There is a rising level of awareness of global warming and other environmental concerns within our society today. As more information is shared, the debate continues. As a whole, our society remains divided on the issue. Some of us believe it is a catastrophic problem that must be addressed immediately; others believe it is more of a concern than a major problem; while some of us are not yet convinced that it is a problem at all.

What does this have to do with lean manufacturing? Everything.

Our decisions and behaviors in our manufacturing process have an environmental impact. The main focus of the lean approach is to eliminate waste. We should look at the issue of our manufacturing environmental footprint with careful consideration. How do our current processes impact our customer, our employees and our society? What is our company’s environmental footprint? What improvements can we make to become a low-impact manufacturer?

Without even getting into the middle of the environmental cause-and-effect debate, we can see a huge business advantage to reducing our energy costs and reducing the typically hidden costs of waste disposal. Energy costs alone have negatively impacted each and every one of us.

What are some of the ways we can reduce or eliminate this waste?

1. Conduct an energy kaizen event where the team focuses on reducing energy and waste costs during the week long kaizen blitz.

2. Add Six Sigma projects to focus on energy and waste improvement.

3. Don’t hide the problem of energy and waste costs in overhead. Measure it, apply countermeasures and post results making it visible. Add it to our dashboard.

4. Add an environmental impact analysis to any business decision process where it makes sense to do so. (The request for funds, new product introductions, facility planning, engineering change requests, etc.).

5. Use our handy-dandy lean tools (i.e. Pareto charts) to help focus our effort in the area of most impact. Is it gas? It is electricity? Is it waste disposal?

6. Leverage all employees as problem-solvers (a known but little-used lean principle) to help think up and implement countermeasures.

7. Celebrate and publicize our energy reducing successes! Share ideas.

8. Identify the barriers to effective recycling and remove them. Make it easier.

9. Improve lighting, which is probably the fastest way to save energy; studies indicate that lighting consumes about 40 percent of the electricity used in commercial buildings.

10. Increase the use of natural light. For example, one of our plants has skylights in a stairwell for light during daylight hours.

11. Redesign production processes to make them simple, flexible and energy efficient.

12. Replace old motors with right-sized, high-efficiency motors.

13. Monitor and reduce peak loads.

14. If you have not already put one in place, add TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) to your operation.

15. Recycle and reduce paper usage. Eliminate unneeded reports, presentation, etc. Make two-sided documents the norm if you do print.

At Batesville Casket Company, we eliminated the printing of all kaizen training presentation materials that were previously handed out at every event to every team member. The typical handout would be anywhere from 100 to 300 pages in a three-ring binder which just ended up on somebody’s bookshelf. Our new approach is to provide access to the information on our computer network and hand out small pocket guides instead. This brought major savings in costs and a reduction in paper usage!

As a manufacturer, what is the typical stereotype of our industry? Dirty or clean? Greedy or giving? An environmental hazard or environmental friendly? We have a golden opportunity to take a leadership position on this highly debated issue. Following our lean thinking, just ask ourselves, “Is it the right thing to do?”

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Check it out at http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/. Mike will be a featured lean track speaker at Noria Corporation’s “Lean, Reliable and Lubed” conference, May 20-22, 2008, in Nashville, Tenn. Learn more about this event by visiting www.driveyourplant.com.