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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

Lean Manufacturing: Environmental Sustainability Boot Camp

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

measure to manage your sustainability planIs your facility feeling a bit flabby? Do you want to cut your operating costs, reduce your environmental footprint & increase your profits?

Lean and sustainable manufacturing is what you should aim for.

While it's been around for years, many companies still struggle to implement the strategy. It certainly isn’t something that happens overnight. Like any sort of continuous improvement program, getting your processes lean will take hours of hard work.

Think of getting your facility lean like an exercise program. It takes planning, execution, dedication, and constant evaluation.

Because every facility is different, there’s no formula for the steps you should take to get lean. For example, one facility might need to update its control technology, while another might switch the type of materials they purchase. Someone that generates hazardous waste might need to improve their processes and waste handling procedures, while another company that already produces zero toxic waste could improve simply by reducing their packaging.

Just like any workout routine, it needs to be tailored for individual needs and goals. No cookie-cutter solutions are going to do the trick. However, there are a few important lessons that manufacturers looking to get lean can take away from the world of lean physiques.

Set Clear, Measurable Goals

When you set out to make a change, it’s important to set a destination and get a clear mental picture of where you see yourself in the future. But it’s not enough to just say “get more sustainable”, instead the most successful plan are the ones that give concrete outcomes.

Many companies set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50%, or to switch to using 70% renewable energy sources in the next 15 years. By giving measurable goals, these businesses can actually track their progress and get a better picture of how to get there.

And once you’ve set measureable goals, the next step is….

Measure Your Results Constantly

Since you’ve got measurable goals, actually tracking all the environmental KPI (key performance indicators) you’ve set for yourself will help you achieve them.

Like any type of workout, you need to know how well you’re doing, when it’s time to challenge yourself further, and when you’ve hit a plateau. Environmental data management is the lean manufacturing equivalent of weighing yourself on a scale or getting a physical from your doctor.

And if your environmental data management isn’t up to scratch, here’s three simple ways you can improve it:

  1. Take daily readings of your environmental outputs, including energy use, emissions, and waste. If you’re only doing it weekly (or worse, monthly) you are less able to respond to issues. Plus, by making it daily, you’ll make it a habit and it will mentally boost how you prioritize environmental data.
  2. Start internal benchmarking. Check each month’s overall summary report against the last and start to see trends and patterns. Establish a “clean” base month that you can compare against others to see if anything has changed without you noticing.
  3. Share environmental data across the company, and don’t just keep it locked in the EH&S department. C-Suite decision makers can use this environmental data, and it will create a more sustainability-minded corporate culture.

Don’t Go It Alone

Most trainers will tell you that having a workout buddy is a proven way to increase results and motivate yourself. For manufacturers, this same effect can be achieved by increasing overall employee engagement. That means every employee, not just environmental specialists of sustainability executives.

When every single person in your facility is committed to being as sustainable as possible, there’s no room for slacking off.

It also boosts progress to have someone you are accountable to. Having someone to report to can be the push you need to live up to those goals you set earlier. Many companies post their sustainability goals on their websites and publish annual sustainability reports. There’s also the voluntary GHG reporting programs and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainably metrics program.

Challenge Yourself & Grow

The only way to create a change in your sustainability is to actually change the way you do things. “Business as usual” won’t cut it here, and neither will complacency. Of course it’s great to take small steps towards sustainability (in fact, we’ve got an article explaining exactly why you should remember to take the small steps), but to get completely lean you’ve got to think big too.

Find your major weak spots and work towards gradually correcting them, because these are the major stumbling blocks to your sustainability. Don’t only go for the easy wins like switching to LED lights, also tackle those big issues you’re hesitant to address.   

Lean and sustainable are all about continuous improvement, which means constantly striving for greater heights. Just as a bodybuilder will continually lift heavier and heavier weights, your journey to sustainability should tackle bigger and bolder projects.

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ERA Environmental Alex

About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog

Image credit: Bryson-Lewis Family

Topics: Sustainability