Building lean's sustainable future - today!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

With the rising costs of manufacturing materials and competition faced from companies across the world, many manufacturers have adopted a lean philosophy. When a manufacturer goes lean, they typically are also going “green.” To achieve true production efficiency, a company must cut down on environmental waste including raw material consumption, energy and water use and pollution.

Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of products through economically sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources to increase global growth and competitiveness. A large and growing number of manufacturers are realizing substantial financial and environmental benefits from sustainable business practices to:

  • Increase operational efficiency by reducing costs and waste
  • Respond to or reach new customers and increase competitive advantage
  • Protect and strengthen brand and reputation and build public trust
  • Build long-term business viability and success
  • Respond to regulatory constraints and opportunities

Sustainable manufacturing is bringing businesses, government, and communities together to engage in advancing a new integrated economic and ecological model that can only be sustained for future generations with a new way of thinking and working. Automation, artificial intelligence, global competition and an evolving workplace are all factors changing the way organizations are becoming more sustainable that require a new generation lean leader.

Leveraged Learning Networks

Today, many U.S. manufacturers are reevaluating their production and sourcing locations and are taking a closer look at the benefits of reshoring. The Reshoring Initiative promotes and enables the practice of bringing manufacturing and services back to the United States from overseas. Reshoring benefits manufacturing companies by reducing the total cost of their products, improving balance sheets, and making product innovations more effective in reducing the wastes related to human and natural capital.

Michael Porter, Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at the Harvard Business School explains, “The enduring competitive advantage in the global economy lies increasingly in local things – knowledge, relationships, and motivation – that distant rivals cannot match.” An example of this type of collaboration already exists in North America, where companies are engaged in organization-to-organization exchange for performance improvement. The MIT Sloan Management Review refers to these consortia as “Leveraged Learning Networks.”

No one organization has all the answers to deal with the economic and ecological challenges in this new Era of Sustainability. The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) is joining with other learning organizations and businesses to support a close economic, social and cultural relationship.

To facilitate that transformation AME has established Consortia, a group of local companies that collaborate for broad, deep, accelerated lean and green progress better, faster, and easier than they can do alone. These dynamic practitioner-to-practitioner networks are designed to support and accelerating the participating organizations’ journey toward excellence. AME has 13 lean consortia established and growing across North America, with more on the horizon.

Tomorrow’s Lean Leaders

A focus on sustainability and learning opportunities is increasingly important to workers. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, 35 percent of the American labor force is made up of Millennials – the largest generation in the workforce.

This large workforce block, which includes future lean leaders, has its eyes on sustainability. They value working for sustainable organizations and those embracing lean and green manufacturing. In fact, Fast Company reported in February 2019 that 75% of Millennial workers surveyed would be willing to accept a smaller salary to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible.

It’s not just Millennials. In August 2019, Business Roundtable released a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which in part supports “embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”

Lean leaders are firmly entrenched in this emerging sustainability trend, and are working to formulate and share the next generation of values, principles, initiatives and jobs. The Association for Manufacturing Excellence brings together lean practitioners to share, learn and grow about all things lean. At AME’s 2020 Atlanta Lean Summit, participants will explore lean and operational excellence through the lens of Building tomorrow's lean leaders — today!

From keynote speakers and workshops to facility tours and networking events, participants at AME Atlanta 2020 will have the opportunity to learn with and from peers who are passionate about continuous improvement and willing to share lessons from their lean journey. For the past three decades, AME events have helped attendees build a personal network of lean practitioners and leaders who love to share their common passion and best practices for achieving excellence and help lead a manufacturing renaissance for the 4.0 Industrial Revolution.


Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathways (retired), is on the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team initiative for leading a “Manufacturing Renaissance” and a member of the Job Creators Network. For more information: