Lean Manufacturing Principles for Sustainable Organizations

Lean manufacturing principles (sometimes called lean production principles), are seven widely recognized categories of waste that are designed to reduce inefficiencies and increase overall profit margin.

At Rubicon Global our mission is to end waste; and that includes wasted time, wasted money, and wasted resources. On a personal level, I have been working in the waste and recycling industry for over thirty years. During this time I have noticed a trend toward lean manufacturing principles; principles which are widely linked with Rubicon’s work in promoting and participating in the circular economy.

While lean manufacturing principles have traditionally focused on process, the goal of lean manufacturing is to remove inefficiencies wherever they may exist. For this reason, the seven core principles are designed to help your company become a more sustainable organization at every level; with a key focus on your waste diversion efforts.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing originated in the Japanese manufacturing industry as a means to help minimize waste in manufacturing systems. Championed for creating value for the manufacturer without sacrificing productivity, prior to the 1990s lean manufacturing was often referred to as just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing.

This history of lean manufacturing principles can be traced back as far as Benjamin Franklin (“A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a-year.”), Frederick Winslow Taylor (“Whenever a workman proposes an improvement, it should be the policy of the management to make a careful analysis of the new method […] whenever the new method is found to be markedly superior to the old, it should be adopted as the standard.”), and Henry Ford, who became famous for, amongst other things, his introduction of assembly-line working at the Ford Motor Company.

The modern-day interpretation of lean manufacturing principles is derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS), which was developed by Japanese car manufacturer Toyota between 1948-1975. The TPS management philosophy began to be identified as lean manufacturing in the 1990s.

Lean Manufacturing Principles

Here are the seven principles of lean manufacturing, with examples of how to implement these principles in your organization.

1. Transport

According to the lean manufacturing philosophy, unnecessary transportation of products, machinery, or other materials that are not needed in the manufacturing process is wasted.

In the example of a sustainable organization’s waste and recycling, it’s important to optimize pickups to ensure that they’re happening at the optimum frequency (so you’re not paying to “tip air”). When it comes to picking up waste and recyclables, less is often best. By identifying trash and recycling facilities nearby and reducing waste pickup frequency, you can alleviate high transportation costs.

2. Inventory

One of the main goals of lean manufacturing is to reduce inventory waste; that is, inventory that is tied up in goods that cause a drain on cash flow.

There are two ways that a sustainable organization can look at this principle. Firstly, if you manufacture organic items, such as food products, that will eventually spoil and become food waste, it’s essential that you don’t over-produce and frequently have to throw away spoiled items. Secondly, think of your waste as a form of inventory. Many discarded materials can be recycled for cash or rebates. Make sure you’re not leaving money on the table by tossing out valuable commodities.

3. Motion

In the lean manufacturing process, motion refers to internal movements, such as those of individuals or equipment (including vehicles and machinery), within an organization.

When it comes to waste and recycling, streamlining your waste flow processes and ensuring that everyone within your organization knows what can and cannot be recycled (and ensuring you have an adequate number of recycling containers to make this possible so not to create extra work for your employees) will help to ensure that no motion is wasted in the collection of recyclables to be diverted from landfill.

4. Waiting

Waiting around for instructions, guidance, or for next steps to become available creates one of the largest wastes of time in manufacturing, and can dramatically reduce productivity across an organization.

This wait, and the productivity it wastes, is even more profound when it comes to waiting around to be serviced. At Rubicon®, we ensure automatic service confirmation through our technology offering, so you’re never waiting around for your waste and recycling pickup.

5. Overproduction

One of the easiest ways to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. The goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate waste and embark on Kaizen, the Sino-Japanese word for “continuous improvement.” When you reduce overproduction, waste naturally begins to fall away.

Overproduction ties directly to waste, as more and more excess materials are thrown away. To optimize production, a waste audit will shed light into what is being thrown away and how your waste streams can be improved.

6. Overprocessing

When it comes to waste and recycling, the overprocessing element of lean manufacturing principles typically refers to over-servicing.

As was touched upon in the “transport” section, if a truck hauls away a container that’s only at 30 percent capacity, your organization is being over-serviced and, as a result, spending too much money on unnecessary pickups. For organizations looking to improve their sustainability credentials, increasing your rates of recycling and compost collection will allow you to reduce overprocessing of your waste, while increasing your overall rate of diversion from landfill.

7. Defects

Defects in manufacturing can be common, but lean manufacturing principles state that as any defective product will cost you time and resources to redo, it’s important to put time and effort into looking for and fixing defects in the manufacturing process.

From a sustainable organization’s point of view, it’s important to ensure that any defective products are properly recycled either in-house (so you can reuse the materials) or through your recycling partner.

At Rubicon, we work with manufacturing companies up and down the country to help them increase landfill diversion and improve their standing as sustainable organizations. If you have any questions about lean manufacturing principles, or about becoming a Rubicon customer, please reach out to me directly at perry.moss@rubiconglobal.com, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.


Perry Moss is a co-founder of and chief advisor to Rubicon Global. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive Rubicon news and blog content directly in your inbox.