Lean + Sustainability = Good Business

You are going to be hearing a lot about applying a lean approach to environmental problems. That’s because national concern about the environment has never been greater, and approaching sustainability issues with lean thinking makes sense. It is an approach that works, as demonstrated by several presentations at the recent annual conference of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence.

The fact that the conference had an entire track on these issues, titled “Lean & Green,” shows how important these issues have become. I’ve written in previous postings that lean is green. Also, we recently published Green Manufacturing: Case Studies in Lean and Sustainability, a compilation of articles from AME’s Target magazine.

One excellent presentation at the conference came from Interface Americas, a LaGrange, Georgia, manufacturer of commercial carpet, tile and interior fabrics. Dave Gustashaw, vice president of engineering, described how respect for the environment has been made an integral part of the company’s ethics, That gives Interface a positive image. Gustashaw said, “I’m always amazed at the number of people who know Interface from both our ethics and our products – two excellent ways to introduce yourself in new markets.”

But what Interface does on sustainability is also good business. Gustashaw described how Interface is now taking methane gas produced by a local landfill and using it to generate power at its plant. This has several effects:
It reduces smog and the global warming potential for the community, and also decreases the extent to which the landfill pollutes the water table.
Revenue from sale of landfill “air waste” reduces the tax burden for residents or buys more services.

The city has a long-term revenue stream and Interface saves 30 percent on the cost of energy vs. the usual natural gas price.

That is just one example. Overall, Gustashaw said, Interface has achieved a broad range of benefits from its approach, including:

Cumulative Avoided Costs from Waste Elimination Activities
$336,000,000 (1995-2006)
Manufacturing Waste Sent to Landfills
70 percent reduction (1996-2006)
Energy from Renewable Sources
16 percent (2006)
Recycled and Bio-based Materials Used
20 percent (2006)
Green House Gas Emissions
60 percent reduction (1996-2006)
Water Intake
Broadloom – 62 percent reduction (1996-2006)
Modular – 80 percent reduction (1996-2006)
ReEntry Program – Carpet Diverted from Landfills
103,000,000 lbs (2006)

Regardless of what you believe about global warming or its causes, what Interface is doing makes sense. Let’s hope their approach is part of a growing trend.