A Brief History of the Concept of Waste in Production

Lauri Koskela1, Rafael Sacks2 & John Rooke3

1Professor, School of the Built Environment, 4th Floor, Maxwell Building, , The University of Salford, Salford M5 4WT, UK, Phone +44 (0)1612956378, [email protected]
2Associate Professor, Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel, Phone +972-4-8293190, [email protected]
3Research Fellow, HaCIRIC, School of the Built Environment, The University of Salford, Greater Manchester, UK, Phone +44 (0)161 295 6344, [email protected]


Purpose: The concept of waste has been used in relation to production since the beginning of the 20th century. As it is well-known, it is a foundational notion for the Toyota Production System and its derivatives, like lean production. However, waste is not a prevalent concept in the mainstream literature on economics, operations management, construction management or management. The reasons for this apparent aversion to the concept of waste are not well-understood. In view of this, we present an overview on the historical development and diffusion of the concept of waste. It is anticipated that such a long-term view would contribute to the current discussion of the place of this concept in the theory and practice of production. Method: The historical method is followed. Findings: The history of the concept of waste can naturally be divided into a number of periods: nascence up to the end of the 18th century, emergence of the classical notion in the 19th century, flourishing during scientific management, decline starting in the second quarter of the 20th century, and re-emergence in last quarter of that century. From these, especially the emergence of the classical notion of waste as well as its decline have been poorly understood. It is also an important insight that across the different periods, waste has been understood in two dimensions: instrumentally and intrinsically (morally). Implications: Through an historical account, the relevance and texture of the concept of waste can be better appreciated. The focus can be directed to critically assessing the justification of the arguments that led to the decline of waste. All in all, the need for the revival of waste as a basic concept in managerial discourse is illuminated.


waste, production, economics, management.



Koskela, L. , Sacks, R. & Rooke, J. 2012. A Brief History of the Concept of Waste in Production, 20th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , -. doi.org/

Download: BibTeX | RIS Format