At the core of both sustainability and Lean is the concept of waste reduction. Lean focuses on reducing process waste. Sustainability focuses on reducing environmental waste. By acknowledging the similarities between these two frameworks, we open new doors for how organizations can integrate both Lean and sustainability into the workplace.
In order to successfully employ the Lean framework in your workplace, you must first develop a continuous improvement culture. Having this mindset also enables organizations to become more sustainable because neither Lean nor sustainability have a finish line. Both require continuous development and practice, and both encourage accountability.
Additionally, when you’re planning and implementing a sustainability initiative, you can use Lean problem-solving tools and techniques. Just like with any other Lean project, your core focus is to eliminate waste.
There is one other core focus of Lean: creating value for customers.
“The guiding principle when eliminating waste from operations is value.
Value is always defined from the customer’s perspective. Therefore, the
fundamental basis is to understand what the customers want and what brings
value to them. The value stream is the set of all activities needed to
transform a product from an idea all the way to the hands of the customer. It
includes the product design activities, management of all the information
needed from the order to the delivery, and the physical transformation of the
raw materials into the finished product
(Rotherand Shook 1999;
Womack and Jones 2003)” writes Eeva Järvenpää (2019), a
faculty member from the Department of Engineering and Natural Sciences at
Tampere University in Finland.
The C.A. Lawton Co. has many customers who value sustainability. By implementing sustainability practices, we are able to improve our value stream. This means delivering more value to our customers. This is yet another way in which Lean and sustainability relate: through the concept of value creation.
Even if the primary focus of your Lean project isn’t sustainability, in many cases, by reducing process waste, environmental waste will be reduced simultaneously. One example of this at Lawton was a project, mentioned in our Customer Benefits of Lean article, that employees took on after completing their Lean Greenbelt Training.
In this project, the team figured out that we can blast parts once instead of twice without any effect on the quality, longevity, and performance of the castings if the part is being machined. Not only does this save time, money and capacity, but it also saves material. The pellets used to blast castings cannot be reused. So, by eliminating the second blast and decreasing our usage of pellets, we have discovered a way to reduce waste in our process while also being more sustainable.
When it comes to reducing waste in the Lean framework, there are eight key types of waste that are embodied in the acronym TIMWOODS. You can read more about it here.
One of those forms of waste is transportation. Not only can overuse of transportation waste a lot of time, but it also has a significant environmental impact. Transportation is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gases in the manufacturing industry according to Emily Folk, author of the Conservation Folks blog, and environmental writer for other publications. In a 2018 article entitled “How Can Lean Manufacturing be Sustainable?” Folk writes “Roughly 70 percent of all products in the country are transported by truck. Globally, the trucking industry generates 1.6 billion tons of CO2 every year. Reducing the need for transportation or making it more efficient can help to reduce the emissions generated by this industry and make the entire process more sustainable.”
As you can see, Lean and sustainability combat similar types of waste. So, when you’re looking for ways to eliminate waste through Lean to become more efficient, the chances are very good that by doing so, you can also make your company a little more sustainable.
Järvenpää E., Lanz M. (2019) Lean Manufacturing and Sustainable Development. In: Leal W., Azeiteiro U., Azul A., Brandli L., Özuyar P., Wall T. (eds) Responsible Consumption and Production. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham
Conservationfolks. (2019, April 1). How Can Lean Manufacturing Be Sustainable? Retrieved from https://conservationfolks.com/how-can-lean-manufacturing-be-sustainable/
(2016, December 29). Examining the interaction between lean and sustainability principles in the management process of the AEC industry. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2090447916301769
Gort, R. (2013, January 28). LEAN AND SUSTAINABILITY: How Can They Reinforce Each Other? Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/rgort/lean-sustainabilitythesis20080909g
LEAN to Green Sustainability. Retrieved from http://leanaust.com/services/lean-to-green-sustainability
Liker, J. (2014, December 8). Lean and Sustainability: Where the Two Intersect. Retrieved from https://www.gray.com/news/blog/2014/12/01/lean-and-sustainability-where-the-two-intersect