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

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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...

There are numerous benefits to integrating environment and economic development into lean - for businesses of all types. These are discussed within the following contexts:

Synergistic Results

Time and time again, projects which integrate lean and environment have resulted in better outcomes than a project in which only one of these strategies was employed. Expanding lean's emphasis on the elimination of lean waste - to include environmental wastes - offers broader opportunities than the P2 and waste minimization efforts usually associated with environmental compliance.

Lean production methods and pollution prevention programs work well together. However, the change-drivers for lean implementation, including substantial improvements in profitability and competitiveness, are typically stronger than the drivers that enter via the “green door,” (e.g., cost savings from pollution prevention activities, and reductions in compliance risk and liability). Leveraging lean's productivity advances can make selling environmental projects easier.

There have been significant success in many lean and environment projects over the last ten years in the U.S. Providers within the Green Suppliers Network (GSN), the Washington State Department of Ecology in partnership with Washington Manufacturing Services, along with other consultants in the field of lean and members of the Society for Manufacturing Engineers, have been working to implement lean and environmental improvements side by side. 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 companies. The environmental improvements include: avoided raw material and solid waste of over 53,000 pounds, avoided purchase of 68,000 pounds of hazardous substances, avoided generation of 86,000 pounds of hazardous waste, and an emission reduction in volatile organic compound of over 55,000 pounds. Service providers on sixty Green Suppliers Network (GSN) "Lean and Clean Advantage" projects have identified millions per year in potential cost savings, 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.

Since about 2009, a newer process called E3 (Energy - Environment - Economy) has evolved from lean and green, adding workforce training and development to the lean and evironment projects, with technical and sometimes financial assistance from five federal agencies. The E3 projects result in additional worfkorce and economic advantages for participating companies.


Compliance to environmental regulation is a strong driver for cleaner production and better environmental performance. While pollution prevention (P2) and waste minimization are important means for achieving regulatory compliance, in some instances, leaner production can reduce regulatory burden. Lean may be able to achieve compliance without the capital investment that some P2 or major equipment changes may necessitate.

Alternatively - implementing lean without involvement of enviromental expertise from within or outside the company, can result in compliance issues. Lean may impart regulatory “friction” around environmentally-sensitive processes, such as chemical point-of-use management; chemical treatment; metal plating; painting and coating; and parts cleaning and degreasing, etc. In lean, the right-sized equipment and production, mobile operation systems, or fast-paced, iterative operational change, and other facets of lean production, may result in situations where either environmental performance improvements can be constrained, or the risk of potential non-compliance with environmental regulations is increased. Where companies are delayed or deterred from applying lean to environmentally-sensitive processes, not only are they less able to address competitive industry pressures, they also do not realize the waste reduction benefits around these processes that typically result from lean implementation.

Productivity and Competitiveness

Lean and green companies that can deliver quality products and services on time, with fewer environmental impacts and risks, have the potential to capture significant competitive advantage. Lean gets to the heart of inefficient production in many ways, including improving process flow and reducing lead times. This reduces cost and improves responsiveness to customers.

In many cases, the costs associated with pollution and wasted energy, water, and raw materials can be significant and add to the cost of production. These costs may be hidden in overhead, and not recognized by management. Lean and environmental efforts allow for these costs to be recognized, understood, and reduced, thereby increasing profitability.

Applying all three facets of E3 in a project can also contribute significantly to higher-skilled and more empowered workforce, further increasing competitiveness.

Improved Waste Minimization

Lean inherently reduces wastes, but not always the same focus on wastes that P2 and waste minimization typically address. Adding P2 to lean enhances the effectiveness of lean implementation - by including such targets as air and water releases, water and energy use, and toxic substance use. In turn, adding lean to P2 changes will result in addressing more wastes than P2 or environmental evaluations would reduce independently. For example, lean works to improve product quality and desirability to the customer, preventing production of off-spec products or excess inventory.

If a true lean and kaizen culture is established, waste minimization and pollution prevention will be enhanced. Technological innovation will always play a role in reducing waste, but daily incremental improvement is the key to keeping the elimination of waste a company focus.

Customer and Employee Satisfaction

Lean seeks to make exactly what the customer wants, when they want it. In many markets products with superior environmental performance and optimal productivity can attract new and keep existing customers.

Explicit integration of environmental and lean can also improve the work environment for employees, by reducing ergonomic concerns, eliminating environmental hazards and exposures, by creating a clean, safe, and less toxic workplace. Lean, and continuous improvement truly engages all involved employees in the improvement process and empowers them to bring ideas, suggestions, to the table. When employees take pride in their work and are allowed to provide input, organizational morale improves. This can empower employees and further enhance productivity.


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Hub Last Updated: 6/4/2013