Environmental Impacts and Lean

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Lean, as we teach and practice it, is all about exposing waste in order to make continuous improvement possible, benefiting quality, cost, delivery and people. While we have not focused exclusively on the environmental benefits of Lean, the tools of Lean assist in environmental impacts by reducing the inputs required to build a product or deliver a service.

As discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, some large companies are explicitly identifying and measuring environmental impacts, including Wal-Mart, the US government, and the Christmas tree industry. These companies are also documenting the time investment and costs required to perform Life Cycle assessments. Wal-Mart, in an effort to reduce environmental impacts, is driving the life cycle up the supply chain, and requiring the suppliers to provide evidence of environmental impact for all products. While this will assist in the long term resolution of environmental issues, the suppliers will be required to absorb the cost.

The State of California has experience with the issues identified in the article regarding the calculation and planning for environmental impacts. In a well-publicized example, the environmental regulation requiring 3% of all cars sold by 1998 to be Zero Emissions was impossible at the outset, yet a calculation of environmental impacts was central to the plan. The electric car offers the only possibility for achieving zero emissions, but the electric power to charge the batteries over the life of the vehicle has a greater environmental impact than the use of the fossil fuels. Not considered was also the cost and environmental impact of lead acid batteries, which need to be replaced during the vehicle’s life. The lesson here: don’t rely only on the math, but look at the bigger picture.

Our recommendation is this: the supply chain change which Wal-Mart is proposing can be accomplished through the application of Lean tools to eliminate waste. The Lean tools can continually be driven upstream through the supply chain, eliminating environmental and process waste, to improve delivery and create a more environmentally safe product.

Retrieved on September 1, 2009 fromĀ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125176415696374409.html, Hot Job: Calculating Products’ Pollution by Ana Campoy

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