Lean Energy: Turning Continuous Improvement Into Sustainable Development
Paper i proceeding, 2018
A growing number companies are focusing on energy efficiency as means of sustainable development of their operations. To achieve this, companies may benefit by building upon existing quality and improvement principles and practice such as lean management. For operations processes that are powered by energy resources, efficient and effective use of energy is one of the most immediate actions towards sustainable development, decreased emission, improved resource utilisation, and the transition to renewable energy. The purpose of this paper is to explore the perceived value of integrating lean management and energy efficiency practices, and practical examples of such combinations.
A conceptual framework of lean energy is outlined and developed further through evidence from explorative interviews at twelve companies within processing industry, manufacturing and logistics sectors. In addition, improvement efforts reported through secondary sources of evidence are identified; a database of ‘impact cases’ from secondary sources is developed, and used to analyse categories of energy improvement in operations. The following three areas were investigated: (1) Conceptualisation of lean energy; (2) Contributions from lean energy in creating prerequisites for continuously improved sustainability of operations; (3) Effects of lean energy in daily operations.
In general, lean has proven to be powerful and successful management approach for achieving quality improvement in operations processes. Specifically, the study illustrates that combining lean management with energy efficiency is beneficial in terms of both economic and environmental impact. First, the key principles from lean in this study include elimination of waste and use of value and energy stream mapping, where energy-use analysis is integrated into a simplified lean value stream mapping. Second, different strategic priorities of performance objectives in operations influence energy consumption, but it must also directly affect the design and execution of operations processes. Third, building upon already established principles and practices of continuous improvement, individuals who work with energy efficiency improvement find it easier to integrate their effort with other improvement initiatives such as quality management.
This study draws on interview data and is thus limited in terms of evaluation of measurable impact of lean energy, further research could benefit from other types of data allowing for such evaluations.
Originality/Value of the paper
The paper contributes to the growing intersection of quality management and sustainable development; an intersection in which energy efficiency combines both environmental and economic impact of improvement efforts. Moreover, the data presented adds to the scarce research on how integrations between sustainability and improvement initiatives are operationalised in practice.