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Lean and Environment (and E3): Operations
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:

Lean Manufacturing and Environment: Case Studies & Best Practices
15 real-world examples and short case studies of the types of environmental benefits that result fro...

The Seven Deadly Wastes
The endless pursuit of waste elimination is the essence of lean manufacturing. Eliminate waste by un...

U.S. EPA: Lean and Environment Toolkit
This toolkit was created to help enhance the understanding and on-the-ground implementation of strat...

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

The essentials of E3 and lean and green are covered in the following context:

A few complementary programs and tools, which are not discussed here, can further enhance the outcomes from lean and environmental efforts. For example, Six Sigma, Pre-Production Planning or Production Preparation Process (known as 3P), the Baldridge Quality model, and ISO 9000 are complementary tools that are often used in conjunction with lean. Environmental Management Systems, ISO 14000, and Design for Environment are related tools that can be used in incorporating pollution prevention and waste minimization efforts into lean.

Integrating Lean and Environment within Value Stream Mapping and Kaizen Events

One critical facet of a lean and environment project is to include an environmental health and safety representative from the company on the lean team. When possible, outside P2 or environmental expertise can add value to the project. E3 projects seeks to also incorporate a strong utility and workforce development component, so additional staff familiar with energy and water use, and those involved with staff training and technical development, are important team members to include in lean events.

One of the first steps in moving forward on a lean and environment project is to ensure that all participants understand the gamut of environmental wastes and issues, such as water, energy, and material consumption, generation of hazardous and solid wastes, effluents and emissions, and use of toxic substances. This is an important addition to the conventional lean training that most company lean teams receive prior to conducting a lean project. See Chapter 2 of the US EPA's Lean and Enviroment Toolkit for additional guidance.

The next step is to include and measure applicable environmental consideratons during value stream mapping (VSM) of the current and future state. The traditional VSM captures production processes, steps, and time data, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Simplified Depiction of Value Stream Map: Current State (Source: Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership - OMEP)

Adding considerations such as material use, toxics use, or energy or water consumption to the map - as an added line below the processes (Figure 2), or as inputs and outputs (Figure 3), helps to capture data to address environmental issues. Workforce development needs contributing to inefficiencies in production can also be noted on a VSM with sticky notes or hand-written notes.

Figure 2: Simplified Depiction of Value Stream Map Including Material Analysis (Source: OMEP)

Figure 3: Simplified Depiction of Value Stream Map Including Environmental Inputs and Outputs (Source: OMEP)

The next step is use the current state VSM to create an optimized future state VSM reducing lead time, non-value added steps, and reducing environmental wastes. This step is where the lean teams use their collective input, along with plans to use lean and P2 principles to design the improved "future state" value stream map. In addition, target processes or improvement opportunities are identified as priorities for kaizen events, via a "starburst" on the map. A green starburst can be used to flag an environmental improvement opportunity. (See Figure 4).

Figure 4: Simplified Depiction of Value Stream Map Identifying Kaizen Event Opportunities (Source: OMEP & PPRC)

At the culmination of the VSM process, the lean and environment team give a report-out is given to all participants and management on the findings and action plans. Management support and buy-in is a crucial part of this improvement process.

The final step is to plan and execute kaizen event(s), also called rapid improvement event(s). The kaizen event typically includes most of the same cross-functional team members involved in the VSM preparation, and may involve additional staff and suppliers. The team uses continuous improvement strategies, and lean and P2 tools, training of operators and staff, and facility, equipment, product, and procedural changes to achieve the "future state".

Lean tools may include, but are not limited to: work flow, 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain), batch reduction, WIP (work in process) and inventory reduction, total productive maintenance, setup time reduction, visual controls, Six Sigma, plant layout, energy efficiency, poka yoke (mistake proofing), standardized work methods, time studies, lean design, specific training, and more. Environmental opportunities can be readily included and addressed alongside these strategies.

