The First Step to Kaizen the Environment: Problem Awareness

By Jon Miller Published on October 15th, 2007

The last few days have been ones of closer observation and increased awareness of what goes on around me, in preparation for today, Blog Action Day, when fifteen thousand bloggers are writing about the cause of protecting our environment. I believe the first step to kaizen the environment is problem awareness.
Kaizen is the endless and incremental improvement of any process, situation or condition. Kaizen improves towards an ideal based on “zero thinking” such as zero accidents, zero inventory, zero defects, or zero pollution. It is the opposite of zero sum thinking, which considers that some trade off is necessary to get what you want, i.e. progress requires some damage to the environment. Kaizen is human creativity in service of humanity.
I spent the last few days damaging the environment. There was the 10,000+ miles flow in a jet airplane and the resulting carbon emissions, but that was just the beginning. The kaizen philosophy tells us that we need to be mindful of the smallest things and improve whatever we can today, rather than wait for the next technological fix that will solve big environmental polluters like jet emissions, once and for all. For example, even before getting on the airplane, the check in and boarding process was fraught with waste and negative environmental impact, all of which we as consumers can address. Here is what I did on this trip:
1. Refused the paper jacket for the boarding passes. I don’t need this. I will throw this away as soon as I get it since my connecting flight boarding pass goes in pocket in my travel bag.
2. Refused the piece of paper that guided me to the lounge. There are huge signs in the airport. I can find it myself. Thanks for the thought, but I’ll save a tree.
3. Refused the red sticker with the Northwest Airlines logo that they tried to paste on me. Why do I need this? I don’t see other airlines stickering their passengers. I bought the ticket and don’t need to advertise your airlines, on your flight. Please keep the paper, ink and glue.
4. In the lounge, chose the drink from the beverage dispenser, instead of the drink in a disposable carton.
5. Decided not to eat the individually packaged crackers, but ate the items that were in larger bowls, reducing the trash produced.
6. On the flight, refused the menu card. Why on earth do they still do this? It’s a cost to the airlines, and anyways it’s always “chicken or beef” for Pete’s sake. All airlines, please stop this immediately and safe paper, ink and the fuel used to transport it from the printer to the airplane, and the fuel to carry it 10,000 miles. The kaizen way is for all of us to refuse, every time, until the airlines get the message.
7. Reuse the plastic cup for beverages in flight. This is hard to do. For some reasons the flight attendants want to give you a beverage, take away the empty cup when you’re not looking, and then return with another beverage offer, in another disposable plastic cup. Take a permanent marker along and write your name and “I will use for entire flight” on it. The number of flights x passengers x drinks x days in a year – it’s horrifying.
8. Bring your own headsets. Every passenger that accepts a headset for the in-flight entertainment must rip open the plastic bag, throw it away and remove the twist tie, and throw it away. This is stupid. Let’s stop.
On the positive side, more hotel rooms around the world encourage guests to ask for towels to be washed and sheets to be changed, instead of automatically washing once-used towels and adding pollution to the environment through laundry chemicals. Hotels also provide large containers of soap and shampoo fixed to the bathroom walls, as opposed to small, individually wrapped packages of soap which are used once and then thrown away, each day.
More hotels today have key card slots in the rooms that trigger the lights or TV to shut off when you take the key out and leave the room, saving electricity. I’ve heard that Alaska Airlines has used the kaizen process to design a lighter in-flight food cart, burning less fuel and emitting less carbon. These are small changes, but they have a large impact when multiplied across many hotels and airlines around the world.
We all have to do what each of us can do in our daily lives to kaizen the environment, and this starts with a definition of the ideal condition (zero pollution, renewable energy, etc.), close observation to the smallest things around us, and problem awareness. The rest is easy.

  1. simon maina nyairoh

    January 28, 2010 - 1:28 am

    wonderful article. kaizen is the way to go

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