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Lean and Environment (and E3): Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
Identifying Lean and E3 Opportunities
Where to go for Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

U.S. EPA's Lean Manufacturing and Environment Website
The US EPA discusses how lean manufacturing ties into environmental performance and offers numerous ...

What is Lean?
The Lean Enterprise Institute offers a basic introduction to lean. Join the membership and access h...

This topic hub discusses the lean and environment movement, and the more recent development of Economy - Energy - Environment (E3), which adds economic development to lean and environment. This hub

This resource hopes to foster an understanding for pollution prevention (P2) professionals in how to integrate environment and economic development into lean manufacturing and lean principles, and how these strategies can greatly enhance the outcomes of waste and pollution reduction efforts. It briefly describes how lean and P2 and economic development work together, their synergies, potential beneficial outcomes, and, how to find resources and technical assistance providers. The objective is allow the P2 or environmental professional person to take their existing set of knowledge, tools, and abilities and adapt it to work effectively on lean and green projects.

What is Lean?

Lean manufacturing was originally developed by the Toyota Motor Company in Japan based on concepts pioneered by Henry Ford. The essence of lean manufacturing is the endless pursuit of waste elimination. Lean production and lean manufacturing refer to the use of systematic methods to reduce costs by eliminating lean's deadly wastes through simplification, standardization, cellular manufacturing, and other continuous improvement strategies, while delivering what the customer wants, on time. The seven deadly wastes of lean are:

  • Overproduction
  • Wait time
  • Transportation
  • Processing methods
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Defects

Lean has traditionally been used in manufacturing, but is now being applied beyond mass production, into service-oriented businesses, agencies, and offices.

How Does Lean Work?

Two of the main frameworks in which lean improvements are developed and implemented, are value stream mapping(VSM) and the kaizen event. Both involve a cross-functional group of people from across a company, such as manager(s), operator(s), owner(s) of a process, designer(s), and purchasing representative(s), facility manager(s), and potentially environmental staff and suppliers.

Value stream mapping (VSM) is first used to identify inefficiencies and non-value added activities, in the current state, and then aids planning for more efficient operation in a future state. The outcome, a visual map of a process or processes, with relevant production data, is then used to identify where to focus future projects and change efforts.

The kaizen event is the actual implementation of the changes to improve the process and efficiency. The kaizen event may last from three to seven days on the plant floor, with all participants focusing on designing and implementing the improved production process.

Within these two frameworks, continuous improvement strategies include those depicted in The House of Lean. These include 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain), batch reduction, WIP (work in process) reduction, total productive maintenance, setup reduction, improved housekeeping, visual controls, better design for manufacturability, plant layout, and standardized work methods.

Lean initiatives essentially focus on efficiency. Another program, often used in conjunction with lean, is Six Sigma, which focuses upon eliminating process variation. Although not the focus of this document, six sigma is mentioned here.

What is E3?

E3 is a coordinated federal and local technical assistance initiative that is helping manufacturers across the nation adapt and thrive in a new business era focused on sustainability. E3 serves as a unique model by working directly with the local manufacturers, utilities, and business communities and streamlining the delivery of the most suitable technical and financial resources to the manufacturers. These resources are leveraged from the pool of following E3 collaborating agencies and programs at local and/or federal levels:

  • Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership
  • Department of Energy’s Save Energy Now
  • Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Suppliers Network and Climate Leaders
  • Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers
  • Department of Labor

E3 provides manufacturers with customized, hands-on lean, energy and pollution prevention assessments, specific project implementations and customized workforce training in applicable “green” skill sets.

Why Integrate Lean and Environment /E3?

Even without explicitly targeting environmental or economic outcomes, lean efforts can yield substantial environmental benefits, cost savings, workforce development, and pollution reductions. However, since environmental wastes and pollution are not the primary focal points in lean, such gains may not be maximized in the normal scheme of lean.

Two strategies, lean and environment (encompassing toxics, wastes, energy, materials, and water) can be integrated and offered simultaneously. The approaches have similarities, in that they strive to eliminate non-value-added components, assess baseline conditions and operations, capture the details of process inputs and outputs, strategize to design, and incorporate changes that will reduce environmental or productivity inefficiencies. Adding environmental considerations allows for the analysis of process wastes, pollution, energy, water, and toxicity, while increasing environmental awareness during traditional lean training, value stream mapping, and kaizen events.

By connecting source reduction opportunities with lean, and workforce development, professionals can help sustainable ideas compete more effectively. Many promising project ideas—environmental and other—are crossed off the list if they are not viewed as central to business success. Lean often achieves results without intensive capital investment, so lean and environment or E3 may facilitate creative ways to attract attention and organizational investment to environmental improvement opportunities.

There has been significant success in many lean and environment and/or E3 projects over the last ten years in the United States. Numerous providers have been working to implement lean and environment side by side, including several the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, the Green Suppliers Network (GSN), a partnership of the Washington State Deparment of Ecology and Washington Manufacturing Services, the Society for Manufacturing Engineers, and other consultants in the field of lean and environment. Three Washington state pilot Lean and Environment projects in 2007 resulted in a collective annual savings of over $1.6M in productivity and environmental improvements for the three participating manufacturers. The Green Suppliers Network (GSN), through their Lean and Clean assessments, has identified millions per year in potential cost savings for 60 projects conducted, along with over 100,000 Mwh in potential energy savings, 1,735 tons of potential solid waste avoided, and significant reduction potentials for water use, and air and water pollution.

What Industries Can Benefit?

Lean is traditionally used in a manufacturing setting, but it has been expanded to cover designing products and processes for lean manufactures, administrative and service type operations (e.g., healthcare and offices), government operations (e.g., permitting), and can be tied directly to energy analysis for businesses to improve energy efficiency.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Lean and Environment (and E3) Topic Hub™ was developed by:

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Hub Last Updated: 5/7/2015