During the week of August 22-28 we conducted a private Japan Kaikaku Experience (Lean study mission) which was a great learning experience for everyone. There were many take-aways in Lean management (of which more later).
One of my greatest personal ‘a-ha’ moments was in the area of what leading Lean companies in Japan are doing to reduce waste through environmental management and energy conservation.
We visited 8 companies, and each of them showed us something they had done in the environmental & energy areas. All but one of them were ISO 14000 certified, and had been for years.
We saw “zero landfill” factories, where nothing that goes in the factory goes out as trash. It is either all recycled, reused, or purified (in the case of water). There were no trash cans that were not separated for plastic, glass, paper, etc. Employees who bring non-recyclable material to work are asked to take their trash home.
Two of the firms shared with us their “green purchasing” efforts. They found that one of the major sources of landfill waste was packaging materials. This is especially acute for materials purchased from SE Asian countries where stuffing old newspapers, old plastic wrap, etc. in along with parts is common. Educating their suppliers and converting to simpler, more reusable packaging reduced environmental impact.
One of the companies used solar panels on their roof to generate power, reduced air conditioning cost by applying a reflective paint to the roof and a tinted film to the windows. At almost every company we visited, there were lights conspicuously turned off in the office, hallways, and factory. When we arrived at a display, our guide would turn the lights on, then off again as we left. At break time lights in vacant production areas would turn off or dim.
Japanese manufacturers are under incredible pressure from low cost competition in Asia, environmental regulations in their own country, the high price of energy, and a market that is improving but still not strong.
We all know that we have a long way to go in eliminating the 7 wastes from our value streams, be they healthcare, production, engineering, service, etc. The Japanese, driven once again by need, are charging ahead with waste elimination in the energy and environmental areas and doing it profitably. I hope all of us Lean thinkers and practitioners will lead the in not way wasting our environmental and energy resources.