Integrating Lean and Energy

In light of the focus on energy cost savings and greenhouse gas reduction, the lean and/or E3 frameworks have become valuable tools to focus on energy efficiency. Similar to the process above, there are resources available to include energy analysis within lean. The U.S. EPA's Lean and Energy Toolkit offers an overview, benefits, and strategies of integrating lean with energy efficiency efforts. In addition, the California Manufacturing Technical Center has developed and is using a tool called VeSM™ Advantage Plus Program to assist California companies in improving productivity while simultaneously addressing energy efficiency.

Typical energy information and data gathering can include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Purchased electricity, and/or natural gas, and/or steam (from utility bills)
  • Review of any energy management policies or programs
  • Method of communication for employees to learn about, and suggest energy saving opportunities
  • If available, energy consumption per unit of production
  • Review of any recent energy-focused projects or assessments
  • Motors and pumps and fans: age, hp, efficiency ratings
  • Lighting: type and age
  • Compressed air: leak detection, pressure output, type, and horsepower
  • Process specific heating: type, fuel, hours of operation
  • Refrigeration and cooling systems: tons of cooling capacity needed, square feet and temperature of storage areas, chiller types, capacity, and efficiency
  • Cooling towers: number, type(s), capacity of each
  • Steam production; rate, fuel type, boiler type and operating pressure, and any heat recovery equipment.

Integrating Workforce Training and Development

  • All manufacturing
  • Administrative and service organizations
  • Government, including permitting and reporting operations
  • Energy-focused, water-focused, or waste-focused projects for any organization

Types of Companies and Projects are Candidates for Lean and Environment?

  • All manufacturing
  • Administrative and service organizations
  • Government, including permitting and reporting operations
  • Energy-focused, water-focused, or waste-focused projects for any organization

Service Delivery

The challenge, and opportunity, for environmental and business development deprofessionals is to connect with lean business improvement efforts in a seamless way that embeds sustainability concepts into the normal way of doing business. If referrals or recommendations are needed for project partners in lean, environment, energy/water, workforce development, and/or financial resources are needed, contact PPRC or the national Lean and Environment Workgroup for assistance, or visit the E3 website.

For integration of the enviromental pieces, toolkits developed by the U.S. EPA, fostering expertise in integrating lean and the environment, include Environmental Professional's Guide to Lean and Six Sigma, along with other toolkits on lean and environment, lean and energy, and lean and chemicals. The integrated lean and environment projects, typically involve one or more P2 specialists and a lean service provider. A source of excellent lean expertise is each state's Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEP), operating under the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).

Environmental expertise may be provided by one or more of the following: internal environmental staff; P2Rx centers, government P2 technical assistance providers (typically a non-regulatory branch of state or local government), utility service providers, industrial assessment centers, or independent environmental consultants. Involving environmental expertise from outside the business or operation itself can provide invaluable perspective and input that may not have already been considered or evaluated by internal staff.

Adding workforce training and development to lean and environmental projects, further enhances sustainable results for a company or business. Workforce training provides targeted and certified skills in sustainable technologies and methods that will increase manufacturing competitiveness and enhance employee retention. These service providers may include or involve universities and colleges, and/or the Small Business Administration or Small Business Develoment Centers, Departments of Licensing, or state workforce development boards.

Projects and Case Studies

Simultaneously combining lean and environmental efforts has boosted lean results for many U.S. companies. Over 13 E3 success stories are available from Alabama, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, found here.

Belwo are results from the first three lean and environment pilot projects completed in Washington State, which occured from 2008 to 2010. Washington has conducted several subsequent projects, but these are mentioned because they were the pilot projects that helped Washington reap successes and be able to offer additional projects.

The Washington case studies and combined results are as follows:


  • Avoided filing for a Title V air permit by reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) releases;
  • Reduced energy costs by over $120,000 annually;
  • Reduced hazardous waste by over 60,000 pounds annually;
  • Reduced fiberglass overspray by about 60% (for one product line);
  • Reduced solid waste by over 500,000 pounds annually;
  • Nearly eliminated one source of wastewater generation, for an annual savings of $17,000;
  • Increased staff environmental awareness so this knowledge and experience can be applied during future improvement efforts.

Additional case studies describing lean and environment and E3 projects include


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

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

Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 5/7/2015