Small Sustainability Supply: How Small Business and Lean Manufacturing can Change Supply Chains

Author:Carlos Lopez
Position:Carlos Lopez is a 2018 J.D. candidate at American University Washington College of Law. His areas of interest include natural resource management and energy law.
27Spring 2017
Small SuStainability Supply:
how Small buSineSS anD lean manufacturinG
can chanGe Supply chainS
Carlos Lopez*
aw material sustainability might act as a catalyst for
green development throughout product creation, because
the supply created by these firms would influence tech-
nology and demand trends. Sustainability raises key issues in
establishing business practices across supply chains. Small busi-
nesses might address these issues by initiating green business
practices at the beginning of the chain. Corporate action usually
directs the supply chain by interpreting the demands and expecta-
tions of end consumers. Corporate firms are closer to consumers
and understand the nuances of product demand, thus having the
background to understand what materials to introduce for market
success. For firms further along the supply chain, raw material
suppliers can act as trendsetters. This feature will argue that small
business can provide versatility in raw material supply and busi-
ness management that deserves the attention of policy makers and
green development strategists.
Firms evaluate new products based on demand predictions,
development viability, and fiscal impact.1 The product idea is
proposed, after which the concept and corresponding marketing
is fine-tuned. The firm analyzes and develops a proposed prod-
uct, prior to testing marketability.2 During this process, product
ideas are judged based on potential success. In developing the
concept, firms consider how consumers will react to the product
and its presented benefits.3 While this process is more apparent in
the corporate-consumer relationship, the raw supplier-corporate
dynamic also features this tension.
Additionally, small business practices facilitate supply chain
sustainability. When a corporate firm creates a new product, it
becomes the consumer for material suppliers. Now, the suppliers
must consider the corporate entity as an end consumer. Due to a
small scale and managerial flexibility, small businesses approach
product development with a more even spread of resources. When
a small size supplier considers a new product for corporate firms,
it should focus on helping the firm become more sustainable and
eco-friendly. This environmentally conscious focus will likely
please consumers concerned about the biosphere or anxious for
low-involvement participation in sustainability.
Supplementing the above market factors, the Environmental
Protection Agency has outlined several approaches to chain sustain-
ability as part of its Lean Practices initiative.4 These approaches
require firm flexibility and ease of response to demand. The origi-
nal streamlining model is the Toyota Production System. Beginning
in the 1940s, Toyota developed a management philosophy that
has since influenced manufacturing and business efficiency in the
form of lean manufacturing.5 Lean manufacturing focuses on the
elimination of waste in its various manifestations. This waste can
either be related to process inconsistencies and overburden, or
excessive production. Thus, a manufacturer achieves maximum
production potential by constantly striving to reduce these forms
of waste.6 This attention to detail creates comprehensive quality
standards, which aim to benefit the product at every step.
Implementing this mentality, firms most effectively reduce
waste by analyzing product design processes and implementation.
Special focus should be directed towards processes involving both
humans and automation because these processes are prone to inef-
ficiencies.7 Automation should be implemented with enhancing
human process in mind. Key practices include tailoring output to
actual, real time demand, quickly identifying waste, and continu-
ing process improvement.8
Waste emerges in the form of production techniques or prod-
uct design, especially product composition. Firms can identify
what materials will be efficient for the end chain product design,
minimal costs, process efficiencies, and environmental impact. A
small business may address the demands of corporate firms and
proceed to exceed the sustainability required by these demands.9
As the corporate sustainability climate shifts, small business
will have a unique adaptability for addressing these niche needs
because they can effectively research and manage quick overhaul.
Thus, small business has a special versatility that accommo-
dates lean manufacturing. The scale of these businesses allows for
processes to be streamlined and efficiently analyzed. Managers
can more directly interact with employees involved in the tar-
geted processes. This management approach can be used in the
generation of any product, but becomes a natural supplement to
the production of sustainable and green products. A business does
not even have to prioritize environmental efficiency to achieve
sustainability, only firm efficiency.10
Finally, small business also receives special attention from
the federal government. The sector is greatly aided by the Small
Business Administration.11 The SBA offers grant and loan pro-
grams, which provide finance for small business endeavors.12 The
Administration also provides resources for smaller entities deal-
ing with a range of economic considerations, offering guidance
for multiple industries.13 Additionally, EPA provides documents
focused on environmental compliance for small businesses.14
* Carlos Lopez is a 2018 J.D. candidate at American University Washington
College of Law. His areas of interest include natural resource management and
energy law.
28 Sustainable Development Law & Policy
Supply chain sustainability will provide many challenges
for future manufacturing. The product development and creation
processes will be most affected, as firms look to restructure
production to meet emerging market trends and corporate ideol-
ogy. Lean manufacturing and related practices foster a sense of
sustainability, from streamlining production flow to rethinking
product composition. Small business will be able to address
these expectations and challenges by efficiently incorporating
sustainable practices, satisfying emerging corporate sustain-
ability, and utilizing specialized government support. Combined
with the attention of policy makers, sustainable supply chains
can be built on small business.
1 See generally Principles of Marketing: New-Product Development and
Product Life-Cycle Strategies, Ohio univ. 1, 1-12, (last visited Apr. 9, 2017),
2 See generally id. at 8-12.
3 See generally id.
4 See Lean Manufacturing, envtl. protection aGency, (last visited Apr. 1,
5 See Toyota Production System, toyota, (Apr. 9, 2017) http://
tion_system/; see also Lean Thinking and Methods—Introduction, envtl.
protection aGency, (last visited Apr. 1, 2017),
6 See toyota, supra note 5.
7 See id.
8 See id.
9 See, e.g., Lean—Genera l Motors Corporation, envtl. protec-
tion aGency, (last visited Apr. 9, 2017)
10 See, e.g., Lean—Goodrich Corporation, envtl. protection aGency,
(last visited Apr. 19, 2017)
(mentioning that Goodrich had not considered environmental factors when it
streamlined its manufacturing at Chula Vista, reducing its facility from five
buildings to two and doubling output).
11 See Small Business Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 631, 633 (describing the promotion
of small business interests as a national concern and empowering the Small
Business Administration to oversee the execution of the Act).
12 See Loans and Grants, Small buS. aDmin., (last visited Apr. 9, 2017)
13 See Learn about Business Laws, Small buS. aDmin., (last visited Apr. 9,
2017); see
also Business Guides By Industry; Small buS. aDmin., (last visited Apr. 9,
14 See Environmental Knowledgebase: How Can a Small Business Owner
Get Help Understanding Requirements and Regulations?, envtl. protection
aGency, (last visited Apr. 9, 2017)