Value Stream Mapping for Sustainability

The tools of lean manufacturing can be particularly valuable in helping us address energy and environmental concerns, I believe.

This thought occurred to me while attending a panel on these issues at the recent
Automotive News World Congress. The well-attended panel took up an entire afternoon, and the speakers (from both inside and outside the industry) were generally in agreement on some key points:

Environmental problems and concerns are real, and are only going to increase.
More mandates are likely to come from government.
Dramatic action is needed – possibly through some kind of “Manhattan Project” – if serious progress is going to be made.
Environmental issues should be examined with a systemic approach.

It is that last point I’d like to discuss. This came up during discussion of the various technologies being developed for vehicles to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions – hybrids, biofuels, clean diesel, fuel cells.

On the surface, it might seem that a fuel cell is the best technology. It uses a widely available resource (hydrogen) and produces virtually no pollution.

But it takes a considerable amount of energy to process hydrogen so it can be used in a fuel cell. Further, widespread use of fuel cells would require construction of a vast new infrastructure of filling stations. And that construction would consume energy and raw materials.

(As an aside, that is why advances in hybrids are coming faster than any other of the technologies since the support infrastructure already exists. Plug-in hybrids are likely to come next.)

If you think of the delivery of energy from its source to a vehicle as a kind of supply chain, then the best approach is to map that supply chain to understand its intricacies and inefficiencies. And we need to develop a clear definition of “waste” so we can identify when the supply chain is wasting resources or energy.

The result would be some kind of value stream map. It wouldn’t be easy to develop, and I’m not sure what it would look like. But it could be extremely valuable in helping us address environmental issues.

Do any of you have experience using a lean approach to sustainability? Tell us your stories below.

1 comment:

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