Manufacturing industries play a tug-of-war between the public and private sectors, each demanding the fastest, cheapest and highest quality products with the lowest environmental impact. Cap-and-trade emissions policies, paired with limited natural resources, have changed the face of modern industry. As a result, lean companies, particularly those with established 5-S systems, are one step ahead of the green curve.

"Lean initiatives work well with green initiatives because you're looking at costs and how much waste is in the process," said Michael Sinocchi, executive editor with Productivity Press, which was founded more than 20 years ago when editors began translating the works of leading Japanese industrial experts on the Toyota Production System (TPS), the heart of the improvement strategy now called lean manufacturing. "With lean the goal was to drive waste out of the process and throw those savings back into the product by charging customers less, having shorter lead times and spending less on inventory. Now it's driven by demand and resources."

What is Green Manufacturing?

Green manufacturing goes one step further than lean, examining the environmental impact of processes and materials used in manufacturing. The correlation between companies that implement lean manufacturing processes and green manufacturing is strong, as a reduction in waste saves both time and materials.

Federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have examined the relationship between 5-S and green manufacturing. The EPA reports 5-S systems offer several environmental benefits. For instance, painting machines light colors and cleaning windows can decrease the energy needed for lighting. Painting and cleaning also make it easier for workers to notice spills or leaks quickly, lessening spill response time. This can significantly reduce waste generated from spills and clean-up.

Regular cleaning decreases the accumulation of cuttings, shavings, dirt and other substances that can contaminate production processes and result in defects. A reduction in defects will lead to considerable environmental benefits because energy and materials are no longer wasted in producing and disposing of defective products.

A 5-S implementation can also significantly reduce the square footage needed for operations by organizing and disposing of unused equipment and supplies. Less storage space means less energy needed to heat and light the space.

Removing obstacles and marking main thoroughfares can decrease the potential for accidents that could lead to spills and associated hazardous waste generation, such as spilled material, absorbent pads and clean-up materials.

Organizing equipment, parts and materials so they are easy to find can also significantly reduce unneeded consumption. Employees are more likely to finish one batch of chemicals or materials before opening or ordering more, resulting in less chemical waste requiring disposal.

Visual cues, such as signs, placards, scoreboards and laminated procedures in workstations, can be used to increase employee understanding of proper waste handling and management procedures, as well as workplace hazards and appropriate emergency response. Various 5-S techniques can also be used to improve labeling of hazardous materials and wastes.

In addition, integration with 5-S visual cues and operating procedures can improve employee environmental management through the organization of tools and materials into labeled and color-coded storage locations as well as "kits" that contain just what is needed to perform a task.

Examining Waste Beyond the Workspace

When green manufacturing is incorporated with 5-S best practices, companies examine efficiencies not only within an individual workspace but also through the overall life of their products.

"Initially companies were only focused on the front end of a product — how to be the best, the cheapest and the fastest to get it out the door to sell it," Sinocchi said. "Now companies are looking at the overall life of the product — what environmental impact it has and whether the same production resources will be available 10-15 years from now."

Electric cars can be used as a case study. When Ford offered its first electric car, Toyota had already released the Prius 2.

"Companies like Ford were waiting for the customer demand," Sinocchi said. "Toyota examined the cost of resources like oil and realized this market will change 10-15 years from now. Companies can either sit back and say something will change or somehow plan for it."