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Lean & Chemicals Toolkit: Preface

How to Use This Toolkit

How to Use This Toolkit

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Purpose of This Toolkit

Key PointThis Lean and Chemicals Toolkit offers Lean implementers practical strategies and techniques for improving common Lean results related to time, cost, and quality while also reducing risk and enhancing environmental performance related to all aspects of chemical manufacturing, management and use. This toolkit is intended to introduce Lean practitioners from chemical manufacturing companies, companies that use chemicals in their products and/or production processes, and small businesses that use chemicals on an incidental basis to strategies for identifying and eliminating chemical “waste” and risk as part of Lean. Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) professionals at these companies will also find useful information in this toolkit. Finally, the toolkit introduces Lean practitioners to the wide array of chemical waste management information and resources available from EPA and other organizations.

Key TermThe “Lean” methods discussed in this toolkit are organizational improvement methods pioneered in the Toyota Production System. Lean production and Lean manufacturing refer to a customer-focused business model and collection of methods that focus on the elimination of waste (non-value added activity) while delivering quality products on time and at a low cost. The toolkit assumes that you are familiar with Lean methods. For those who want to learn more about Lean, see EPA’s Lean and Environment website (

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Key Questions Addressed by the Toolkit

Lean works well when it focuses on identifying and eliminating waste. Environmental improvement and chemical reduction efforts that could distract Lean efforts from this prime focus may not get much traction. By contrast, this toolkit contains strategies and techniques that can enable Lean practitioners to easily identify chemical wastes and improvement opportunities alongside the myriad other wastes and improvement opportunities uncovered by Lean. To accomplish these objectives, the toolkit aims to answer the following questions:

What is the relationship between Lean and chemicals?

By eliminating manufacturing wastes, such as unnecessary chemical use, and improving management of chemicals, businesses can reduce costs and risk, while better meeting customer needs. In addition, companies that eliminate harmful chemicals from their products can gain potential market advantage from eco-labeling and certification programs. Chapter 1 describes the benefits of learning to see chemical wastes as part of Lean implementation and combining Lean and chemical use reduction efforts. Chapter 2 provides background information on chemical manufacturing, management, and use.

How can one reduce chemical wastes using Lean events?

A key step in effective Lean and chemical efforts is learning to see chemical wastes in the context of Lean methods and identifying where to target chemical reduction activities. Chapter 3 examines specific techniques for using Lean methods to identify and eliminate chemical wastes. Methods examined in this chapter include value stream mapping and kaizen events.

How can one improve chemical management in Lean workspaces?

Lean implementation can bring significant changes to how work is configured in the workplace and, as a result, to how chemicals are managed. Chapter 4 describes how Lean strategies such as cellular manufacturing, just-in-time delivery, and “right-sizing” affect chemical management, and presents Lean approaches to chemical and hazardous waste management. Chapter 5 examines workspace-level opportunities to eliminate chemical wastes, focusing on Lean methods such as point-of-use storage, 6S (5S + Safety), visual controls, and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM).

How can Lean design tools be used to reduce chemical costs and risks?

Lean design methods offer a powerful way to reduce chemical use and risk in products and processes. By asking the right questions related to chemicals during Lean design efforts, organizations can better design products and processes that reduce costs and risk while also meeting customer needs. Chapter 6 provides an overview of Lean design tools—such as 3P, Quality Function Deployment, and Design for Manufacturing and Assembly—and describes opportunities for integrating chemical considerations and environmental design principles.

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A Vision for Lean and Chemicals Efforts

Key PointLean is all about meeting customers’ needs. In that sense, eliminating chemical wastes is a natural fit with Lean principles. As organizations evolve their operations using Lean, it can be useful to articulate a guiding vision for how chemicals fit into the following equation: make and deliver high-quality products and services that customers want, when they want them.

In their well-regarded book on industrial design, titled Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, William McDonough and Michael Braungart present a compelling vision that is highly relevant to Lean and chemicals initiatives1. Two key components of this vision include:

  • Produce products and services that do not consume (during production or use) or contain toxic or hazardous chemicals that customers did not ask for and did not know were included.
  • Produce products that, when their useful life is over, do not become useless waste but can be composted to become food for plants and animals and nutrients for soil; or alternatively, that can return to industrial cycles to supply high-quality raw materials for new products.

This toolkit can be a springboard for working towards this vision. It describes strategies and tools for reducing the risks, costs, and time associated with using chemicals and managing hazardous wastes, while also supporting Lean’s overall goals of continual improvement and waste elimination.

Given recent regulatory, product labeling, and consumer preference trends, it is likely that pressures to identify and eliminate harmful aspects of chemical use will increase in the future. Companies that can leverage their Lean initiatives to identify and eliminate chemical waste can enjoy significant competitive advantages as they seek to win and retain customers.

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To Consider

As you read this toolkit, consider these questions:

  • Would you like to reduce chemical risks to employees?
  • Would you like to eliminate hidden costs from chemical wastes?
  • Would you like to reduce or eliminate the regulatory burden associated with chemicals and hazardous wastes?
  • Would you like to enhance the effectiveness of Lean techniques?

This toolkit offers a range of ideas for achieving these goals. Continue reading to learn more about chemicals and discover practical strategies and tools for reducing chemical wastes through Lean implementation.

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1 William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, North Point Press, 2002.

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Toolkit Navigation

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