Go Lean, get Green?

Good news*: your operations can reach excellence in both Lean and Green. But to hope for success you need to treat Lean and Green as interconnected strategies—not isolated projects. That tip is a key take away from the SMARTLOG seminar “Lean & Green? Yes please both” that we arranged at SINTEF in Trondheim this week. Leading academics and corporations** in Scandinavia were invited to share their latest experiences on the topic. Do Lean and Green go well together?

green and lean production

Let us first briefly define Lean and Green: “Lean” is about resource-efficient manufacturing; producing more with less. It is based on the philosophy of the Toyota Production System, and is still the most popular business strategy for improving the product quality (Q), the delivery performance (D), and reducing production costs (C). Lean aims at removing eight types of waste: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, defects, and skills. Hence, “Tim Woods” is the persona-non-grata of lean production. “Green” is also about resource-efficient manufacturing, but the core goal is environmental performance (E). Even if Tim Woods is also an enemy of Green, there are other types of wastes that Green would like to fight first: energy usage, Co2 (and other) emissions, water pollution, and surplus rest material and products.

Go Lean, get Green

A survey among Norwegian SMEs showed that lean companies tend to be greener than the non-lean ones. Interestingly, the opposite effect was not found: green companies are not necessarily lean. Companies that are used to work with continuous improvement in the manufacturing area are able to use this experience also to improve environmental objectives. Also, in many ways, Lean is Green: to get rid off the evil Mr. Tim Woods will have a profoundly positive effect also on the environment. Thus, Lean is an excellent platform for getting Green.

Use Green to get Lean

Green can help kick start a Lean program because it has the ability to engage people on a totally different level than productivity increase. People are generally concerned about our society, and, as environmental issues are raised to the top of the political agenda in the world, individuals want to contribute. The virtuous circle is then complete: use Green to get Lean and go Lean to get Green.

Multiple objective manufacturing: XPS

The main conclusion has to be that Lean and Green should be two sides of the same coin. If you treat them as isolated projects, they will end up fighting for the same organizational resources, and result in not much more than frustration. Lean has a well-developed tool box that can be used to achieve Green production. Therefore, to develop and introduce a completely new Green tool box would not be advisable. Lean and Green should be packed together: A company-specific production system (XPS) can easily be designed for “multiple objective manufacturing”: improving quality, delivery, cost, and environment—at one go. Two good examples are Hydro’s Aluminium Metal Production System (AMPS) and Grundfos’ Green Lean initiative, both presented at the seminar. The future looks bright for those who become both Lean and Green.


* Whether this really qualifies as “news” can be debated. For example, Richard Florida published the paper “Lean and Green: The Move to Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing” in the California Management Review already in 1996. Many others have added to our knowledge subsequently: e.g. King and Lenox published a study on “Lean and Green?” in the Production and Operations Management journal in 2001, and Kevin Zoakei & co have just published the book “Creating a Lean and Green Business System: Techniques for Improving Profits and Sustainability“. Still, in the industry, many companies—in particular small and medium sized enterprises—have yet to become lean or green or both. The fact that much is known, and that many of our largest companies have come a long way, is indeed good “news” for all the others…

** Many thanks to Hydro, Grundfos, Swerea, Professor Monica Bellgran,  Professor Jan Ola Strandhagen and researcher Ottar Bakås for sharing experiences and inspiring this blog post. Presentations from the seminar can be found at smartlog.no.

6 thoughts on “Go Lean, get Green?

  1. Thanks for posting this Torbjorn. Its very interesting putting both concepts together.
    However, what are your thoughts on social sustainability and lean? For example, through making a company leaner can this cause more accidents? Or is this dealt with through standardization and increased knowledge in a lean environment?

    • Thanks for your comment Frank! Your questions is well taken. I think Lean & Corporate Social Responsibility should be – in theory – just as related as Lean & Green are. But, the term “lean” is used for many purposes today – some that may even hurt both the environment and the society. “Real lean” would not do that. To be clear: for me, both environmental and societal “performance” are more essential than meeting other business objectives.

  2. Torbjorn. Good to see the posting, I am a co-author with Keivan Zokaei of the L&G book. Have you seen my Lean & Green group in Linked In? Also in the process of setting up a L&G network in Denmark…not Norway but near!!!

  3. This is true. Both Lean and Green are sides of the same coin. Inf fact, the bridge between the two is called Ecoefficiency. Lean and Ecoeffiency are both sister industrial philosophies, since both of them consist in identifying wastes and eliminating them, thus making companies more efficient.

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