Editorial board member Ebly Sanchez, of Volvo Group, shares his thoughts about Keivan Zokaei’s article “Monozukuri: Toyota going green”, appeared in the October issue of LMJ.

In his article, Dr Zokaei provided a very interesting perspective on the environmental policies of Toyota. The green side of the Toyota Production System has attracted much less attention than the lean side. It is about time that we learnt about the car-maker’s holistic approach to manufacturing and the concept of monozukuri.

LEAN LIKES GREEN

Lean is about companies embracing change to reduce waste in how they produce a product or service. It engages and empowers employees to develop and implement ideas and requires a culture of continuous improvement. Companies that adopt “lean and green manufacturing” are embracing the environment as well as change itself, and starting down a path towards more efficient processes, less waste of all kinds, and empowered innovative employees. Going green can be a tremendous motivator for lean, and going lean will become much easier if you connect it to going green.

Dr Zokaei describes very well the strong interaction between Toyota’s lean corporate values and the way to continuously improve the processes and in turn the performance. Toyota has become the benchmark for success in auto production and profitability. Its success in the hybrid market, only its latest milestone, shows an integration of state-of- the-art technology and its world-famous lean manufacturing expertise.

GLOBAL, LEAN AND GREEN OR NOT GLOBAL AT ALL

While shareholders advocate for a “going lean strategy” it is the society that will play a stronger role in the “going green strategy”. All companies that operate globally know this. More and more, global players like Toyota – that care to make the Earth a better place for everyone – will create not only business growth but also business profits. In the future you are either global, lean and green, or you are not global at all.

To add to Dr Zokaei’s Toyota case, it is tempting to provide an example from my own company, Volvo AB. Volvo and Toyota have exchanged ideas for half a century. Both companies are committed to the competitive priorities SQDCEP: safety, quality, delivery, cost, environment and people. A good example from Volvo is our lean and green truck plant in Ghent, Belgium, the first CO2-free automobile factory in the world. In Ghent, Volvo has installed solar panels, wind turbines and a biomass heating unit to enable production without CO2 emissions (which went from 14.000 tons in 2004 to 0 in 2007). “Environmental care” is one of Volvo’s uncompromising foundations. Just like Toyota, we believe that long-term success cannot be ensured by focusing blindly on quality, cost and delivery. Environmental sustainability is part of the success equation for any global firm.

LEARNING POINTS

Toyota’s concept of monozukuri provides a real business example of how companies can embrace a combined lean and green strategy. In this regard, Dr Zokaei’s article offers good learning points:

  • First, it once again proves that nothing works without top-management engagement and commitment. Monozukuri starts and ends with managers staying committed to the long-term vision of Toyota’s founding fathers. Toyota is well known for its culture of 100% management involvement at all levels. Staying true to the vision represents both the challenge and the solution.
  • Second, in today’s environmentally conscious society, a green strategy can provide the organisation with additional motivation for becoming lean. A description of “why” we are implementing lean will greatly help the needed buy-in of the lean implementation process: “What does this lean transformation mean for me?” is a relevant and often asked question. When lean also means green, more people will be motivated to participate actively in the journey.
  • Third, a green strategy linked with Toyota’s lean principles does deliver the expected business performance. Being green alone is just as harmful as being only lean. Lean and green should not be competing priorities; they are cumulative in the sense that they reinforce each other. The Japanese vision of this is well captured in the continuous search for harmony.
  • Fourth, green and lean can very well be achieved in similar ways. Taiichi Ohno said: “All we are doing is looking at the timeline, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value wastes.” This is true for both lean and green. The standard methods and tools of waste elimination through PDCA (plan-do-check-act) are all you need to become both lean and green yourself.

The concept of monozukuri is fundamental. The challenge – as always when we discuss the greenness of corporations – is to go from saying to doing. Dr Zokaei’s story from Toyota shows that it is possible. Let’s hope that it inspires more managers to dedicate their business to environmental sustainability.