Environmental Benefits of Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma (LSS) has not been developed to benefit the environment, however, our research and experience of implementing these types of projects shows that in many cases it can be environmentally friendly. By reducing lead times, defects and costs of products or services, there are significant environmental gains to be had. We don't claim that implementing Lean Six Sigma always results in environmental benefits (it doesn't) but by tailoring Lean Six Sigma and considering the environment in particular ways this can be achieved.
Below are a few simple examples of how LSS can benefit the environment for a manufacturing company based on real life experiences, using the Lean tool "7 Wastes" (4 wastes identified as examples):
Reducing the physical distances between production processes either on the factory floor that require mechanized trucks or handling systems inherently reduces energy consumption and any emissions from these transport systems. It will also provide the business benefit of reducing the time to produce the product and costs.
- Waiting times
Lean Six Sigma uses line balancing techniques between processes. Conducting this process will improve the flow of the products or services and significantly reduce the waiting times between processes. Any waiting time is a waste as machines, heating and lighting are still operable. A significant positive impact on an organization's yearly emissions will result from these improvements.
Lean Six Sigma tools such as Statistical Process control (SPC) are used to reduce unwanted variation of products. Reducing the variation and the number of defects outside the defined specification will result in less scrap or rework. This will therefore save time, costs and will result overall in lowering an organization's CO2 and energy usage. There will also be the environmental benefit of less disposal of any scrap or defective products with the concomitant cost savings.
- Over production
In situations where products have a shelf life, such as in the food sector, producing what the customer wants when they want it will have significant positive effects on the environment. This is a fundamental part of Lean principles where a customer “pull” is utilized rather than a manufacturer “push” into the marketplace. Any waste food from over production will invariably end up in landfill sites. Producing food when the customer wants in the right quantities will also help the food manufacturer save costs on fuels and materials as well as a reduced CO2 footprint.
What next for Lean Six Sigma?
It is our belief that the combination of Lean Six Sigma and Environmental Management will become very well established over the next decade. The terminology is unclear but it will probably be called "Green Lean Six Sigma" or something similar.
Many new and exciting “Green” or environmental versions of classic LSS tools and techniques are now either in development or being used. Our recent research has identified that knowledge and awareness of Green Lean and/or Six Sigma is growing at quite a pace.
Other exciting areas of development for Lean SIx Sigma include technological advances including the integration of Discrete Event Simulation with Value Stream Mapping and other software advances making it easier to get results faster.