Going Green: Lean, Mean and Clean

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If you get a chance, go see the new movie In Bruge, starring Colin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson. There is a great scene when some American tourists ask Colin Farrel’s character how to get to the top of the Belfry Tower. I can’t tell you Farrel’s punchline, but suffice it to say that to reach the top of the Belfry Tower, one has to climb — and, well, these Americans were in less than perfect shape. Here at MetalMiner, Stuart and I like to discuss and debate various issues. I can’t say that I’m much different from a “stereotypical” American in that I think saving money or making money are two very noble reasons ‘to do something’. We debate this subject because green is one of those topics where the impetus for taking action may be a little different. Hey, it’s not that I’m all about pollution and he’s all about the greater good, but unless someone can show me the money, it’s not likely to get done.

So imagine my delight when I ran across this article in USA Today (of all places) on Subaru’s zero-landfill initiative. The stats are impressive. According to the article, Subaru has managed to recycle or reuse 99.8% of its plant’s garbage. Copper laden slag from welding processes is shipped to Spain for recycling. Steel waste was eliminated by purchasing in sizes that result in less scrap. That removed 102 pounds of steel waste per car! Now some marketing folks might want to emphasize the car maker’s altruistic tendancies….not ruining the earth, it’s desire to be a good corporate citizen. And they aren’t wrong by any means its just that if we were to peel back the onion on many American firms’ reasons for ‘going green’, I think we’d come up with a list that includes: eliminating waste, cost reduction, cutting costs, improving the bottom line, did I say cost reduction? Oh sorry, I’m starting to repeat myself.

Over on SpendMatters, an affiliate blog, I commented on how I think ‘green’ will play out in a recessionary environment. Simply put, green makes sense because it goes hand in hand with eliminating waste. And waste reduction usually equates to cost reduction. We’ve heard arguments against green in the metals industry because well, there is just so many places and things one can do with say slag. But thankfully, companies like Subaru are showing us the way. Heavy industry can ‘go green’ and also ‘lean’. What is also interesting is the play between the two. In the USA Today article, the author Chris Woodyard talks about how some of the JIT operations (a fundamental aspect of Lean), provide opportuntity for green intiatives. With daily deliveries of parts, Subaru takes advantage of empty trucks on the return trip to haul away waste for re-use.

But re-use and recycling will only get you part of the way there. The rest of the challenge involves not creating waste in the first place. Engineering teams today are going beyond ‘design for manufactureabiliy’ to ‘design for sustainability’. And they’ll save a few more dollars in that process as well.

–Lisa Reisman

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