Sadly manufacturing is the source of considerable ecological harm. Emissions, waste, energy consumption, pollutants…there is much work to be done to promote sustainable manufacturing and reduce its impact on the environment. While ‘going green’ is often considered to be an expensive investment (frequently cited as the principle reason for heel-dragging among governments and corporations), sustainability and Lean manufacturing are actually two sides of the same coin.
In many cases, the environmental benefits of Lean manufacturing can appear to be a happy accident, so imagine the even greater benefits to be reaped when sustainability is consciously built into your Lean strategy. Here are just five examples of how sustainable, Lean manufacturing innovations can produce benefits:
- Fewer defective products: by reducing errors in production, product quality improves and therefore wastage is cut. That results in fewer raw materials needed in the manufacturing process, more efficient use of manufacturing facilities and fewer product returns. The effect? Lower energy consumption
- Less overproduction: improved supply chain management and a Kanban-driven production schedule (i.e. just-in-time Lean manufacturing) again means fewer raw materials, less unwanted inventory and a more efficient use of resources.
- Limiting transportation: Lean manufacturing seeks to cut out unnecessary journeys, whether that relates to shipping and transportation over longer distances or the movement of people and materials around a production facility. By minimising movement of people, products and materials, time, energy and resources are saved and the environmental impact of the manufacturing process is reduced.
- Reducing excess inventory: in a similar way to tackling overproduction, by reducing excess inventory it’s possible to use warehouse space more efficiently while also cutting down on packaging needs and, ultimately, reduce potential wastage of unwanted or obsolete products.
- Reducing over-processing: whether you’re pursuing sustainability or Lean manufacturing, it makes sense to ensure that each stage of the production process adds value for the customer. If it doesn’t, you’re over-processing and therefore wasting energy, time and resources. Focus on stripping back the manufacturing process to deliver exactly what the customer needs but no more, and your bottom line will benefit as much as the environment.
It is now widely accepted that the human race needs to find a more environmentally-friendly way of inhabiting this planet if we are to survive. Through the implementation of greener and more sustainable Lean manufacturing practices, it’s possible to make a significant difference while also improving profitability.