I read an article today about a gang called Global Wind Systems, Inc that is bringing a "ray of hope" to Michigan where the unemployment rate is the nation's highest and the economy is something out of a Marx Brothers comedy. These guys are "creating" 250 jobs and the big boss – a guy named Chris Long – thinks being in Michigan is great because "unions are fantastic for us". I put the word 'create' in quotes because the idea that these guys have created jobs would be like saying I went to the grocery store and 'created' the gallon of milk I walked out with. Nothing was created – Michigan paid this guy $7.3 million. It would be more accurate to say that the woeful economy of Michigan spent $7.3 million to buy 250 jobs.
Let's set the job debacle and often insane leadership of the state of Michigan aside, however, and take a look at the bigger picture – and the picture is very, very big indeed. 7.3 million is a lot of bucks by any measure, but it is a drop in the bucket for environmental improvement these days. The bankrupt state is ready to plow another half billion into this and similar ventures. And Mr. Long is just getting started – he is going to turn all that cash into 2,000 jobs. And he is going to sell his wind generators for $2.5-3 million a pop. Creating jobs and saving the plant is happening on an epic scale in Michigan, apparently. No small measures in the Great Lakes State.
You can read the results of similar investments in Spain where they came to the conclusion that "for every green job that's created with government funding, 2.2 regular jobs are lost and that only one in 10 green jobs wind up being permanent".
The planet is going to be saved – if it needs saving – by kaizen, not by such grandiose schemes. I have worked with companies that are making extraordinary improvements in their impact on the environment, and reducing their costs at the same time. And every one I have seen is doing it like a tortoise, rather than like the hares that grandstanding politicians and environmental maniacs so love. They are saving a few kilowatts here and a few pounds in a landfill there. They have relentless teams of front line employees making a never-ending stream of small improvements that, after a year or so, add up to serious improvements.
I am probably too harsh on the folks at Global Wind Systems – although I wish them luck with their love affair with organized labor – but the whole thing sounds to me like old school leadership. A few smart guys in the back room are going to dream up the massive techno-project that will take everything and everyone to a new level of utopia. It rarely works – whether it is government, manufacturing, health care or anything else. Progress is more probable, more sustainable, and more substantial when it is driven by the people closest to the thing we are trying to improve; and when those people are asked to make improvements that are real and within their grasp; and to do it again next week, and again the week after that, and to never stop.
Lean is all about driving waste out of the business. Energy going up and out through the roof, packaging material and scrap piling up in dumpsters and landfills, and oil burning to haul stuff around the globe connecting consumers with cheap labor all qualifies as waste. The big project thought up by the real smart folks with huge price tags and breathtaking improvement goals aren't lean and they aren't the answer.
A fraction of the $7.3 million spent on teaching kaizen to every organization in the state would have saved more money, made more organizations more cost effective and healthy, created more jobs and done more for the planet. Sounds better to me than – by Spanish math – creating 25 permanent green jobs at a cost of 550 real jobs and $7.3 million of taxpayers money.