Becky Kendall, Senior Programme Manager, Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd

Most organisations understand the terms efficiency and value in a business setting, they’ve been around for a long time.

Although very much related, the concepts of sustainability and waste are newer and harder to define.

We have found looking at business problems through our Lean-Green lens can make all the difference.

Arguably, we are better at spotting and dealing with waste at home than we are at work.

With the many recycling and reuse schemes available to us, there is little excuse to live in the wasteful way we have been used to.

Yet, in the business world - and FE is no exception - we often struggle to identify that waste even exists, let alone have a plan to deal with it.

The concepts of waste, sustainability and reuse are novel at work in a way that they aren’t at home, and yet the volume of commercial and industrial waste is, as you’d expect, far higher.

Waste appears in different forms, it could be:

  • Poor or non-existent business processes that produce duplication or unneeded products;
  • Misguided “economies of scale” purchases that result in stockpiles of unused resources;
  • Restrictive “bricks and mortar” view of the world (more about that later!) that uses unnecessary carbon emissions to maintain.

Waste accumulates for different reasons.

There’s the “we’ve always done it this way” approach that ignores something that no longer holds any value because for years it used to work just fine.

There’s the “but all our competitors are doing it” approach, the “it sounded good in theory” approach, the “it costs less money” approach (remember, cheap does not necessarily equal value for money), and countless more you will have come across, or be in the midst of right now. Ways of working that aren’t just inefficient, but can produce huge amounts of waste.

Steps to break these entrenched mindsets don’t need to be mighty strides.

At one London university, we delivered a project that included redesigning the service portfolio and customer service processes for a high profile department. We discovered a lot of wasted time, wasted effort and certainly wasted money, and some of this waste had an environmental impact.

Expensively produced, printed literature was regularly sent out to customers internationally, using not just the resources needed to produce them, but also the transport to deliver them across the globe. The irony was, customers didn’t even want these because of the delay in receiving and responding to these communications. Going digital not only got rid of this waste, but actually improved customer experience.

Creative ways to eliminate waste

Once you start looking for this kind of waste through a Lean-Green lens, you’ll see it everywhere, and think of creative ways to eliminate it. It could be as simple as donating used toner cartridges to a recycling charity, or going paperless. Or it could be building a network across organisations to collaborate on building a shared database of information, so instead of it being developed and implemented eight times across eight organisations, it’s just done once. The possibilities really are endless.

Old ways of reducing inefficiencies included wiping the slate clean by disposing - not reusing or recycling - what didn’t work. This could include computer networks, buildings, furniture, paper files, training courses, or even staff.

These streamlining exercises sometimes produced more waste than they saved. Because environmental sustainability wasn’t a part of the equation, waste could start to accumulate again because “eliminating waste” was viewed more as a house clearance rather than addressing what caused the house to become full in the first place and finding ways to prevent that before it becomes a problem.

The Lean-Green approach advocates drilling down to the root cause of the problem to implement permanent, long-term solutions instead of workarounds.

Sometimes waste is deeply entrenched in a business culture.

Last year, with so many people working remotely who weren’t before, it was rewarding to see people realise what we already knew: if you make the most of the technology you already have, you can eliminate so much waste.

Think what waste goes into an unnecessary face-to-face business meeting. Everything from travel to the meeting, uneaten sandwiches, disposable coffee cups, building maintenance and security, maybe some printed papers.

Remote learning can and has been very effective, but we’re not suggesting remote learning is always the answer, in fact we will steer clear of that topic! But there is a lot of non-teaching work done by FE organisations, and a lot of it does not need wasteful trips into an office every day to do it.

Of course there are organisations that already place high value on efficient ways of working that include environmental sustainability.

But at present, it’s difficult for them to assess how sustainable they are because there are no targets set by the Government and there is often limited knowledge on what to measure or how. Many organisations have no baseline of how sustainable they are at the moment, therefore struggle to know how they’re progressing.

Lean provides a data-driven, evidence-based approach to making improvements, and to turn that subjective, intangible data into objective, tangible data. It helps us understand what progress is being made, and where improvement is still needed.

Our CEO, Kiran Kachela, recently graduated from the University of Cambridge Judge Business School course on Circular Economy and Sustainability. She realised we were already using Lean to develop a strong culture of continuous improvement and achieve sustainable change that lasts in the work we do. Including the philosophy of the Circular Economy and environmental sustainability into our Lean approach, gave us the Think Green, Go Lean campaign that we have just launched.

Like a lot of people, we genuinely care about reducing waste, and rather than just talk about it, we want to share ideas that work so that we can continue to learn and improve. We’d love to hear your thoughts, so why not join the conversation.

Becky Kendall, Senior Programme Manager, Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd

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