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Lean & Water Toolkit: Executive Summary

Executive Summary

The Lean and Water Toolkit describes practical strategies for using Lean manufacturing—the production system developed by Toyota—to reduce water use while improving operational performance. Drawing from the experiences and best practices of multiple industry and government partners, this toolkit explores opportunities to identify and eliminate “water waste,” including:

  • Water losses and leaks
  • Non-value added or inefficient use of water
  • Missed opportunities to reuse water
  • Wastewater discharges
  • Unnecessary water use and risks throughout the supply chain
  • Missed opportunities to address customers’ water-efficiency goals

This toolkit is a supplement to the Lean and Environment Toolkit, which addresses all types of environmental wastes and improvement opportunities.

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Why Address Water Using Lean

Companies recognize water use and availability as a critical business concern. While direct water costs may be low, many indirect costs associated with water use can make the full cost of water substantial. Community concerns about water and the risk of water supply disruptions can increase pressures on companies to reduce water use. Incorporating water use reduction into Lean initiatives
provides an efficient and effective means to:

  1. Uncover cost savings and operational improvements
  2. Reduce water-related business risks
  3. Deliver value for customers and employees

Facilities already using Lean can often easily incorporate water considerations into value stream maps and other Lean efforts. At the same time, facilities conducting water efficiency initiatives may find that Lean tools provide a powerful means to drive effective implementation and results. Connecting Lean and water efforts can engage employees in powerful and rewarding ways that build capacity and momentum to solve problems and create value.

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Understand Water Uses and Costs

The toolkit discusses common water end uses in industrial and manufacturing facilities and discusses costs associated with water use. Costs of water include not only the cost of purchasing water, but also costs associated with treatment, heating, conveyance, and regulatory compliance. Metering and sub-metering are important tools for understanding actual water use within a facility and tracking it over time.

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Find Water Waste

The toolkit discusses several techniques to find water waste and opportunities at your facility, including:

  • Water Gemba Walks: Have a team walk the factory floor together to observe and inventory inefficiencies related to water use.
  • Water Balance: Develop a diagram of your facility’s water use that shows and quantifies the flows of water into and out of each process or operation in the facility.
  • Value Stream Mapping: Add information on water use and/or costs to Lean value stream maps to help identify water waste and develop implementation plans for Lean and water efficiency improvement efforts. 
  • Root Cause Analysis: Use root cause analysis methods to explore the underlying causes of water waste and inform improvements.

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Improve Operations and Processes with Lean and Water Strategies

Solutions to reduce water waste can be identified during Lean events and in daily implementation of Lean principles and tools. The toolkit discusses facility operations and support functions in which there may be specific improvement opportunities. Strategies include:

  • Waste Elimination Culture: Encourage employees to identify water waste throughout their daily activities, and create a culture in which they are empowered to continually improve the way your facility uses water.
  • Kaizen Events and Just-Do-Its: Pursue opportunities to address water waste during Lean kaizen events. Consider focusing kaizen events specifically on water waste or water-intensive processes. Also find quick opportunities for individuals to immediately improve a process or operation in just-do-it projects.
  • Standard Work: Embed water use management and efficiency tasks into standard operating procedures to engage all employees in proactive water-efficiency activities.
  • Visual Controls: Use signs and visual controls to reinforce water waste reduction practices and standard work. Clearly display information on water use and costs to raise awareness.
  • 5S: Incorporate water management and waste reduction activities into 5S housekeeping activities, such as cleaning and inspections, to engage all employees in identifying and eliminating water waste.
  • Total Productive Maintenance: Enable teams of workers to quickly identify and correct problems, fix leaks, and improve water efficiency while optimizing the effectiveness of your manufacturing equipment.

These Lean tools can be used at a facility in concert with water-efficient best management practices (BMPs) that are often available from industry associations and government agencies*. Industrial facilities can target their efforts to the most effective solutions using these technology and process-based improvements.

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Extend Lean and Water Efforts throughout the Value Chain

Looking beyond facility operations can allow you to uncover new ways to reduce water use and risks, while adding value and improving business operating conditions and market opportunities. Strategies include:

  • Supply Chain Initiatives: Work with your suppliers to improve understanding of water use, costs, and risks. Provide incentives and technical support to help suppliers identify and eliminate water waste. Collaborate with supply chain partners to address water-related opportunities through joint Lean events and other initiatives.
  • Engage Local Communities: Educate and engage your employees in water-efficiency efforts at your facility, and encourage them to adopt similar practices at home. Partner with community members and local organizations to conduct projects or Lean events that improve water use and/or quality in the community.
  • Product Design: Incorporate water efficiency and reuse as design criteria into Lean product and process design methods, as a powerful means of reducing the water use of products throughout their lifecycle.

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Starting Your Lean and Water Journey

There are many ways to get started with identifying and reducing water waste and improving business results using Lean. Consider using the strategies and techniques in this toolkit to help you:

  1. Learn more about how your facility uses water
  2. Engage employees in Lean and water improvement efforts
  3. Connect Lean and water efforts to sustainable water management strategies

We hope the strategies and tools in this toolkit will help you on your Lean and water journey—enabling you to reduce water waste and costs, improve processes, and foster positive relations with your customers and community.

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* Appendix A provides information on water efficiency resources and technical assistance providers that offer helpful information on BMPs. Also consider contacting your local water utility or the industry or trade association in your sector to inquire about water-related BMPs and resources.

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Toolkit Navigation

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