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A New Approach to Environmental Performance

Monday, November 1st, 2010

A new method of improving environmental performance has been developed by Oxford based consultants Footwork First. The process, called Envirolean, is built on the principles of Lean and provides a systemic approach for optimising the use of valuable resources and reducing defects in a process or product.

The competitive advantage and cost savings associated with environmental improvements are well documented, although for many manufacturers the scale of benefits has not always justified the investment. However, increasing penalties for not making environmental improvements combined with a growing range of solutions now available means that progressive companies are implementing processes such as Envirolean in order to meet both their customers’ and legislative needs.

For many years, Lean Manufacturing has been a recognised practice that delivers improvements in cost, quality and delivery – but the connection between Lean and environmental improvements has only been applied mainly on a theoretical basis. For example, in 2002 an article on Lean and Green was published by Cardiff University (one of the leading academic institutes on Lean Thinking). The Environmental Protection Agency in America has also developed a suite of toolkits on Lean and Green, however Cardiff University recently discovered that although the theoretical connection is clear there has been little practical application.

The foundation of Envirolean is the identification and then reduction of non value adding activity which, either consumes scarce resources such as energy, water and materials, or produces defects in the end product. This is done by measuring the amount of resource that is put in to a process and how much is consumed in the value adding steps of the process until it reaches the customer. By definition everything else is non value adding and should be removed.

Case study: H+H UK

Based in Sevenoaks, Kent, H+H UK is the largest manufacturer of environmentally friendly aircrete blocks, using a highly efficient process which sees most waste material and energy being recycled back into their processes.

Winners of three Sunday Times Green awards, rising from 29th to 9th position at this year’s ceremony and making them the highest placed UK precast concrete company, H+H UK works hard to reduce its energy consumption, ensuring that everything is done to minimise environmental impact.  The company holds ISO 14001 environmental management system, the BES 6001-2008 Standard for the Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products and continues its involvement with the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) South East.

In 2008 H+H UK were awarded certification to the Carbon Trust Standard for efforts to cut carbon emissions – a UK first within the construction industry, and the company is one of the first manufacturers in the country to achieve accreditation of its Integrated Management System (quality, safety, and environment) to PAS 99:2006.

The issue

Having already implemented Lean throughout the company H+H UK were keen to explore other improvement applications – including help to address the issues of the Carbon Reduction Commitment legislation and finding solutions to reduce energy consumption in light of increasing costs.

The solution

Footwork First, in conjunction with MAS SE, examined and mapped out waste from H+H UK’s overall manufacturing processes, from the storage and mixing of the raw materials right through to the packaging, storage and transportation of the final product.  The aim was to help the company understand major sources of waste and where high levels of energy and water were consumed, and to use the results as a basis for the next stages of environmental change and ideas for improvement.

Group problem solving and brainstorming sessions for specific areas and projects were undertaken and three key projects were identified: Slurry Management (a Six Sigma project); Energy Usage (looking particularly at the autoclaves); and Packaging and waste reduction (particularly for the finished product).

Action planning and preliminary scoping for these projects immediately identified potential savings such as:

  • Overall defects reduction
  • Potential 1.4% scrap reduction representing an additional £300k of saleable product.
  • Significant reduction in energy consumption during reprocessing
  • Potential reduction in landfill material (very low anyway due to material being recycled back into manufacturing process)
  • Potential 3% reduction in amount of cement required, equivalent to a reduction in CO2 of 2790te/year

Dr Colin Cook, Chief Scientist, H+H UK Ltd comments: “Ongoing Corporate Social Responsibility for all companies to go ‘green’ has meant that we are committed to continuous environmental improvements – our whole company is focused on minimising environmental impact – across all areas of the business. This latest waste project has highlighted a number of key areas for review that will be worked on in the future, reinforcing our continuing carbon reduction commitment.”