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Lean & Chemicals Toolkit: Chapter 7


Getting Started with Lean and Chemicals

We hope this toolkit has given you some practical ideas for leveraging Lean methods to identify and eliminate chemical waste in your organization. Once you learn to see chemical waste in the context of Lean, the magnitude of the system-wide costs of using, managing, and disposing of chemicals can be surprising. There are many ways to get started using Lean to reduce chemical wastes and improve operational results. As described in further detail in Chapter 1, here are three ways to get started with Lean and chemicals.

  1. Begin the Conversation. Arrange a meeting between Lean leaders and environmental health and safety managers at your organization to discuss opportunities to reduce chemical wastes with Lean.
  2. Make Chemicals and Their Costs Visible. Start measuring chemical use and hazardous waste generation along with Lean metrics. Consider adding environmental wastes to the “deadly wastes” targeted by Lean.
  3. Piggyback on Lean Visual Management Efforts. Use Lean visual management strategies and tools such as 6S (5S + Safety), visual controls, and standard work to make it easy for workers to properly manage and dispose of chemicals and hazardous wastes.

While these steps can yield results fast, thinking about how chemicals fit in your organization’s longer term Lean journey can uncover even bigger opportunities. In particular, Lean product and process design methods and organizational improvement strategies such as Chemical Management Services, can yield substantial improvements for your organization.

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Partners for Success

Government and industry can work together to foster innovation and share ideas for reducing chemical wastes using Lean. In many areas, innovation and collaboration will be essential to achieving the “cradle to cradle” Lean and chemicals vision discussed in the Preface—that is, the vision that products do not contain hazardous chemicals that customers did not ask for and that products, at the end of their useful life, can decompose naturally or become high-quality raw materials for new products. Fortunately, numerous efforts involving individual companies, trade associations, and government are already underway to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in products and processes.

EPA supports several programs that help companies reduce chemical wastes, find safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals, and develop greener chemical products. These programs include:

  • Green Chemistry - EPA’s Green Chemistry promotes innovative chemical technologies that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture, and use of chemical products. The program works towards its goals by supporting green chemistry research, education, outreach, and incentive opportunities to scientists and industrial decision makers. The program also runs the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge, an awards program that recognizes outstanding green chemistry technologies.
  • Green Engineering Program - The goal of the Green Engineering Program is to promote the research and use of green engineering approaches and techniques in production and design. Green engineering is the design, commercialization, and use of processes and products, which are feasible and economical while minimizing 1) generation of pollution at the source, and 2) risk to human health and the environment. The program hopes to institutionalize green thinking in the design and commercialization of products and processes through educational outreach, and collaborative projects with industry, regions, and other stakeholders. It hopes to go beyond focusing on waste.
  • Lean and Environment Initiative - Recognizing that Lean trends have implications for both regulatory and non-regulatory programs, EPA is working with Lean experts, organizations implementing Lean, state environmental agencies, and other partners to:
    • Raise awareness about the relationship of Lean production to environmental performance
    • Share “good practices” for improving the environmental benefits of Lean initiatives
    • Develop and disseminate integrated Lean and environment tools
    • Identify and address environmental regulatory considerations associated with Lean
    • Explore how Lean techniques might be used to improve government administrative processes (e.g., permitting)
    EPA is working with partners in a number of industry sectors and in government agencies to document Lean and environment success stories and to develop and test tools that organizations could use to maximize the environmental benefits of Lean. In addition, EPA is conducting outreach about Lean and the environment to Lean practitioners and pollution prevention (P2) technical assistance providers. Finally, EPA is working with states to apply Lean techniques to streamline permitting.
  • Safer Choice - Finding cleaning and other products that are safer for you, your family, and the environment should be easy — that's why we developed our new Safer Choice label. We all play a role in protecting our families’ health and the environment. Products with the Safer Choice label help consumers and commercial buyers identify products with safer chemical ingredients, without sacrificing quality or performance.
  • Sustainable Futures Program - EPA’s Sustainable Futures Program is a partnership program that provides chemical developers access to computer-based risk-screening methods and models for the development of new chemicals. Chemical manufacturers can use these tools to detect potentially hazardous chemicals early on in the development process and to find less hazardous substitutes for the chemicals they are producing. The Sustainable Futures Program provides training to companies on how to use these models to prescreen their chemicals. Companies that participate in this program may also be eligible for expedited EPA review of their chemicals. The program has been successful at encouraging companies to develop safer, less hazardous chemicals.

Consider getting involved in one or more of these efforts. EPA is committed to supporting your efforts to achieve success with your Lean and chemicals efforts.

We hope this toolkit spurs creative thinking and energy within your organization and encourages you to explore these opportunities. We also hope to learn from your experiences using this toolkit. Working with partner companies and organizations, we aim to periodically release new versions of resources in EPA’s Lean and Environment Toolkit series. Our hope is to refine the techniques presented, provide examples and case studies of their application, and address new techniques. We wish you success on your Lean and chemicals journey.

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Your Thoughts on the Toolkit

Now that you have finished this toolkit, reflect on what you read by answering these questions:

  • What strategies and tools in the toolkit seemed particularly interesting and useful?
  • What steps will you take next to advance Lean and efforts at your organization?
  • What other information and tools would assist your organization to realize your Lean and chemicals vision?

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Toolkit Navigation

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