Lean and Green: How Process Innovation Increases Profits and Improves the Environment

Production managers have been working to improve their operations since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. They are the front-line innovators in a company, and their major innovations have been related to process improvement activities — increasing productivity and reducing waste-like movement. Although these managers are diligent about discovering ways to increase the number of units produced per person, unfortunately they seldom look to increase productivity from every kilowatt or reduce environmental impacts.

Many managers view implementing green/ sustainability programs as cost increases rather than efficiency or cost-saving actions. Often these managers use lean manufacturing tools to increase operational efficiency, but they haven’t fully implemented these tools to reduce utility usage and environmental impacts.

An effective lean tool for evaluating energy usage is the value stream map (VSM). VSMs create visualization of production inputs and outputs, like labor hours, material and units produced, to improve functions. When VSM is expanded to utility usage, it provides a more inclusive picture of operational costs and can more completely identify cost-reduction opportunities.

When used in a bakery and an injection-molding operation, VSM has identified potential savings in energy consumption:

Lean drives to smaller batch sizes and minimized work in process (WIP) inventory, but in a bakery, the cost of operating a large oven may lead to baking larger batches and then turning off the oven. A smaller oven would balance the lean and green concepts.

Implementing a quick change process for injection molding may not appear to be cost-effective without including the energy consumed during the changeover.

Today the Model T would be produced with front-line innovations that include lean tools and green objectives to achieve operational improvements. These innovations help increase profits and improve the environment.

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