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Lean (Green) Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing, the continuous elimination of activities, processes, and materials that do not add significant value to the manufacturing process, has helped countless facilities become more efficient; allowing for opportunities to increase production, reduce costs, and save money. Incorporating many of these same principles, green manufacturing takes lean a step further, examining the environmental impact of chemicals and processes used in manufacturing processes.

Despite the notion that it is expensive to go green, there is a strong correlation between companies that implement lean, efficient manufacturing processes, and environmental stewardship. Environmental sustainability is far from a fad, and has actually been established as a core entity in the business realm, as more companies begin to implement environmentally sound practices.

A green manufacturing facility strives to incorporate processes and equipment that maximize energy efficiency, minimize waste from pollution, and ensure compliance with the requirements of environmental regulations. The cost of retrofitting equipment and changing processes to become more energy efficient and reduce emissions has caused some manufacturers to delay implementing a green policy. However, the money spent on such changes is quickly regained in savings from increased energy efficiency of equipment, a significant decrease in time spent completing processes, and less money spent on waste management, since a significant amount of waste is eliminated through recycling and other waste reduction efforts. Depending on the manufacturing industry, funds can also be retrieved through government programs and initiatives that have been created to promote green manufacturing.

The first step in green manufacturing is to make note of what green means for your specific industry. Managers and employees must maintain focus in order to sustain improvements. Periodic meetings, continuous training, and a system of goal setting and rewards will help the initiative.

Green manufacturing may mean recreating manufacturing systems for an entire site, but that is not the only way environmental impacts can be reduced. Incorporating energy-efficient equipment can also be a less expensive way to help the environment and save time and money in the end.

The responsibility of green manufacturing does not rest solely with the company; employee participation is an essential part of the process. Employees can be involved in every aspect of the greening process, from designing an efficient production system to recycling. Implement simple recycling programs that will encourage employees to reduce consumption and recycle renewable material. Creating incentive programs and in-house training sessions helps to increase employee participation in conservation and recycling efforts.

Upper-level management and supervisors should reiterate the importance of recycling and reducing consumption regularly. Posting signs and emails promoting the initiative, increasing the number of recycling containers, and strategically placing containers at common points of disposal, such as the break room or by a printer, will encourage employee participation.

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