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Lean and green are not only trendy topics, but they also make good business sense, especially for manufacturers. However, since both concepts have been saddled with a lot of hype, manufacturers have tended to shy away from pursuing these goals. Becoming leaner and greener is actually a pretty simple process, and many of the steps may feel very familiar.

Get Lean the Easy Way

In it’s purest form, lean manufacturing is about eliminating waste and increasing quality and consistency — despite the pundits who insist you can be lean only if you can spell and pronounce words such as kaizen, kanban and heijunka. In reality, one of the core tenets of the Toyota Production System on which lean manufacturing is based is “produce only what you need to satisfy the customer and nothing more.”

You can better understand “The Toyota Way” from Dr. Jeffrey Liker of the Toyota Way Academy below.

To satisfy this most basic principle of lean, some manufacturers will have to change the way they measure success. Lean success doesn’t mean approaching 100 percent machine utilization. It means delivering 100 percent of customer orders in full and on time. Once that is done, running equipment — no matter how efficiently — is a waste. In addition, you will save energy and water by running equipment only when it’s needed.

Error Proofing

Another important way to reduce waste is by eliminating or reducing scrap. Work with engineering and the production staff to design tooling or jigs that ensure accurate assembly or machining. Ask the production team what drives it crazy about a particular task or job. It’s a pretty sure bet that whatever it is that drives it crazy is also a likely cause of wasted time, wasted material or wasted energy.

You will often find the things that make the team crazy are easily corrected — such as moving the location of materials, changing the layout of the workstation, adding a jig to the tooling or correcting specification errors that complicate the process. Changing the process to eliminate the irritation will save money, improve quality and create a happier workforce. You also will be greener because you will not be wasting energy and resources on scrap and unnecessary rework.


You don’t have to send materials to the recycling center when they are easy enough to re-use in their current state. Recycling and re-using packaging and shipping materials, for example, can make your company leaner and greener. When you unpack received goods, add the packing materials such as peanuts or bubble wrap to your stash for shipping products. Unless your product is a consumer or fashion item where image is paramount, you can even re-use packing boxes if you are careful to remove labels. You save money on packaging while saving the environment with efficient use of packing materials.

You might also consider offering customers a rebate if they return packaging materials such as pallets. If this isn’t practical for your particular situation, consider using energy-efficient packing materials made from renewable resources.

Education and Alignment

If being a lean, green manufacturer is truly part of your organization’s strategy, you may have to spend some time and money educating the team on what that means — and be sure to practice what you preach. Don’t tell your production team to create “only what it needs” and then base bonuses and performance ratings on outdated metrics such as efficiency and utilization.

Likewise, you must listen to ideas and input on ways to reduce waste and improve processes regardless of the source. Nobody is more familiar with a task than the people who perform it every day, and nowhere is it written that only managers and engineers have good ideas. Be open to suggestions from employees on the plant floor about ways to reduce waste, and be sure you implement the best ideas — or you will soon stop hearing about them.

Recycle more than scrap metal, printer paper and soda cans. Actively look for ways to re-use existing materials. In addition, you must align the entire organization behind the goal of becoming a lean, green manufacturing machine. Everything from the compensation plan to the production plan must fit together in ways that promote eliminating wasted energy, water and materials. Small steps add up to big savings in costs for the company and in cleaner, more abundant resources for the world.