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A Green Mental Model

In 34 years, my daughter will be roughly the same age as I am now.  That will be 2050,  the year 195 nations pledge to lower or eliminate carbon emissions in the recently drafted Paris Agreement.  It’s the year we could be living in a gasoline-free world. Maybe my daughter will have children and they’ll be curious to know what life was like with fossil fuels (it already sounds old-fashioned, doesn’t it?).   She’ll reply with the classic start, “back when I was a kid …” and tell them what it was like to fuel up at a gas station. How wonderful if it’s something they’ll never experience.  

I can’t help but think about how much the world has changed since I was a kid, and that this kind of progress seems attainable.   Toyota thinks so, too.  Their 2015 Sustainability Report commits to zero carbon emissions for cars (pre and post factory) and plants by 2050.   Pretty remarkable for an automotive company.

Dr. Jeffrey Liker, a renowned authority on Toyota’s Lean methods, stated in a recent exchange with me that this goal “is based on Toyota’s belief that we will be in a hydrogen society by then.”  Hydrogen is on the minds of many.  Just this week, German scientists made significant strides toward nuclear fusion with hydrogen, a measure that would likely be necessary for our future clean energy needs.  

But even with big goals, pledges, and experiments, planning for (and having faith in) something 34 years in the future is hard to wrap your head around and daunting to implement.

To start, going green takes a bit of faith (hydrogen fuel cells have been called mind-bogglingly stupid by Elon Musk and others) and a new mental model.

If you’re already a Lean company, the good news is it should be an easy transition.  Thinking in a sustainable way will feel natural to those familiar with Lean and have practice with cyclical planning and waste removal.  The only difference between a Lean and a Lean Green company is the “customer” – the downstream recipient of your processes.  A sustainable company strives to satisfy profitability, people, and the planet with everything they do, think, and make.  It’s a step beyond focusing only on the customer buying the product or service.

I look forward to discovering and writing about companies who have successfully implemented a green mental model and have big goals they’re working to achieve — even if those goals are decades away.   Stay tuned.

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