Lean and green is sometimes thought of in terms of switching off printers, changing lights to LEDs, avoiding printing e-mails, and the like.

Four years ago, at the AME Conference, Hunter Lovins gave a keynote telling the delegates – all lean practitioners – that things have moved on from Ohno and Shingo’s days and that, had they been alive today, Ohno and Shingo would certainly have included ‘green’ in their lists of wastes. These would include the wastes of energy, water and improperly used materials. So, yes, there are opportunities for lean and green audits by extending the list of wastes and including them in mapping or kaizen activities. Dan Jones’ maxim of ‘wearing your muda spectacles’ certainly needs a green tint.

Although useful, this narrow view is not what Lovins had in mind, I suspect. “Doc” Hall, lean godfather, speaks about ‘compression’ – learning to live lean in a world where growth and consumption is no longer the aim. Keynes also thought this possible once a certain level had been achieved. Almost everything we own is in a buff er waiting for the final trip to the tip or sewerage farm or, unusually, to a recycler. As with lean, buffers need to be the minimum necessary.

I recall a LERC postgraduate doing an exercise in a lean cell that managers considered to be very lean: she pulled out savings worth thousands and astounded the managers. Such energy- and material-saving activities are not new – but integrating them into ‘lean’ may bring significant results.

The real opportunities lie, as ever, with a ‘questioning culture’. Consider the story of William (later Lord) Armstrong, father of much of the present UK armaments industry. Trained as a lawyer, he was nevertheless fascinated by hydraulics. Looking at a water wheel he wondered what was the most efficient way to run it – flow over the top, flow under the bottom, which direction should the wheel turn, and what container was best to capture the force of flow. I am ashamed to say that I have walked past many water wheels without such thoughts entering my head. Not Armstrong. Multiple experiments followed. The outcome was a whole industry, including cranes, arms and even the ‘accumulator’ used to power, free, the lifting of the roadways of Tower Bridge. Armstrong was one of the innovators that inspired Sakichi Toyoda to foster a questioning culture, direct observation, experimentation, and improvement.

The gemba is only the start. Many more opportunities lie upstream or downstream for those with a questioning culture. Moving upstream, design has a challenging role in giving customers no more than they need – like the iPad replacing the laptop and newspapers. Further, the quest for low cost has sometimes led to supply chains that are good for cost but ridiculous for energy. Downstream there are huge green opportunities for ‘servitisation’ where the provider takes over usage, maintenance and recycling – everything from car to carpets. Real ‘lean and green’ needs to involve all three of people, planet and profit.