Lean is Green

Lean manufacturing principles have solidified themselves as a successful method of improvement in organizations across the globe. Increasing productivity through waste elimination methods continues to  be the golden ticket for many industries, but a separate by-product of Lean is in need of some attention –Green. Organizations everywhere are starting to notice their Lean principles produce a significant impact on their green/environmental performance. In general, environmental impacts are not part of the financial justification for Lean implantation. So in return the savings and even potential revenues are often not calculated into their Lean initiatives.  However, after further review, green just might have a new place in the Lean culture .

Lean = Green

The pursuit of Lean through the various Lean methods is a long continuous journey. but if we can hit the pause button for just a minute, we can examine the different elements of some Lean methods and their impact on the environment.


While some consider 5S to be the training wheels for Lean, I believe it is the foundation and framework for your Lean culture. The benefits of 5S are very visible, everything is sorted, clean, and there’s a routine for it all, but what about the green benefits?

  • Cleaning your windows will allow more natural light into the work area. This will require less lighting, meaning less electricity used in the daytime.
  • Spills and leaks are noticed quickly in a clean work area. This allows them to be cleaned up quickly, creating less of an impact on the environment.
  • When equipment, parts and materials are easy to access and organized, the consumption of materials and chemicals is reduced.
  • Implementing 5S can significantly reduce the amount of space needed for operations by organizing and disposing of unused equipment and supplies. The less space you need the less energy you need to supply.
  • 5S techniques can be used to improve labeling of hazardous materials and wastes. This results in employee awareness and improved environmental management.


Kaizen is a model for continuous improvement that creates a sustainable focus on eliminating waste in all forms. This is very similar to the culture and process that Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and pollution prevention programs look to develop. The advantage for Kaizen, is that it calls upon each individual to participate in the improvement process. Kaizen events for example are excellent opportunities to uncover hidden wastes and reduce resource requirements. This puts a direct focus on specifics that will improve the bottom line and your carbon footprint, sometimes without you even knowing it. When you have workers contributing to your process who work on the front lines, their suggestions are key to reducing waste and improving the process. If you then can project a focus on environmental waste across the board, you can create a greater awareness, increasing the organization’s attention towards their environmental impact and improve your green movement even further.


Kanban is a critical part of the Just In Time system that determines the processes production quantities and ordering systems. Kanban’s “pull” system allows for more flexibility on the production floor because the organization is only producing what is being ordered. Here are some direct green impacts your kanban can have:

  • Less inventory space needed = less energy needed
  • Decreased in products sitting around that eventually get scrapped or discarded
  • Decreased amount of raw materials used in production

Less energy, emissions and waste (solid and hazardous) generated by the processing of unneeded output. When you reduce the amount of necessary in-process and post-process inventory, you reduce the potential for products to be damaged during the handling and storage, or from deterioration or spoilage. This inventory generally ends up being disposed of as solid or hazardous waste. Another big part of the kanban process is that it helps facilitate worker-lead process improvements. If workers are more motivated to improve products, the end result is less inventory sitting around waiting to be sold.


Some consider 3P as one of the most powerful and advanced manufacturing tools used by Lean organizations. It is generally reserved for those that are Lean veterans, but it can been adapted successfully at all levels with the right training. 3P (Production Preparation Process) is a variation of Lean that looks to eliminate waste through the product and process design. This is a major shift from a slow and continuous improvement of existing processes to the “quantum leap” design improvements that improve performance while eliminating waste that 3P offers. So what does 3P do for my green?

  • Encourages less complex product design. This generally leads to using fewer parts and fewer types of materials – less waste!
  • Focus on eliminating waste at the product and process design stage has a big impact on environmental quality by avoiding design models that produce detrimental environmental impacts.
  • Part of 3P is to study nature and the natural design processes that are inherently waste free.

Get Lean and Get Green

These are some of the obvious examples of the significant environmental impacts Lean can have, but there’s much more! The opportunity that Lean principles offer to a cleaner and “greener” world are truly endless, but we need to be aware of them. All too often, they are overlooked for the bottom line gains and we forget that we not only increased productivity, but also decreased our impact on our planet.

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