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Green Six Sigma is project managers’ secret weapon for combating climate change

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report carries an urgent message: “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach… Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.”

This outlook is also reflected by the recent spate of climate-related disasters across the world. However, it is encouraging to note that the report also suggests that “human action has the potential to determine the future course of climate”.

My research revealed that there are many publications discussing climate change, and also on Six Sigma and its hybrids (e.g. Lean Six Sigma). It seemed that there was a gap in the available literature – there was no bridge between the two. Thus, the concept of Green Six Sigma, which is basically an adaptation of Lean Six Sigma for climate change initiatives, was developed.

What is Green Six Sigma?

The distinctive features of Green Six Sigma are underpinned by three pillars: Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques, fitness for purpose, and fitness for sustainability. The last two pillars are unique to Green Six Sigma. An initial assessment indicates the levels of sigma and establishes ‘fitness for purpose’, e.g. the appropriate approach to an organisation depending on its size, deliverables and the level of accuracy.

In Green Six Sigma, the cycle of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control) is extended to DMAICS with an additional step, Sustain, to ensure fitness for sustainability in both processes and environmental standards (see Figure 1). The tools and techniques of Sustain ensure and enhance both the sustainability of the outcomes of climate change initiatives and the sustainability of environmental standards.

Green Six Sigma, Ron Basu

Figure 1: Green Six Sigma, Ron Basu

How do we implement Green Six Sigma?

Any implementation programme including climate change initiatives, whether international or national, should follow a structured plan based on the best practices of project management and change management. The success of the implementation of climate change initiatives will depend on addressing three key areas:

  • the target areas of climate change
  • the role of key stakeholders
  • appropriate tools and processes

The target areas of climate change initiatives span all sectors of the economy (e.g. energy, supply chain, transport and services) and also include retrofitting buildings and climate adaptations. The role of the international community as a stakeholder is arguably the most crucial driver of implementing any climate change initiatives.

The climate change summits COP26 in Glasgow and COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh offered green recovery opportunities with a series of tangible outcomes and climate change targets. It is vital that other key stakeholders, such as national governments, NGOs, industry and service providers, the media and the general public also play their part. Green Six Sigma provides the appropriate tools and processes.

The implementation of Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma has been happening for decades. Thus, learning points from the proven pathways of both successful and failed programmes are suggested for consideration in applying Green Six Sigma. At the earliest stage, decision-makers should understand the urgent need for a climate change initiative to work towards a net-zero carbon objective.

In my two books, Green Six Sigma (Wiley) and The Green Six Sigma Handbook (Routledge), I provide a total and proven pathway for implementing a Green Six Sigma programme, from the start of the initiative to the embedding of the change, right through to achieving a sustainable organisation-wide culture.

A culture change is an essential tenet of Green Six Sigma, which requires a sustainable culture comprising the key characteristics of the four categories: performance management, knowledge management, regular self-assessment and senior management reviews. “Improve and sustain” is the cornerstone of any Green Six Sigma programme. The Sustain cycle of DMAICS ensures the sustainability of both the process and environmental standards.

How can project managers help?

Green Six Sigma can act as a catalyst to accelerate climate change initiatives and also provides practical guidelines for project professionals “making it all happen” in a quality programme like Green Six Sigma.

I have great respect for, and faith in, the profession and I believe that project professionals will take proactive leadership roles in delivering climate change initiatives with Green Six Sigma as a secret weapon.

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