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Lean and the Environment


EPA - Lean and Environment Toolkit

Lean is well known for its focus and effectiveness to reduce waste specifically in production processes. The 8 sources of lean waste: defects, excess processing, overproduction, waiting, inventory, transportation, motion, and non-utilized talent have helped practitioners “see lean waste” in their processes and identify areas of improvement. The tool that is most often used is Value Stream Mapping (VSM) which adds a temporal dimension to visualize where, when, and how much waste is being used in every step of value creation.


It is no wonder that this same approach is increasingly being used to “see environmental waste” in business processes. Although not considered part of Lean’s deadly wastes, environmental waste are embedded in and related to wastes targeted by lean strategies.


Over the last decade Lean tools and practices have expanded to consider quality, safety, and environmental aspects. Instead, of quantifying waste only in terms of financial costs the quantification of such things as carbon footprint is becoming the new calculus by which processes are measured.


One of the most comprehensive toolkits that combines lean and the environment is available is from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This toolkit provides practical strategies and techniques to:


“improve Lean results—waste elimination, quality enhancement, and delivery of value to customers—while achieving environmental performance goals”

Organizations that adopt this toolkit can better answer the following questions:

  • Why should I identify environment waste in my processes?

  • How will I know when I see environmental waste?

  • Where should I look for environmental waste?

  • How do I measure the environmental impacts of a process?

  • Where can I find environmental preferable alternatives to my current process?

One of the tenants of Lean is that if you can’t see it you can’t improve it. To begin to see environment waste in your organization, EPA recommends the following:

  1. Add environmental metrics to the metrics considered in Lean efforts to better understand the environmental performance of production areas.

  2. Show management commitment and support for improved Lean and en­vironmental performance by holding collaborative meetings and providing resources and recognition.

  3. Integrate environmental wastes into Lean training programs. This can be as simple as adding a few additional slides to a presentation or as ad­vanced as holding a special Lean training for EHS personnel.

  4. Make environmental wastes visible and simple to eliminate by using signs and other visual controls in the workplace.

  5. Recognize and reward environmental success accomplished through Lean.

Identifying environmental wastes, calculating and optimizing for carbon footprint, and learning how to reduce environmental waste will become standard practice for Lean practitioners in an Environment-First future.


Lean practitioners will need to work more closely with EHS professionals and become more knowledgable and skilled on how to incorporate environmental aspects into their practices.


These resources from the EPA are great places to start:



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