To truly go green, businesses must first become lean. An organization’s respect for an appropriate use of all resources with which it comes in contact, or over which it has influence, is fundamental to its own sustainability. However, in order to truly be green, organizations must first be mindful of what it is to be lean.
When executives assess their organizations through a lean lens, they have the opportunity to create a workplace whereby all resources energy, tangibles, processes, systems and human capital are maximized without a strain on the work environment. It is these companies that are better prepared to employ the more traditionally identified green or sustainable practices, because they have a core understanding of sustainability from the inside out.
The lean philosophy identifies several organizational wastes: waiting, over-production, rework, excessive motion, over-processing, excess inventory and underused talent. With a strategically planned effort and the right set of analytical and implementation tools, these wastes are eliminated when a business goes lean and process efficiency, effectiveness, cost of delivery and, subsequently, customer value are dramatically improved.
Regardless of an organization’s size, industry, number of employees or whether it is delivering services or products to its customers, its internal environment must be lean, or its cost to deliver its products or services is greater than it has to be, and that’s waste.
Lean is often mistakenly used synonymously with cost-cutting, downsizing, or stretching personnel or systems to capacity. In reality, lean has little to do with less, except for less inefficiency, waste and cost of delivery. Practicing lean business allows an organization to focus on maximizing work flow efficiency, minimize time delays and leverage the talents of its people.
Lean is more. With an eye always fixed on continuous improvement and innovation, lean affords us more organizational effectiveness, greater employee morale and retention, and increased customer value.
Imagine your own organization. What would happen if, department by department, you identified and implemented operational practices to increase efficiency and productivity, leveraged your people to their highest and best use, eliminated nonvalue-added activity, increased process capacity, decreased the time lapse for work in process, and minimized errors and rework?
From an environmental perspective, there is little left to dispute about the need to be green. We simply cannot sustain our resources and, frankly, our humanity if we don’t make significant changes in the ways in which we conduct ourselves. Conservation, by definition, is to minimize waste and save resources for their most appropriate and effective use. Recycling is to maximize a resource by using and reusing every bit of it so that nothing is wasted.
The relationship between green and lean is not particularly complicated. For an organization to be truly green cannot simply mean solar roof panels, sensor water faucets, energy-saving light bulbs and a rigorous recycling program. Green itself cannot be sustained within an organization that does not embrace a lean platform.
Often at the forefront of leading change, New Jersey-based organizations are embracing lean in record numbers: from the manufacturers eager to deploy lean production to the services businesses seeking lean administration.
We’ve known for decades that our focus needed to shift to a greener way of living. Unfortunately, the green movement was not widely embraced until not being green began to have an economic impact. The same goes for lean: The concept of lean business has been around for years, but many have casually nodded at it, as though it was just the latest trend in the long line of how-to management philosophies.
But now, it’s apparent that both going lean and green are not only the right things to do, sooner than later together they will become a necessity and an operational imperative.
Angela S. Calzone is president of Morris Plains-based Change & Response Strategies LLC.
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