The sustainability fallacy

There is a common misconception that running Lean, sustainable operations is more costly than managing a wasteful business. However, as Forbes notes, the fact of the matter is that if sustainability costs a company more money, then the people running the organization are doing it wrong, plain and simple.

For many companies, Lean and sustainable operations generate a substantial return on investment. However, it's important to note that there is a difference between actual sustainable operations and simply green-washing business activities. The companies that do the former can see triple digit returns, while the latter may only see marginal returns.

The difference between green-washing and actual sustainability is the breadth of the initiatives. For example, green-washing may pertain to only basic functions – eliminating red tape, using alternative materials, etc. Actual sustainability is a company-wide interpretation of Lean – everything from basic operations to supply chain management to work culture are considered, a study from Deloitte suggests.

“Organizations that had sustainability embedded into their culture saw a 24 percent increase in effectiveness,” Forbes adds, citing the report. “Organizations that engaged with or talked about sustainability with value chain members saw a 21 percent increase in sustainable value chain effectiveness.”

Integrating sustainability through Lean mindsets

Businesses understand the concept of waste in many senses of the term – they know where they are bleeding precious resources. However, a sustainable company is one that is able to address these wastes in innovative ways throughout the business.

This starts by having Lean advocates at every level of a company. Dealing with wastes in a Lean way requires a particular mindset and way of thinking. Instilling Lean leaders in a variety of positions throughout a company improves a business' ability to respond to waste and enact changes in a meaningful way.

Waste is bad for any company and can hinder a business from becoming truly green. By implementing a Lean approach to operations, organizations will be in better positions to not only become sustainable, but be able to do so in a way that is profitable and doesn't jeopardize the quality of their products or services.