Lean is Green

To those who understand lean, it’s probably assumed that lean saves energy. If you streamline your process, eliminating steps, then logically, you no longer use the energy involved in those wasteful steps.

            But lean disciples also believe in operating on the basis of facts, not assumptions. Therefore, it’s nice to hear that new academic research confirms that lean can indeed by green.

            The research was conducted by Bo W. Oppenheim, who is both a professor of mechanical engineering at Loyola Marymount University and director of the U.S. Department of Energy Industrial Assessment Center at LMU. It was presented at the recent conference of the Lean Aerospace Initiative. (Oppenheim was unable to attend the conference, so another presenter filled in for him.)

            The presentation demonstrated how one-piece flow takes less time – and therefore uses less energy – than a batch-and-queue system to produce the same quantity of product. It also noted that the negative aspects of inventory include energy wasted on lights, forklifts and heating/cooling for product being stored, as well as the energy used to produce inventory that ultimately is not sold and then requires more energy to transform it into scrap.

            There were other points, none particularly surprising. But perhaps Oppenheim’s most insightful finding was that not only can a lean transformation create huge energy savings as a by-product, but the energy saved by lean “often radically exceeds the savings from equipment optimization alone.”

            Oppenheim’s research will be included in the upcoming 2007 edition of the Encyclopedia of Energy Engineering. In addition, while it’s a bit early for me to go into detail, Productivity Press will be publishing a book in this subject area later this year.


            Speaking of green, Ford CEO Alan Mulally just created a new position. He named Susan Cischke, a Ford vice president, as senior vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering. She reports directly to him. Part of a new trend?


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