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Environmental Thinking From the Start

I once read that it used to be common practice in many automotive plants to plan for an additional process during production; the rework process.  This means that in order to deliver a defect-free product to the customer, some of the car’s elements, after factory fabrication, would require additional hand-tooling for a perfect fit or to ensure safety standards.   There were even employees hired specifically to handle this common issue.  

Rework is one of The Toyota Production System seven kinds of wastes.  Anytime there is a requirement to do things more than once because the first results were faulty is a form of rework waste.

It seems so obvious that this kind of manufacturing is wasteful, expensive, and time consuming.   In business, it’s a given that you strive to get things right the first time.  This proves to be easier said than done however when you have orders to fill and there’s a pressure to move fast.  Far too often placing a bandaid fix on a broken process can seem like a quick and easy solution.

As the desire and pressure to operate in a sustainable way continues to rise, many companies (even some of the best lean ones) produce rework waste to reduce carbon emissions as fast as possible. Just like the automotive plants had a virtuous (and lean) end goal – a defect free product – the means to getting there were not lean.  Becoming a lean and green organization isn’t about just producing a green product or one part of the value stream — essentially just “reducing your unsustainability” practices.  Rather, it’s about addressing the root cause of waste and eliminating it throughout the whole value stream over time.

Here are three ways lean companies can prevent re-work as they become green:


  • When starting a new initiative or product, have green thinking from the start.  Every part of the the value stream has an impact.  Rather than just thinking about producing for the end product or service, companies must consider the upstream and downstream consequences of production and have a comprehensive green plan before starting production. Toyota not only created a lighter car, but they innovated a green way to create lighter parts.  Green process and green products.
  • To make an existing process or product green, let kaizen do it’s job.  As companies begin to improve their energy performance, reduce their carbon emissions, and reduce/reuse rejected materials, they should take a long-term perspective.   The changes won’t happen overnight and they need to be prioritized.  Making small improvements over time will help ensure the root cause of waste is being eliminated instead of just finding a counter-measure.  Take the time to get it right — the goal is to prevent additional rework.
  • Understand how to measure your results.  After adding a green improvement, check the results achieved.  Is the process performing as planned? The earlier you can detect an error, the less waste you’ll create and you can only improve a benchmark if you have a correct method of measurement.


A few weeks ago I had an enlightening conversation with Jim Morgan.  Our interview will be on the blog soon but I wanted to share something profound that he said, “Anytime you create a product, you are creating the future.  At least for your company, if not for other people.  We have a responsibility to make the world better with our products and our processes.  Thinking about the environment is not something we should add on post production.”  

Whether from hubris, humility, naivety, or distraction, we act without thinking of the consequences.  But there is never an action that doesn’t have an impact.  Sustainability means being green from the start.


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