EPA using Lean to go Green

I was shocked, but happy when I read the EPA is trying to educate businesses on lean principles in order to help improve efficiency resulting in a better environment.   The interview is with George Wyeth, a professor at Lawrence University who leads the innovation efforts with the EPA.

From the interview with Mr. Wyeth:

Lean manufacturing is really a business strategy, not an environmental strategy.

Mr. Wyeth recognizes lean as more than a set of tools to get a greener world, but a business strategy that can help companies reduce waste resulting in a smaller carbon footprint.  It sounds like they are trying to educate on the how (lean principles) in order to get the what (cleaner environment) that is wanted.

Lean, because it focuses on the elimination of waste, has a lot in common with what we call pollution prevention, which we’ve been preaching for 20, 25 years. As companies focused on eliminating waste, we realized they were doing pollution prevention and didn’t even know it.

It is refreshing to see someone recognize the synergies between lean and green.  How they are intertwined with each other.  When I worked in the auto industry in the early 2000’s, we knew we had to control our costs better.  One way was to use the water from our painting and electroplating lines more efficiently and what we was excess we needed to recycle back through the system.  This was before the green movement become so overwhelmingly popular.  We spent quite a bit of money to implement the system but it paid itself back in less then a year in not only water savings, but also less cost to cleanse the water before disposing it in the city drain.

From the article:

We thought that presented an opportunity for us to take the message we’ve been preaching for a long time and presenting it in a way that would be better understood and be more easily incorporated into the business, so it’s not seen as, here’s the government with a hammer forcing you to do something.

The EPA knows they are a regulatory agency.  Unfortunately, the perception is very similar to the cost versus quality perception.  You can’t have both.  It is either one or the other………..regulatory compliance or low cost.  The EPA wants to educate that you can have both and using lean principles is a way to get both.  WOW!!!  Cost, Quality, and Low carbon footprint………you can have them all?!  Who would have ever thought?

Companies must be interested in how lean can help with the environment:

We get a lot of hits on our website on lean manufacturing materials, and there’s a lot of interest from people who want to talk to us.

I am glad to see the EPA has lean materials on their website. Not only about lean and the environment but also lean and government.  Is this a way to get more people interested in lean principles and how it can help their business?  I hope the EPA continues to help companies see the benefits.  They could be another outlet to reinforce the lean message.


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Posted on May 14, 2010, in Environment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Using lean principles to get to “green” is completely consistent on several levels. The orientation to process, to observation in depth (at the gemba), to engaging employees in improvement, etc are solid lean thinking. Extending lean tools like value stream maps to capture energy and resource use and waste creation and then having focused kaizens (“a water kaizen”) makes a lot of sense.

    It’s great for EPA to be supportive of lean and they really are. They also have engaged well with MEPs and with SME’s “Lean to Green” tech group.

    The challenge of “green” however extends beyond process, which is more the domain of lean, to product engineering – the materials choices that probably have a more significant environmental impact in the long run. These are being recognized now in supply chains everywhere. Wal-Mart and P&G are requiring all suppliers to prepare their sustainability data. The product content in terms of hazardous materials, reusability, recycleability, and complete lifecycle impact aren’t really addressed by lean itself.

    I think “lean and green” may be the best way to get a handle on the current state and to report on initial carbon footprint (Scope 1 and 2 only). But pushing out to the supply chain to compare carbon content of the same raw material from different suppliers is where the green action is going.

    There’s a lot of data to be managed for sustainability, as there is for lean. I’ve found that using a value stream model to capture and organize what’s happening for lean can set the basis for sustainability. Whether we need to be talking about takt time or carbon footprint, an integrated repository is essential.

  2. The EPA was really the first government agency to use Lean. It dates back to 2000 where they sponsored a case sutdy with Boeing on lean production and the environmental impact. This Lean and green movement is really being called Lean Ecology. There is a great video series by Jennifer Tice who authored much of the EPA Lean Material. It is definitely worth viewing. http://www.strausforest.com/leanecology.html
    There are a number of well written Lean workbooks for environment and service industries in context to the government.

    In terms of Lean and Green I think what is important is to consider the value to the customer. This can be in terms of low environmental impact as seen an advantage or benefit or in reduced costs from a lower impact to environment. Lean is still about adding value and solving problems with all our humanly resources.

    • Tim, I couldn’t agree more. We need to make sure that in the end our green efforts help to add value to the customer/consumer. Fortunately, a lot more consumers want companies to be environmentally responsible so companies can add value while going green. In most implementation cases I have seen, it reduces cost too. That is the best of both worlds.

      Thanks for adding the link to the information by Jennifer Tice. I really enjoyed the material. Great to see her connecting the dots. Now we need more areas of the government to make the connections.

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