On-Site Magazine

Using lean to maximize sustainability

By Jack Statham   

Construction Leadership

Much as lean concepts can be used to deliver ever-greater value, they can also be applied to sustainability goals.

Jack Statham

There are many similarities between lean construction and sustainability. At a fundamental level, both systems view processes and production from a similar lens: the lens of value.

Lean construction aims to maximize value to the customer, improve flow, and eliminate waste. The customer is defined as any stakeholder receiving finished work from the previous step in a process, and value is what they need, when they need it, at the quality and quantity that they expect. Waste is defined as any task that does not add value.

The commonly used definition of sustainable development, as defined by the Brundtland Commission, is, “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Both concepts are focused on the needs of all stakeholders within a system. That focus provides value to both the current and downstream stakeholders. There are three main tools to maximize sustainability through lean.




Originally, the seven wastes were created within the Toyota Production System with a focus of reducing time. As we start focusing on the system from a sustainability lens, we can see that these wastes also eliminate an eighth waste, wasted materials.

The four main contributors of construction and demolition waste are residual, design defects, material handling, and installation errors. Each of these streams can be greatly reduced.

For example, material handling would be reduced with an understanding of defects, inventory and transportation. There is a direct relationship between how long materials are stored on site and the damages that can occur.

When materials are stored on site (inventory) they are exposed to risks for environmental damages, and human error damages (defects). Furthermore, every time the material is moved (transportation) we risk damaging or losing it.

Therefore, it is important to have a material management strategy on a construction site to ensure that material is delivered with a just-in-time approach, and that it is stored in a safe, organized and dedicated location.



Both lean and sustainability require people to work and think differently. People are forced to consider the impacts of choices beyond their silo to ensure the system is optimized for the greatest value. At Chandos we observed that our projects delivered through Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), a delivery method focused on collaboration, achieved the highest levels of sustainability.

For example, our Drayton Valley Aquatic Centre project in Alberta was able to achieve several sustainability highlights throughout construction due to collaboration and the client’s goal of building a project with net zero energy consumption.

During excavation and land clearing, the project team discussed how they could sustainably remove nearly 5,000 tonnes of clay. Through these discussions the client indicated that they had a berm project that could use the clay. Instead of hauling this material to a temporary stockpile at the local landfill, we were able to directly haul it to this other project, greatly reducing environmental impact.

The second highlight, which was only achievable through the IPD delivery method, was the installation of the rooftop solar panels. The team worked together to install the solar panels as early as possible in the construction schedule. With the system running six months ahead of the project completion, it could be used to power the construction activities.

Not only were we able to use renewable energy to power all construction operations on site, but we are also able to sell extra power generated so that it can be used by the local community. To-date, this has resulted in the project eliminating nearly 109 tonnes of CO2 and delivering thousands in savings.



There is a common saying that a person can’t improve what is not measured, and I like to add that people also don’t improve what they don’t see. Making information visible is critical to success.

When people know the goals for the organization and their projects, the strategies that they can implement to achieve those goals, and have an understanding of their progress over time, they will be empowered to improve and achieve those goals.

When Chandos made its Net Zero 2040 commitment, we didn’t have all the answers. We knew where we were and where we wanted to be, but we didn’t know how to achieve this target. So, we made as much information visible to our employees as we possibly could, provided some starter solutions, outlined the different challenges, and then we let our people run with the ball.

Lean is about truly showing respect for people. It provides the framework, tools, and a way of thinking that people can use to make small continuous improvements.


In his role as a lean and sustainability specialist, Jack Statham advises project teams on how to reduce carbon and waste across the lifecycle of a project.


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