in Sustainability Thinking
3) Collaborate
4) Map It Out
5) Find the Low-Hanging Fruit
6) Bulletproof It
7) Communicate, Communicate
8) Expect Good Things

The final section is a list of resources and websites for each chapter, and checklists/surveys to ask within each area of your business.

This is an outstanding book, and if you are involved or considering helping a company to become more green, you will want this as a resource on your bookshelf (or ebook reader). It is also a great reference for those in your company just getting started. The book is written in a way that is easy for anyone to understand, even without an environmental background. I would give s copy to each leader and each green team member in your company, and follow the “easy steps to green” within each chapter.

Green Your Work: Boost Your Bottom Line While Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

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