Energy Conservation: Lean’s Potentially Wasted Opportunity

More efficient energy use shouldn’t be viewed simply as a chance by-product of lean manufacturing. Rather, your lean scheme should specifically target elements of production that waste energy.


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Inefficient energy use is technically not one of lean manufacturing’s seven fundamental forms of waste. That said, all of those accepted forms—overproduction, over-processing, inventory, motion, transportation, defects and waiting—are connected either directly or indirectly to energy waste.

It’s possible that your company has realized lower utility costs by adopting a lean mindset. Perhaps it’s assumed that the reduction in energy requirements is a natural derivative of targeted efforts to minimize one or more of the aforementioned types of waste. When viewed in that light, energy conservation is just a fortunate lean by-product—a “gravy” gain.

Instead, your lean efforts should specifically target processes that waste energy, too. Significant cost savings can go unrealized by not directly tying energy conservation to lean.

The EPA’s Lean and Energy Toolkit (available at epa.gov/lean) elaborates on the importance of this union. It also discusses ways manufacturers can assess their energy use within a lean framework to lower consumption. Consider how energy conservation can be made part of the following lean techniques:

• Value stream mapping—Integrate energy-use analysis into the value stream mapping process to identify improvement opportunities within the context of a product’s entire value stream.

• Kaizen events—Solicit and implement helpful ideas from employees that may save energy costs during your formal process-improvement events.

• Total productive maintenance—Incorporate energy-reducing best practices into daily maintenance activities to ensure that all equipment runs smoothly and efficiently.

• Six sigma—Use statistical process analysis tools to spot and address root causes of energy waste and variation.

• Standard work and visual controls—Implement standard work procedures and visual workplace signals that encourage energy conservation.

As with all lean pushes, the challenge becomes sustaining efforts to reduce energy use. Continually looking for ways to minimize energy waste will lead to an improved bottom line while making the company a better steward of the planet. It takes complete buy-in, though.