167
Chapter 8
Lean and Green: Applying 
Lean to the Environment
The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using
the same thinking that created the situation.
Albert Einstein
8.1  Lean and Environmental Sustainability
Lean production and environmental sustainability share the same overall
goals and objectives: to eliminate waste, to maximize the use of resources,
and to achieve long-term efficient operations. In most manufacturing pro-
cesses air pollution, water effluent, and waste are composed of valuable
raw materials and finished goods that don’t make it into the product, but
instead are discharged into the air, flushed down the drain, or buried in the
ground. Environmental sustainability or “Green” efforts make business sense
because they focus on the efficient use of resources, which has a positive
and salutary effect on an organizations finances. Contrary to conventional
wisdom, there is indeed compelling evidence that those companies can be
both Lean and Green.
Business goals and environmental objectives are not automatically
antagonistic and mutually exclusive but, rather, can be complementary
and even synergistic when properly aligned and implemented. In the
168 ◾  Lean Sustainability
book, Lean and Green, Pamela Gordon
1
argues that business does not
have to choose between environmental sustainability and profit. The
author provides convincing evidence gathered from business case stud-
ies to dispel the myth that Green practices are contrary to business suc-
cess. Gordon cites companies such as Texas Instruments, IBM, and Intel
that have significantly reduced costs by reducing wastes. Other companies
such as Horizon Organic Dairy, the largest U.S. supplier of organic milk
products, have increased revenues by developing green” products and
services that address consumer needs. In the end, successful sustainabil-
ity initiatives must make both environmental sense and business sense or
they will not endure. Thus, while protecting the environment and pre-
serving natural resources, they should also deliver long-term profitable
growth.
2
Businesses can achieve both environmental and productivity improve-
ments by making their processes more efficient (eco-efficiency), by devel-
oping more environmentally friendly products (eco-innovation), and by
operating in a more sustainable fashion. Lean and Green progress can be
achieved via incremental improvements in existing ways of working or
by making fundamental changes in one’s business model and systems. In
fact, many environmental advocates including Paul Hawken, author of The
Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism, argue that current business
practices are devastating the planet, and therefore significant and lasting
sustainability progress can only be made via a fundamental redesign of busi-
ness models and commerce.
3,4
The solution is to establish Lean processes
and a “restorative economy” that are designed to mimic nature by eliminat-
ing, reusing, or recycling all waste. Business should abandon the decidedly
wasteful and un-Lean “cradle to grave”
5
approach where a business’s wastes
are dumped into the environment. Instead, nature’s “cradle to cradle” sys-
tem, where the concept of waste does not exist, should become the basis of
industrial design. In nature, one processs wastes are reborn by becoming
raw material for another process. Thus, in a “cradle to cradle” economy old
products are not buried in the grave, but instead are repeatedly given new
life by being restored by the manufacturer, or are reincarnated as an alterna-
tive beneficial resource or product.
The Lean and Green approach to sustainability demands new ways of
thinking and acting. The old ways of designing and producing products
will no longer suffice. The Lean early management pillar and the SHE pillar
can work together to brainstorm and evaluate options for sustainable smart

Get Lean Sustainability now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.