Lean & Green

Lean & Low Environmental Impact Manufacturing

This 2009 study explored the contribution of lean manufacturing to low environmental impact manufacturing and re-examined the concepts of “Best Practice” developed in the latter half of the 20th century. The purpose was to see whether these concepts still hold true in the light of 21st century business issues, or whether new business models, and tools to support them, will be required. The approach taken will form the building blocks required for developing a large-scale study that will inform businesses and policy makers in creating a sustainable manufacturing'

Collaborators involved:
Cardiff University IMRC, Pauline Found



  • To conduct a detailed in-depth literature review of the Lean and Green literature.
  • To develop initial measures and measurement tools to define the environmental impact of process improvements.
  • To develop a small-scale pilot study based on data collected from CUIMRC’s Supply Chain Energy Impacts Model (SCEIM) project to: a) help to develop and test preliminary measurement tools and b) demonstrate the efficacy of their approach to prospective business partners.
  • To identify and recruit business partners from selected industry sector/organisations who would support a full-scale study and provide cross-case comparisons of results.
  • To produce a detailed project proposal to bid for research council funding for a full-scale study

Expected Outcomes

  • A modification of the lean/environmental mapping approach originally suggested by the United States Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fit within the framework of UK/EU legislature.
  • A best practice guide providing recommendations for the most appropriate ways of auditing the environmental impact of manufacturing systems.
  • A full research proposal to examine the assumption that “Lean means Green” and to provide quantifiable, evidence based, multi-sector answers to the principal research question above.

A Brief History

  • 1983 The Toyota Production System by Yasuhiro Monden, was published in English, describing how Toyota had achieved significant quality and performance improvements over Western manufacturers at less cost; prompting US fears that Japanese manufacturers held a competitive advantage.
  • 1990 The term “Lean Production” was coined by John Krafcik and introduced in the book, The Machine that Changed the World by Womack, Jones and Roos, in which their global benchmarking study of the automotive industry suggested that Toyota had a 20:1 productivity and a 100:1 quality advantage.
  • 1993 Maxwell, Rothenburg and Schenk posed the question “Does Lean Mean Green?” and suggested that there was a relationship between Lean Production and innovative environmental practices.
  • 1995 David Wallace prepared a report for the Royal Institute of International Affairs and concluded that the pursuit of continuous improvement, i.e. kaizen, created substantial opportunities for pollution prevention as well as waste and emissions reduction.
  • 1996 Florida took up these themes and examined the relationship between advanced production processes and innovative approaches to environmentally conscious manufacturing. In this study he questioned the argument that there is a trade off between industrial and environmental performance and his findings were that plants that practice green design are also those that are involved in advanced manufacturing.
  • Further research published by Rothenburg, Pil and Maxwell in 2001 suggested that volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions may well be higher in “Lean Plants” as “Lean Managers” resist the introduction of the large and/or costly abatement equipment required to reduce emissions.
  • 2003 The US Government’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) produced a report entitled Lean Manufacturing and the Environment that outlined research into advanced manufacturing systems and the environment with recommendations for leveraging better environmental performance
  • 2006 The EPA published A New Lean and Environmental Toolkit to demonstrate that traditional “Lean Tools” can be used to map and eliminate environmental waste.

Research Method


Interested in collaborating, writing, researching? Contact us today.

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