Three Formal Efforts Tie Lean and Green Together

By Jason Turgeon:

It looks like the Lean + Green movement is gathering steam. In the last week, I’ve seen three pretty big efforts that formalize the relationship. This is great news for members of both camps, as Lean management and Green marketing are both pretty hot in the business and manufacturing worlds right now and this will only reinforce two already positive trends.

First, I recently found out about a year-old publication from EPA (my employer) called the Lean and Energy Toolkit. I’ve written before about the agency’s formal Lean program, but this is a part of it I hadn’t seen. In the 56 page document, available as a PDF at the link above, the agency makes the case for accounting for wasted energy in the manufacturing process. It’s my understanding that this book is being used in conjunction with Lean trainings given by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership; the MEP is partly funded by EPA in some fashion. Here’s a little snip of what to expect:

What is the relationship between Lean and energy use? Substantial energy savings typically ride the coattails of Lean. By eliminating manufacturing wastes, such as unnecessary processing and transportation, businesses also reduce the energy needed to power equipment, lighting, heating, and cooling. Chapter 1 describes benefits of combining Lean and energy improvement efforts. Chapter 2 explores the relationship between Lean and energy use, and provides background information on energy use and costs.

How does one know how much and where energy is used in a facility? A key step in effective Lean and energy efforts is learning where to target energy-reduction activities. Chapter 3 discusses techniques for assessing energy use and identifying opportunities to save energy in the context of Lean. Methods include energy treasure hunts, value stream mapping, Six Sigma, and kaizen events.

How can one reduce energy use with Lean methods? Chapter 4 examines specific opportunities for using Lean to reduce energy use, including Lean methods such as total productive maintenance, right-sized equipment, plant layout, standard work, and visual controls. Chapter 5 discusses additional ideas for achieving process excellence with less energy use and environmental impacts.

Next up, via Greenbiz.com, here’s news that IBM is getting into green in a big way. Big Blue is turning into Big Green, in part with the its new “Green Sigma” consultancy. According to the article, “the service can study water and energy use wherever these resources are used, such as in transportation, data centers, IT systems, manufacturing and distribution or retail facilities. The tech giant launched a consulting service based on the Lean Six Sigma strategy at a time when companies are facing growing pressure from stakeholders to lighten their environmental impacts.”

This is far from IBM’s only green initiative. Another story on GreenBiz links to work that IBM is doing to work that the company is doing to help green both the power grid and watershed management, two areas that have similar distribution issues and management challenges. In these cases, IBM is working to help get everyone on the same page by organizing collaborative meetings between all of the stakeholders and getting them to look at all of the information in the same way. The company makes money by gathering and processing raw data but the effects on the planet are a different kind of green, one that is measured in improved water quality and a more efficient grid. Measurement and verification are at the core of Lean, so this is definitely something that ties right into IBM’s Green Sigma program. As an example, the company is deploying data gathering buoys and underwater robots along 300 miles of the Hudson river. The devices will collect info on a wide variety of water quality parameters, then transmit it in real time to IBM software that will analyze it and spit out a constant picture of the river’s quality that all the shareholders can use jointly. This kind of information has never really been available before, which can be really frustrating to those of us who work to clean up rivers. By monitoring its health in real time with a multitude of data points, we can have a common platform to say “this is where it is now and these are the areas that need improvement,” then we can get to work developing a meaningful plan.

Finally, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers is hosting an event in Portland, OR, at the end of this month called “Take the LEAN Path to GREEN.” If you’re lucky enough to attend, you’ll get to spend a few days in the greenest and most liveable city in the country, enjoying stellar public transit and bikeways while eating plentiful locally grown food and touring neighborhoods that seems to host more green buildings by the minute. You’ll also get to attend two pretty full days of learning how to eliminate four waste streams from manufacturing: water, energy, solid waste, and air emissions. Sounds like a pretty good couple of days to me!

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2 Comments on "Three Formal Efforts Tie Lean and Green Together"

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm…I seem to recall a certain post on this blog last year that said IBM was public enemy #1, using Lean as L.A.M.E., and about to fire its whole US workforce. I think someone wanted to sue IBM for lean abuse..!! : )

    Perhaps a good time for some reflection on that post? While IBM’s use of Lean isn’t perfect, its been doing some good things for good reasons.

  2. Mark Graban says:

    If you’re referring to this post, that was referring to IBM Global Services, not IBM manufacturing.

    I’d be interested, too, in knowing whatever happened in that instance.

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