Lean and Green Certification Program Promotes Sustainable Energy

In recent years, Americans have been invited to think in new ways about energy consumption and conservation. Volatile fluctuations in oil prices, combined with the financial pressures caused by the economic downturn, have convinced individuals and companies to consider new measures toward cost-savings in energy use. At the same time, the political debate over how best to address carbon dioxide emissions have renewed interest in conservation, encouraging Americans to be more conscientious about the environmental impact of their actions.

A new program offered by the Lean Institute is working to advance this two-pronged approach as a solution to today’s pressing issues in energy consumption. Funded through the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s Oklahoma Green Project, a $6 million umbrella grant from the U.S. Department of Labor by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the Outreach’s Lean and Green course teaches professionals in industry how to integrate sustainability into their business practices in order to eliminate waste in energy resource consumption.

“The idea of ‘lean’ itself is a system of efficiency that involves systematically looking at waste in a new way,” said Marc Jensen, Lean Institute program specialist. “It defines waste as anything that is consuming resources – such as people’s time, a company’s money – that if removed can increase the productive capacity of a company.”

It’s that perspective on waste that Lean and Green takes. Taking Lean tools and applying them to environmental waste, Lean and Green attempts to promote greater efficiency in an organization by driving sustainability and conservation.

“Years ago, there was a Lean project with Tinker Air Force Base, which at that time had two thousand vending machines,” Jensen said. “Vending machines have lights in the doors that run all the time, consuming energy even when the machine is not used. We ran a Lean project that eliminates waste by disconnecting those lights. The lights in a typical vending machine consume $75 of electricity a year. That multiplied by two thousand vending machines resulted in $175,000 a year saved. The [Lean and Green] program grew out of looking for a way to systematize that.”

Lean and Green is a three-day course, divided into one day of training over three months. During the course, up to thirty participants, employed from any industry, are taught the Lean principle of identifying waste. Given the assignment of returning to their workplace and finding problems to which these principles can be applied, participants come away with the tools to improve the efficiency of their companies in environmentally responsible ways.

“It’s a tendency to see environmental protection as anti-industry,” Jensen said. “Lean and Green teaches that it can be in an industry’s best interest to be more environmentally friendly. It increases their capacity, reduces their costs, making a more efficient business.”

The success of the participants’ implementation of Lean principles is evaluated over the course of one year of follow-up to gain certification. First offered in August of 2010, the program has already generated positive feedback from participants and their employers, with participants from across the state reporting substantial cost-savings and reduced environmental consequences. One such instance involved employees from an Oklahoma-based company that performs airplane retrofitting.

“This company used to produce waste in their airplane maintenance,” Jensen said.” “In washing their airplanes, the water was drained into a trench in a waste water plant. This waste water contained chrome six, which couldn’t be drained because Oklahoma‘s waste water treatment facilities couldn’t process it out. The company built a small water treatment facility on site to get as much water out of that as possible, but they were left with carts of sludge that were taken to a landfill -- the worst kind of thing you can put in a landfill because it’s liquid, toxic, and it contains heavy metal, creating extra pressure on the landfill liner.”

After integrating Lean and Green certification lessons into their problem-solving process, the employees installed a press in their wastewater plant at a cost of $20,000. They placed the sludge into a centrifuge, spinning out the water. This process left behind an inert powder of oil and dirt, allowing the remaining water to be processed at a treatment facility. The sludge press, Jensen notes, also paid for itself in eight months, by reducing the fees associated with the company’s landfill burden.

“At Lean, we’re happy when they do things that save money,” Jensen said. “We’re also happy when they do things that reduce their environmental impact; this course teaches that they can do both.” Further information about the Lean and Green Certification Course can be found at lean.ou.edu

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Michael Carter

Michael Carter contributed to college marketing efforts while working as a student writer.