Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Lean Manufacturing and Environment

Basic Information

Recognizing that lean trends have implications for both regulatory and non-regulatory programs, EPA is working with lean experts, organizations implementing lean, state environmental agencies, and other partners to:

  • Raise awareness about the relationship of lean production to environmental performance.
  • Share good practices for improving the environmental benefits of lean initiatives.
  • Develop and disseminate integrated lean and environment tools.
  • Identify and address environmental regulatory considerations associated with lean.
  • Explore how lean techniques might be used to improve government administrative processes (e.g., permitting).

Although lean efforts by their very nature produce environmental benefits and establish a systemic, continual improvement-based waste elimination culture, lean methods do not explicitly incorporate environmental considerations, leaving behind environmental improvement opportunities on the table. In order to attempt to bring the environmental benefits of lean manufacturing to the forefront, EPA produced the Lean & Environment Toolkit that examined the relationship between lean and the environment and points out opportunities for further enhancing organizations' environmental performance through their lean initiatives.

Some key findings:

  • Lean produces an operational and cultural environment that is highly conducive to waste minimization and pollution prevention. Significant environmental benefits typically ride the coattails of lean initiatives. The powerful economic and competitiveness drivers behind lean drive a willingness to undertake substantial operational and cultural changes, many of which have important environmental performance implications. Lean typically results in less material use and scrap, reduced water and energy use, and decreased number and amount of chemicals used.
  • Lean can be leveraged to produce even more environmental improvement. Although lean currently produces environmental benefits and establishes a systemic, continual improvement-based waste elimination culture, lean methods do not explicitly incorporate environmental performance considerations, forgoing some environmental improvement opportunities. Lean provides an excellent platform for broadening companies' definition of waste to address environmental risk and product life-cycle considerations as some lean practitioners have demonstrated.
  • Some regulatory "friction" can be encountered when applying lean to environmentally-sensitive processes. The right-sized, flexible, and mobile operating approach used in lean manufacturing is quite different from traditional manufacturing operations, and can be challenging to use in environmentally-sensitive manufacturing processes such as painting and coating. Some lean practitioners believe this results in situations where either environmental performance improvements can be constrained or the risk of non-compliance increases.
  • Environmental agencies have a window of opportunity while companies are embarking on lean initiatives and investments - to collaborate with lean promoters to further improve the environmental benefits associated with lean. There is a strong and growing network of organizations promoting lean. These organizations share a goal with organizations promoting environmental improvement and pollution prevention-both strive to eliminate waste from business. While there was virtually no coordination between the environmental and lean networks when the report was completed, such a network is being developed under the Green Suppliers Network program.

Jump to main content.