Talk To us

Lean, Green and Circular Economy – the combination effect for a more competitive and sustainable industry

02 February 2023
Article by Isabel Fontes, consultant in Circular Economy at INEGI, and by José Carlos Sá, collaborating researcher at LAETA and Professor at ISEP.

With the progressive demands of society and consumers, organizations aspire to achieve a standard of excellence at all levels, from operational excellence to competitive excellence, in an effort that is reflected in efficiency, quality and, above all, customer satisfaction.

For this reason, interest in adopting lean philosophy principles has been growing in recent years, aiming towards the continuous improvement of processes through a set of tools and techniques that support each other synergistically. After all, lean thinking has as its final objective a simplified and high quality management system, oriented towards production according to the pace of customer demand, promoting the removal of what does not add value to the product and/or service, namely waste.

In this way, the lean philosophy is now very common in any type of organization, and the application of its techniques, when implemented, reveal high efficiency improvements that in turn lead to a reduction in costs, increased product quality and a more efficient delivery of products and services.

It's true that the lean philosophy is considered an influential reference in production, which offers solutions to improve operational performance and create a culture of continuous improvement in the organization, with the increase of business competitiveness. However, environmental concerns and the need for more sustainable products and services drive industries to adopt new production strategies.

In the course of our consulting work and improvement projects for companies, we increasingly see these methodologies as complementary. After all, how can we talk about improving productivity without talking about reducing waste? And how to approach the reduction of waste without the circularity of resources?

Sustainability is already a competitive factor

This is how the term green manufacturing appears, created to reflect a new production system capable of minimizing waste and pollution caused by production processes. Green manufacturing is seen as a new paradigm that adds sustainable strategies and techniques to prevent the impact on the environment, applied to processes, products and services. All processes must be rethought and renewed, starting with the design of products and systems with low consumption of energy and materials, so as to reduce negative impacts on the environment, society and eco-efficiency.

To this end, the acquisition and use of ecologically correct materials, the consumption of fewer natural resources, the reduction in the creation of waste and the promotion of recycling will also be essential. Encouraging and favoring the production and use of energy from renewable sources is another of the practices to be included in order to reduce the number of emissions released.

Therefore, the use of the «Lean and Green Manufacturing» concept is evident in different business sectors with the aim of reducing waste in operational processes, increasing productivity and minimizing environmental impacts.

Where do Lean and Green intersect?

While the lean philosophy strategy aims to reduce operating costs by reducing waste in the production system, green manufacturing aims to preserve the environment, reduce emissions and use (less) natural resources. Lean practices are not sustainable by themselves, because their main objective is to maximize customer value and it is not right that the customer takes environmental issues into account.

The «Lean and Green Manufacturing» methodology, however, provides tools based on techniques that allow less waste, directing companies to evaluate the productivity and environmental impact of their processes. Taking into account the common goals of lean thinking and sustainability, their combination seems natural to complement each other and benefit from their association.

Association of Lean philosophy and the Circular Economy

The circular economy, in turn, is a concept that is based on a sustainable development strategy, where the aim is to maintain economic growth, human well-being and simultaneously reduce negative environmental impacts. It is a closed-loop regenerative system that intends to optimize the use of resources, conserving them, minimizing the amounts of use and maximizing their recovery, efficiency and effectiveness during their useful life. In this way, it is possible to slow down, close and reduce circuits of materials and energy.

This approach promotes value chain innovation, projecting ecodesign into products to make them easier to maintain, repair, upgrade, dismantle or recycle, creating industrial symbioses and supporting the consumer in encouraging separation so that costs can be minimized.

From the perspective of the lean philosophy, process optimization is restricted to a specific supply chain, while for the circular economy this chain is extended to a much larger perspective, where the identification and flow of value are not limited to a cycle of life or the product supply chain, but continues to evolve towards preserving and improving natural capital and optimizing resource yield. But true success lies in this combination, in order to optimize resources, producing only what is needed, creating a circular flow, and continuously working towards full efficiency through continuous improvement.

Related Pages


Carvalho, M., Sá, J. C., Marques, P. A., Santos, G., & Pereira, A. M. (2022). Development of a conceptual model integrating management systems and the Shingo Model towards operational excellence. Total Quality Management and Business Excellence.

Ghosh, S. K. (Ed.). (2020). Circular economy: global perspective. Singapore: Springer.

Gomes Silva, F. J., Kirytopoulos, K., Pinto Ferreira, L., Sá, J. C., Santos, G., & Cancela Nogueira, M. C. (2022). The three pillars of sustainability and agile project management: How do they influence each other. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 29(5), 1495–1512.

Silva, S., Sá, J. C., Silva, F. J. G., Ferreira, L. P., & Santos, G. (2020). Lean Green—The Importance of Integrating Environment into Lean Philosophy—A Case Study. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, 122, 211–219.

Teixeira, P., Coelho, A., Fontoura, P., Sá, J. C., Silva, F. J. G., Santos, G., & Ferreira, L. P. (2022). Combining lean and green practices to achieve a superior performance: The contribution for a sustainable development and competitiveness—An empirical study on the Portuguese context. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management29(4), 887–903.

Teixeira, P., Sá, J. C., Silva, F. J. G., Ferreira, L. P., Santos, G., & Fontoura, P. (2021). Connecting lean and green with sustainability towards a conceptual model. Journal of Cleaner Production, 322.

Teixeira, P., Sá, J. C., Silva, F. J., Santos, G., Fontoura, P., & Coelho, A. (2021). Lean Contribution to the Companies’ Sustainability. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, 610, 400–408.

Womack, J. P., & Jones, D. T. (1996). Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated: James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones. Simon & Schuster, May.

Cookie Policy

This site uses cookies. When browsing the site, you are consenting its use.   Learn more

I understood