Field Report from Gemba Tour #62, Part 2

I have seen the future of logistics, and it is green. Today we visited a distribution center that supplies Toyota. The lean logistics system supports multiple deliveries to the assembly plant each hour using mixed loads, milk runs, kanban cards and just in time picking. This was excellent to see of course, but the kaizen this company is doing in the environmental area was truly impressive. It is the first time to see windmills in Japan but this area was close to the ocean and the north wind is particularly strong. The wind generates energy for the distribution center. Large skylights in the ceiling reduced most of the need for electric lights. This company collects rainwater that lands on the roof of the building and uses the water to wash their trucks. What drove this company to focus their kaizen activities on the environment?
Shortly after the Kyoto Protocol was ratified and Japan signed up to it, several ministries including transportation, lands, and economic development created a “national policy against environmental problems”. One of the aims was to reduce CO2 emissions resulting from the operations of logistics companies. This company took up the challenge and re-examined everything from their layout to their IT system to their fleet, with impressive results which I cannot share due to a non-disclosure agreement. This company has made innovative use of low-cost technology to increase fuel efficiency of their vehicles, and they are pioneering the use of bio-diesel made of recycled cooking oil.
While big business has been busy lobbying the U.S. government successfully not to take part in the Kyoto Protocol, companies in countries like Japan are using legislation limiting carbon dioxide emissions to take kaizen to another level and to new frontiers. The argument has been that complying with the Kyoto Protocol would make the U.S. firms less competitive. It’s amazing how some see opportunity and some see threats in the same situation. Japan has repeatedly come through crises by facing their problems through science, technology and policy. Their history is as full of blemishes as any other country, but they are leading once again on environmental technology, at least as applied within Japan’s borders. The lesson of the Kyoto Protocol is that while U.S. firms prevaricated, others innovated.
What really motivates the people at this distribution center to focus on environmental kaizen? In the end I believe it was a combination of things. First, strong customer focus drove them to comply with requirements from not only Toyota but the policy of the state, as representative of will of the people. Second, these people genuinely worked within a culture that was intolerant of waste, with many decades of history of recycling products and resources, so energy kaizen was the natural next step. Third, it was a beautiful day. They sky was blue, the air was clean. The ocean breeze blew across the parking lot. The grass grew underfoot.

3 Comments

  1. miket

    December 16, 2008 - 8:25 am

    I use rainwater to wash my truck too. Except that the rainwater falls into the town resovoir or town wells then is overprocessed with chlorine pumped a decent distance through pipes to get here. I wonder how much money they saved by doing it themselves?

  2. Michael Lombard

    December 17, 2008 - 10:49 am

    Mr. Miller, thank you for highlighting this lean & green distribution center. Professionally, those are my two passions: lean & green. I especially love seeing lean thinking used to achieve green goals, such as reducing energy waste and pollution. The company you mentioned seems to do this well.
    The thing that really stood out was how the company used the tough standards set by the Kyoto Protocol as a lever to encourage kaizen & innovation. It shows that the company truly respects the ability of its people to solve problems and innovate.
    Just so you know, I’m planning to post your article to my blog (http://www.thegreeniuses.com) in an effort to show how Lean & Green are related and how they can multiply each other’s effectiveness. If you have any thoughts on this, I’d be honored to include them in my post.

  3. Jon Miller

    December 30, 2008 - 2:32 am

    Hi Michael,
    I like the color scheme of your website. And the theme of course. The thing about green is, once you understand lean, why wouldn’t we go green? It makes no sense to cut corners and skimp on cost in the short term only to create a huge defect that you will live in and will take years and much cost to fix… But too often our calculations are skewed by an overly narrow window of time and an awareness of space that ends a few feet away from where we sit.
    Keep up the good work.