Waste - What a Concept
by Joanne Fedyk
Waste comes in many forms: waste of money, waste of time, waste of energy, waste of resources, waste of potential... the list goes on. The types of waste are often connected: eliminating one type of waste can eliminate waste of other types, e.g., reducing resource use often saves money.
Taiichi Ohno, a noted thinker on waste, defines waste as "any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value" (from Natural Capitalism). For businesses, this is a fairly non-traditional, but opportunity-filled, perspective. Lots of parts of businesses don't create value - people or machines waiting for other things to happen, mistakes, unnecessary procedures, and of course, solid waste. Garbage doesn't create any value. In fact, it is a cost.
Another way to look at waste is that you don't miss it when it's gone. If waste isn't created in the first place you don't really notice (well okay, maybe you have a lot more space at the back end of your building, but in my experience extra space doesn't really last all that long). You don't notice if you use less energy or less water or if you throw less away. You do notice that costs go down or that employees have time to do other things if they're not collecting and disposing of garbage.
The biggest gains in waste reduction (in the broadest sense) come from looking at your business or process from a very high level. Are you carrying too much inventory? How much is really necessary? Are you moving people or goods around without adding value? The infamous Interface, the commercial interiors company who first seriously adopted sustainability as a goal, reexamined every input and presumed each was waste until shown otherwise. In doing this, they discovered that most of their inputs could be considered waste and they adopted simpler processes.
Two things about waste reduction in this context: 1) the potential is huge for businesses to reduce all the different types of waste and 2) waste is a moving target - there are always refinements and new ways of looking at things that can lead to more waste being eliminated...so get started and keep going!