Volume 9, Issue 7 - July-August 2008

eye on energy

Are You a Lean, Green Sustainable Machine?
Making Lean Manufacturing Part of Your Green Story
by Ric Jackson and David Meier

Simply producing a green product isn’t enough these days. Consumers in the market for green building products are just as concerned about your business’s environmental impact as they are about your product. Companies selling “green” inevitably will be asked if their message is also reflected in their operations and business practices. Sustainability is not a fad; it has become a core business value. Therefore, your products and operations should be in sync when touting your efforts to improve the sustainability of our planet.

Adopting sustainable business practices need not mean a complete overhaul of your operations. Door and window manufacturers employing lean manufacturing methods may already have steps in place toward becoming greener businesses. You can further promote your “lean, green story” by looking for new ways to reduce your impact on the environment and become a better corporate citizen.

How Does Lean Manufacturing Fit In?
At its core, lean manufacturing utilizes problem-solving techniques to improve a company’s processes and business operations to save time and money. While not a new concept for many door and window manufacturers, the sustainability benefits of lean bring new thinking to the term and introduce a proactive way to position your lean and green efforts.

Operating lean can have the most impact on your environmental footprint when applied to waste management practices. Waste is costly to an organization—and the planet. Many companies underestimate the costs associated with disposal, collection and even recycling, of waste. Of course, recycling and reusing waste is better than sending it to a landfill, but these options often become too convenient, making it easy to ignore the root of the problem—how to reduce waste in the first place. Lean thinking can help businesses realize a smaller environmental footprint by improving operational efficiencies that place a high emphasis on waste reduction.

As a case in point, Toyota has become the model for lean manufacturing. The Toyota Production System utilizes lean principles to impact the company’s sustainability. Toyota’s lean efforts have led the company to employ a zero impact objective with a goal of generating zero landfill waste. One notable method Toyota employs is using reusable containers to transport materials to suppliers, thereby greatly reducing cardboard use (see related story in the June 2008 issue of DWM, page 32).

Other lean principles, such as moving materials more effectively, minimizing extra handling and improving efficiencies, can lead to a greener business. For example, choose spacers that work interchangeably with various shapes of glass and consider automation to minimize variability. An efficient business and manufacturing process means less embodied energy for your product, as well as less waste in the form of time, costs and materials (see DWM, May 2008, page 8, for a refresher on embodied energy).

Will This Work for Your Business?
Before applying lean principles to your business, you must carefully analyze your business’s current mindset. Start by asking, “How do we get people thinking about improvement?” At this early stage, addressing the environmental benefits of lean can help shake a complacent mindset and earn buy-in from company stakeholders and leadership. A sustainability program’s success requires commitment from the top to the bottom.

The next step would be to determine if the people within your business are prepared to solve problems and improve waste management and other core lean issues. Your workforce needs to be educated on the benefits and objectives of your lean and green initiatives for them to successfully take part in the process.

Some questions to ask as you consider incorporating lean into your sustainability messages include:
• How can I reduce material requirements?
• Can I reduce waste by improving material utilization and machine effectiveness?
• How can I improve the flow of materials to be more efficient?
• Once I reach my goal, how can I have continuous improvement? 

Ric Jackson is the director of marketing and business development for Truseal Technologies Inc. He can be reached at rjackson@truseal.com. David Meier is an internationally recognized authority on lean manufacturing. He can be reached at dmeier@leanassociates.com. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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