The purpose of this dissertation is to find out whether sustainability can introduce lean to companies in situations other than a crisis. The project also looks at how lean, as a proven management system, can support sustainability in becoming economically more attractive.
This dissertation starts with an extensive literature review, first about lean, followed by sustainability. It looks at: definitions, reasons why, how to, and barriers. Then a combined literature review focuses on: the communalities, potential conflicts, and how lean and sustainability can support one another. Each chapter concludes with a conceptual framework where findings are summed.
The research approach is both deductive (literature review to develop a theoretical position) and inductive (data collection and analysis). The main research design is an exploratory study based on comparative case studies. For this both a Lean Change Agent and an Environment, Health & Safety Manager were interviewed at three multinationals.
The findings show that lean is mainly used for its practical guidance, by using its tools and techniques, while also helping to make the broad concept of sustainability more tangible. However, without adopting lean’s long-term philosophic base, its utilisation remains superficial and is less likely to have a long lasting impact.
Sustainability hardly provides any other incentives for lean than financial ones. Although an extra constancy of purpose is not offered by sustainability, the emerging economic urgency may create a useful tide for lean.
As such this dissertation still provides enough arguments for both lean and sustainability implementers to stand stronger together facing mutual issues.