As social, financial, and regulatory pressures to eliminate environmental waste increase, “zero waste” strategies are moving higher on business operations priority lists. The good news for lean practitioners: lean thinking and green thinking can work in tandem. Waste is waste, and the principles and processes for eradicating it tend to work regardless of the form it takes.
One piece of advice from GM’s downloadable blueprint to waste reduction particularly resonates with lean principles: “Think of waste as a resource out of place.” Just as non-value-adding activities can be eliminated from processes and people’s time reallocated to contribute greater value, materials that would otherwise end up in landfill can be repurposed as valuable resources. Indeed, GM now generates about $1 billion a year in revenue derived from recycling and reuse of everything from metal to tires to cardboard. Ford generated $225 million in 2012 from recycling of scrap metal in the US and Canada.
Zero Waste to Landfill
Auto manufacturers in the U.S. are among those avidly targeting “zero waste to landfill.” GM says it currently has more landfill-free facilities than any other automaker—100+ and counting, including more than half of its manufacturing sites—and it recycles or reuses 90% of its manufacturing waste worldwide.
Ford plans to cut its waste to landfill (W2L) 40% globally, to 13.4 pounds per vehicle, by 2016. Meanwhile, Toyota Georgetown has been zero W2L since 2005; all waste is being reused, recycled, or used to generate electricity. And the list goes on.
What exactly is “zero waste”? While there is not one standard definition, the Zero Waste International Alliance provides some useful guidelines, including these:
- “Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.”
- “Zero waste to landfill or incineration—We divert more than 90% of the solid wastes we generate from landfill from all of our facilities. No more than 10% of our discards are landfilled.”
Strategies for Zero W2L
Taking a look at a few high-level strategies can help spark your own. The ones highlighted below are certainly broad enough to be scalable to your situation, and the similarities with lean operations are self-evident.
GM’s blueprint or “Business Case for Zero Waste” (see link above) incorporates nine steps, starting with tracking waste data and ending with sharing best practices. The steps include setting definitions and priorities, engaging employees to build a sustainability culture, strengthening partnerships with suppliers, and resolving regulatory challenges.
Ford’s five-year global waste reduction plan incorporates 5 key actions on similar themes:
- Invest … in new technologies that minimize waste.
- Identify … the 5 largest-volume sources of W2L at each facility.
- Standardize … how waste is tracked and sorted.
- Partner … with suppliers, for example on eco-friendly packaging.
- Enable … local plants to affect waste management change.
Toyota’s 2012 North American Environmental Report, discusses its classic approach. Framed around a simple vision—“Respect for the Planet”—which is then translated into a cascading set of environmental action plans, Toyota explains its environmental initiatives in terms familiar to anyone conversant in lean principles:
“Our success comes only by engaging the talent and passion of our employees, who believe there is always a better way. This conviction is rooted in the two pillars of the Toyota Way: Continuous Improvement: kaizen (change for the better) with standardized work, an evolutionary process that eliminates inefficiencies; and Respect for People: valuing and empowering the individual and the team, essential to making kaizen possible.”
Key Takeaways for Reducing Waste to Landfill
A few key things to keep in mind … all of which connect with your lean strategy:
- Track data. As with any improvement strategy, getting a handle on the metrics is a key first step.
- Set specific targets and timeframes, and assign responsibility at the site level.
- Tap your employees. Gaining hearts and minds is critical; encourage incremental and breakthrough ideas, and provide staff with the resources needed to make positive change.
- Collaborate across the value chain, with business partners, suppliers, and the community.
- Take a financial perspective, but it’s essential to maintain a long-term view. Results will require some upfront investment, but the ROI will follow, not only from goodwill and satisfaction that come with doing the right thing, but from competitive advantage, revenue enhancement, and bottom-line cost savings as well.
Ask the consultants
Q. How can we facilitate the transition from doing lean things to actually becoming a lean company … ingraining lean practices as a business “way of life”?
A. This question continues to circulate in lean circles, even among companies that have been working at lean initiatives for some time. Though attention frequently centers on top-level managers and getting front-line workers on board, the answer often lies in helping mid-level managers transition into lean leaders. Check Jim Vatalaro’s recent blog posting to learn six actions that will help your mid-level managers make the transition.