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Sustainability, Like Quality

How much do you charge your customers for quality?  

For a lean organization, this question might sound a little absurd.    Of course you don’t charge extra for quality — it’s an outcome of continuous improvement efforts.  Sustainability works the same way in a lean organization, but there’s a belief that “going green” requires a lot of green.  

This perception can scare away business owners and executives who are already juggling competing priorities and tight budgets.  This is a misconception.   After all, going green is doing more with less — saving physical and financial resources. If sustainability cannot be implemented and maintained, then the idea is self defeating.  

Lean focuses on customer satisfaction and cost reduction. Every step in a process is an opportunity to cause a defect and decrease your product or service’s quality. The fewer steps you have in a process, the fewer chances for defects you create and the better the quality in your final product or service.

A lean and green organization focuses on customer satisfaction, cost reduction, and reducing a company’s carbon footprint.  Every step in a process is an opportunity to create more environmental waste (more energy resources used than needed, a release of carbon emissions, and rejected materials).  Thinking about how to simplify and innovate processes will help your carbon footprint shrink overtime until it’s vanished completely.

Quality and Sustainability are not just for the rich, they are not synonymous with luxury.  They’re an end result that a customer shouldn’t have to pay extra for.

A good example of built-in quality is found In the book Gemba Kaizen, by Dr. Masaaki Imai.  In the book,  there’s a story of a soldering workshop in Japan that employed women from nearby farms. This company reduced its defect rate from 3 percent to 50 parts per million, without automation and without investment. In a nutshell, here’s how they did it without increasing costs:

  • Simplify the material and information flow
  • Design products that are simpler to make and less likely to be defective
  • Try to improve each process step, document the new procedures, and train the operators
  • Accelerate the flow of production, to get finished products earlier and detect problems as quickly as possible
  • As soon as a problem is detected, look for its root cause and implement corrective actions
  • Set up fool-proof devices (poka-yoke) to prevent defects at the source, when possible
  • Give operators certain “ownership” of their process, and have them do a “self quality check”

All these actions improve quality without increasing the average unit cost.

To give a real world example of how someone has simplified their lifestyle to be more sustainable is Lauren Singer from the blog Trash is for Tossers  (no relation, but her blog is a personal favorite).  She shares her Two Steps for Zero Waste.  The decision to live a waste-free life only required initiative and dedication has actually saved her thousands of dollars over the years.   Her steps include:

  1. Evaluate: the first step is to take a look at your daily life and ask yourself the following questions:
  • How much garbage am I currently producing and what types? Ex: food packaging- this can help you determine the places you can start reducing and looking for alternatives.  
  • Why am I even interested in decreasing my impact? Is it for the environment, is it to decrease toxins in my life, is it to decrease clutter, is it because i’m totally broke and want to save money? Really understand your motivators and use them as a place to start decreasing what you use.
  • What do I actually use on a daily basis (what is in my daily routine) and what do I not use/need? This can help you determine the things that you can donate and reduce.
  • What products do I use that I can get more sustainable alternatives to? Ex: exchanging plastic tupperware for glass or mason jars.
  • The most important one straight from Yoda’s lips: How much and what do I really need to be happy? Really assess why you own and hold on to certain things, and determine if you really need that giant foam finger in the back of your closet to be happy.
  1. Transition: start to downsize and properly dispose of the unnecessary things:
  • Bring a reusable bag and water bottle with you everywhere!
  • Get rid of the plastic. From tupperware to take away bags plastic is toxic. For items that are lightly used, donate to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. For products that are recyclable, like plastic, do so.  
  • Replace these products with sustainable, long-lasting alternatives. Such as Organic cotton, stainless steel, wood, and glass. Donate your crappy college plastic kitchenware for some nice glass, stainless steel, or cast iron. It is sexy.
  • Be creative. Figure out what you can use in different ways. Organic cotton napkins can also be used as a drying rack, to store leafy greens in the fridge, or to bring lunch to work. Mason jars can be used for coffee, takeout, leftovers, toothbrush holders, lotion dispensers…
  • Make your home your sanctuary. For me that means having a few things that are really important to me. Most of mine were either handed down to me or obtained on craigslist. Secondhand!
  • Minimize. Ask yourself, what do I not need? What do I wear every day? What did I buy last year that still has tags on it? Whatever it is, it most likely has a value of some sort. Whether it is donating to your local Goodwill or Housing Works, or selling your products at a consignment store or on Ebay, you can always get a return on your items.
  • Think Organic, think Local, think Sustainable and BUY IN BULK.

Simplification is key.  Start thinking about sustainability like you do quality and you’ll see opportunities everywhere to reduce your carbon footprint.  In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing recent interviews with CEOs who have incorporated sustainability to their processes and workplaces without an additional cost.   Stay tuned.

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