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Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

What does Pearl Harbor have to do with my electric car rental?

4 min read

With the recent COVID-19 shut down, I’m finally getting around to some action items on my list. One of which was to write this article.

On my trip home from Green Banana Paper in Kosrae last year, I decided to spend a few days in Honolulu hitting the beaches and checking out the island.

To get around Oahu, I needed to rent a car. Most major rental car companies still do not offer fuel-efficient, hybrid or electric vehicles (why is that?). I ask all the time, and I think I’ve gotten one Prius in about 25+ attempts. Unfortunately, Honolulu was no exception.

I decided to look for options using Turo, which is a rental car app, where you can rent from locals instead of rental car company. To my surprise, I found a few electric vehicles at a reasonable price! I was also told that the electric charging stations were nicely spread out across the island, so I would have plenty of places to charge up. I selected a Nissan Leaf (if you’re curious to know).

Note: You can listen to my discussion on electric vehicles on podcast episode #23

I had never been to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, so I thought I would check it out.

My decision to get an electric vehicle paid off for me on my visit. Because I was driving a “Low Emitting Fuel Efficient Vehicle,” I could park close to the entrance. I was there on a Saturday afternoon, so it was extremely busy and most of the parking lots were full. It saved me a bunch of time! I hadn’t realized it initially, and had already spent 15 minutes looking for a parking spot.

I was initially surprised that they made these parking spots available, but it didn’t take long to realize that Hawaii was very committed to cleaner vehicles.

Here are some reasons for moving in this direction:

  1. It costs less – Gas is expensive on Hawaii, as it’s expensive to ship oil and gas all the way here. Electricity is less expensive for driving than gasoline. They can install solar panels and generate electricity from the sun (which they have a lot of) at no cost
  2. Cleaner air – From an environmental perspective, vehicles that run on electricity generated from solar don’t emit carbon, fumes or toxins, making the air cleaner, and reducing the impact on climate change.

Both of these are great reasons, but after visiting the museums inside the memorial, I think there is one more reason.

The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese was the result of escalating tensions when the US placed an embargo on crucial oil shipments to Japan in August of 1941.

At that time, the Japanese were expanding their control over the Pacific rapidly to obtain more natural resources, and the embargo was really hurting them. They were heavily reliant on US oil imports. Despite many discussions, the US didn’t let up on the restrictions, and 4 months later the Japanese attacked. You can read more of the Attack on Pearl Harbor history on Wikipedia.

This might be one reason why the US military has continually pushed for us to stop being reliant on foreign oil. It puts us at a severe disadvantage with other countries.

To tie this discussion back to Lean methods, it was the fallout from the subsequent war with Japan (World War II) that led to their rebuilding efforts in the early 1950’s. Dr. W. Edwards Deming and other prominent quality experts were sent to Japan, and they were asked teach the Japanese about best practices in manufacturing. The Japanese also learned about improvement methods from studying Ford and other businesses in the US during study mission trips. The knowledge gained on these trips, Deming’s workshops, along with their own ingenuity was invaluable. This led to the steady rise of Toyota and other successful Japanese companies.

W. Edwards Deming gives his first seminar in Japan, 1950 – photo courtesy of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was the US that would start studying the Japanese, to learn how they were able to outperform them in quality, productivity and financial performance. These research efforts and publications became the foundation to the current Lean methods taught today.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of Lean, visit

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