Could lean and green be the driver to integrate business improvement throughout the organisation?

Lara Chaplin, Simon T. J. O'Rourke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


It seems to be the consensus (Zhang et al., 2012; George et al., 2003; Arumugam et al., 2013) that Lean Six Sigma (LSS) has become a beneficial improvement initiative used in a variety of industries. There is a move towards integrating any high-level business improvement methods holistically throughout the whole organisation. Indeed, Hoerl (2014) explored the idea that when using LSS for business improvement, the programme should engage the whole organisation in much the same way as the financial function is present throughout each department. The purpose of this paper is to posit that using the lean and green agenda may be the driver to achieve integration.

The research adopted a subjective ontological perspective with the researcher using participant observation as the main research instrument. Denzin and Lincoln (2005) note that it is now common for scholars to argue that the only relevant data are those based upon the personal experience of the researcher; this served as an informing foundation for the approach for the exploration of the topic. Based on multiple case studies, chosen because they operate in different sectors, the paper adopted an extended case method (Burawoy, 1998) to analyse and gather the research. The organisations were chosen because they both were at a similar stage in their continuous improvement (CI) journey. The main reasoning behind the selection of the two different organisations is to reach “Thick Description” (Geertz, 1973, p. 3, 2001).

The findings suggest that there are still significant benefits of implementing a large-scale lean agenda in particular when using an LSS methodology. The paper finds that there are also significant gaps in achieving full integration within the organisation and argues that lean and CI are still the remit of the operations manager. The document goes on to argue that if the CI initiative is driven by the corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan, then any lean/lean green implementation will enable the company to drive CI integration with all stakeholders.

Research limitations/implications
The research has implications for those responsible for the CSR function within the organisation and the operations manager who is charged with implementing any lean/lean and green CI.

Practical implications
The paper argues that the lean and green agenda can drive integration of any CI activity throughout the organisation and suggests that the way this can be achieved is any CI activity that is included in the wider CSR plan.

Social implications
This paper contributes to the “lean and green” agenda and offers a solution for the problem of integrating LSS activities throughout the whole organisation by placing CI and LSS within the CSR remit.

There is little consensus how this holistic integrated approach should be implemented by the company. This research uses multiple case studies to critically examine the application of LSS as an improvement programme within two large UK-based organisations, each company operating in very different industry sectors to identify the benefits of LSS but also the missed “green/societal” opportunities and argues that if any lean and lean and green agenda is to be holistically adopted, then any CI activity should be driven by the CSR department.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-219
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Productivity and Performance Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • continuous improvement
  • Corporate and social responsibility
  • Lean Six Sigma
  • lean and green


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