For the last few years, I’ve been perplexed about why more people have not connected the dots between the Toyota Production System (Lean) and the sustainability movement. As I’ve dug deeper, I found that the Leanies really ARE thinking about concepts of energy efficiency, waste reduction, and pollution prevention, as these are natural side effects of the Lean process.
Further behind the curve are the Greenies. They seem to be stuck on technologies – CFLs, biofuel, solar – rather than highly integrated systems for improvement and innovation. They’ve got solutions, but not processes for finding solutions. That leads to a one-size-fits-all approach that rarely “fits-all.”
While the technologies available are often great energy savers, they may not be the best energy saver. I’m living proof - I installed a programmable thermostat, only to waste more energy due to my electric heat pump! Far better to systematically apply the principles and tools of Lean to really understand a process and then make it better with proven strategies for innovation.
So how does Lean fit into sustainability? I happened upon an absolutely lucid explanation of how the two relate, and it should be shared and emailed throughout the Green community.
The Lean basics?
1. Adopt a long-term philosophy.
This is fundamental, and is essential for the other ideas. If you’re not thinking long-term, understanding the life cycle costs of your decisions, you’re not working sustainably. Sometimes, the best solution costs more up-front, but pays dividends far beyond the quick and cheap options.
2. Focus on the process, and the results will follow.
Again, slapping on CFLs and a programmable thermostat will result in energy savings (probably). But looking at the process allows us to find even more subtle and elegant solutions. It also forces us to ask “DO we even need this process?”
3. People First
People, Planet, Profit highlights social justice, but sometimes the sustainability movement can demonize and demoralize people for their actions. Lean asks “How can we provide the same value that people are looking for, with less waste?” Then, it taps their knowledge, creativity, and motivation to find the answers.
4. Problem Solving for the Root Cause
Solve the real problem, and not the symptoms. Replacing an inefficient furnace is great, but only if you’ve dealt with the air leaks and insulation that let all of that energy escape.