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  • Writer's pictureChad Metcalf

Concerned About Carbon?

Lean Thinkers taking on the challenge of Climate Change and improving Business Results

In honour of Earth Day, I would like to join industry leaders in thinking about, every day as Earth Day. The great news is, we already have the tools to both reduce emissions (and costs!) while simultaneously growing your business and improving profits! Lean thinkers in your company already have the tools, let’s give them the support to use them to the fullest! If you too are interested, read on!

Canada has committed to surpass the Paris Climate targets by 2030. Also, the government’s climate plan is to increase the carbon tax from $40 (today), $15 annually to $170 per tonne (in 2030). Apart from it being a 425% increase in number, what does it really mean? And more importantly, how will it affect the average citizen? If there is any anecdotal truth to be stated, it will mean producers will pass on the costs to consumers and prices will go up. Despite what you think of government plans, ultimately, the goal is to reduce emissions, not just keep emitting and paying your tax! In short if you pollute, you should pay and if you do not pollute, you should save. So, in this ongoing push and pull of government policy and consumer consumption, citizens often suffer until technology and habitual change, bring the World back from carbon emitter to carbon sink once again and eventually settle into equilibrium in the future. Let us forgo the argument about whether climate change is real or not and focus more on the realities that governments are once again pushing industry to change, reduce environmental impact and improve the World for human survival. Okay, I embellished that a little…

If you would like to take a proactive approach and engage the employees in your company, why not use Lean Thinking to tackle your opportunity to do the right thing! After all, if you have been living Lean and building a proactive, problem solving culture, it is the natural thing to do.

The first problem we have is measurement. How are carbon emissions measured? Do you know how much a tonne of carbon is? Do you know what processes create carbon emissions? Do you know your personal carbon footprint? Are there sensors, software, guestimates and the like? Yep. Is there a simpler way to begin? Sure is. For those in the Lean community I want to draw your attention back to an amazing book written in 2009. Green Intentions – Creating a Green Value Stream to Compete and Win, by Brett Wills is the go-to resource on this. If you are already using Lean methods in your company, apply the logic explained in Green Intentions to begin the measurement and improvement of your environmental and by extension, carbon footprint. We propose utilizing your skills with the essential process of value stream mapping to begin to understand how much carbon you emit per product produced. Like all things Lean, this is not a measurement to prove how good or bad you are but rather, a measure of where you are starting from. The goal, no matter what, is to lower your environmental footprint, period. Your current state map will provide the starting point for you to identify, design and implement a future state with far fewer negative impacts. This puts you back in the driver’s seat of continuous improvement and ahead of the curve (and your competition) on reducing costs on your business.

Where do we start? Start with your existing value stream maps (or start mapping!). Instead of the typical data on the process boxes such as cycle time, processing time, change over times, uptime, etc., we are going to add or focus on the ‘green’ wastes. These wastes as laid out in Brett Will’s book are Energy, Water, Materials, Garbage, Transportation, Emissions and Biodiversity.

You will not need an arsenal of high-tech gadgetry to get started, as in all things Lean, the goal is to keep it simple. Start with what is known or you have historical information on. It is easy to estimate or measure energy consumption by machine based on manufacturers specifications and motor specification plates. As for water, measuring water flow rates and volume, whether it recirculates or flushes down the drain is also easy with a stopwatch and a bucket of known size. Garbage can be weighed each day or counted like we would tabulate scrap materials. Material waste is likely already known, transportation is likely identified on your value stream maps however, we might need to calculate the environmental costs of it. Biodiversity may be the hardest to quantify. In essence, it is the cost of the destruction of the flora, fauna, and organisms to build the infrastructure for your facilities and then the costs to recreate natural landscapes to maintain healthy land and watersheds. It also includes the costs of over harvesting resources faster than can be regenerated by nature. Again, the goal here is not to be precise to three decimal places but rather, have a consistent measure that can show relative levels and improvement.

Imagine being able to know and share the knowledge among your employees of how much energy is consumed per unit, how much water the company uses per unit, how much garbage is created per unit, how many tonnes of carbon generated per unit, etc. As with all continuous improvement, measurement is necessary to define problems and quantify improvements as they are implemented.

Let’s start with the simple things we can do now, without delay! Being proactive and a leader in this area will not only put you out front of your competition, but it will also grow your business! Making real, positive change in practice will have everyone excited for the future.

If you are interested in learning more about how to challenge your Lean culture to include the green wastes, contact us as indicated below.

We offer you success in your Lean Journey!

Author - Chad Metcalf

Chad is President and founder of Value Stream Solutions Inc., a Canadian company that specializes in teaching and implementing Lean Thinking into businesses of all types and sizes. Covering coast to coast and the USA, our mission is to strengthen manufacturing capabilities and communities. To engage in the conversation, connect with Chad through, or directly at

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