For Your Career and Our Planet – Six Sigma Environment Green Belt

Read about the TUM online management course that has led students around the world to find data-driven solutions to urban littering problems – and some prime job opportunities.

Have you ever seen a place littered with trash and wondered why no one put a garbage can there? Have you witnessed junk piling up in a public area for weeks without anyone recognizing the problem, developing an action plan and implementing it? Prof. Dr. Holly Ott and Dr. Reiner Hutwelker have experienced that, too. At least, that’s the kind of problem the two TUM lecturers had in mind when they decided to make this very case the focus of their online courses for “Lean Six Sigma Yellow and Green Belt Certification”, featured in our current PRME report. The programs, which teach two levels of a data-based management system virtually, aim to convey some of the key skills and tool sets for sustainable management, both theoretically and practically. And they have been quite successful in doing so. More than 300,000 participants from all over the world have already completed TUM’s Yellow Belt program managed by Prof. Ott. The subsequent Green Belt certification, which is acquired through an individual practical project, is typically only open to employees of companies. But here, too, the TUM teaching staff took a new approach as they decided to offer the course to students and job seekers as well. And the response has been tremendous, resulting in top ratings for online training.

“Basically, Lean and Six Sigma are data-driven management systems that have been used to improve business processes for more than 30 years. Arranging theory, methods as well as qualitative and statistical tools into a guideline, their purpose is to directly increase the quality and availability of products and services, reduce the consumption of resources and eliminate waste,” Dr. Hutwelker explains. “This increases customer satisfaction and reduces the company’s costs.” In the Yellow and Green Belt programs offered by TUM via the online platform edX, participants learn how to apply these systems to take action based on statistical analysis rather than personal opinion. Those who master the requirements first earn the “Yellow Belt”, then the “Green Belt” and finally “Black Belt” certifications, which give them more earning power in companies and other organizations around the world.

Students around the world combat pollution with a data-driven approach

Robbe Maselis from the Netherlands got sponsored by his hometown for the littering project.

Originally, the Green Belt programs were only available to professionals who implemented their own certificate projects in their company as part of the courses, guided by teaching materials and individual online coaching. However, the high demand, even outside the corporate context, prompted the TUM lecturers’ decision to make participation possible for others as well. “The interest in our certified Yellow Belts, especially among students and job seekers, was the impetus for developing a Green Belt for this target group as well,” says Prof. Ott, and Dr. Hutwelker adds, “Our challenge was to formulate an interesting, globally challenging problem that each student can solve individually at home.” Naturally, the topic of environmental littering provided the perfect scenario for this.

“We’ve received great submissions from more than 250 participants from Canada, India, Portugal, Peru, Taiwan, the U.S. and more than 50 other countries within a year of launching,” says Dr. Hutwelker, who leads the Green Belt certification program. “The students first defined the districts, hotspots and peak hours they studied, supported the status quo with images, collected and analyzed field data and questionnaire responses, identified root causes, and finally implemented and evaluated measures against the guidelines provided,” he adds. The results are the same all over the world: people rate the environmental impact of glass higher than that of cigarette butts, and litter already lying around increases people’s willingness to dispose of their own waste.

Among the improvement measures Green Belts implement after their analysis are small education campaigns about the harmfulness of different types of waste, green footprints marking the way to the nearest garbage can, and increasing their visibility. These measures are localized, but usually creative and based on the country’s culture. “It became clear how serious the global waste problem is and what effects it can have – think, for example, of sewers clogged with plastic waste,” Dr. Hutwelker explains. “In one of the hotspots analyzed for a student project in Nigeria, this led to flooding and ultimately a rat infestation.”

More than just numbers: Persuasion and collaboration are part of the process

Logically, persuasion is also an intended part of the package of measures. That’s why, as part of our Six Sigma business projects, the participants are also required to set up a newsletter to convince colleagues and inform the company management about the project progress.  Similarly, the Environment Green Belts are encouraged to seek local support from the respective city administration or the responsible waste management company. “In about 10 percent of the cases, cooperation actually occurs,” Dr. Hutwelker explains. “And the impact of the project is then correspondingly high. Because quite a few local waste problems have already been tackled in this way.”

Demonstrable by figures: Those who apply the methods correctly can bring about real change

In the end, many students who completed the TUM edX course not only took their chance to face the global littering problem hands-on – but were ultimately able to make a real difference in their organizations. “Thanks to the excellent instruction and course structure, I did indeed learn how to apply the methods of Lean and Six Sigma throughout the various business units of my organization,” says Maureen (USA), who earned both a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt and Green Belt Certification. “Moreover, I was able to save my company thousands of dollars in material costs by solving process issues.”

Yingqin Chu posted creatively-designed posters to remind people not to litter on the ground.


Exciting opportunities arise for those who master the challenge

For other graduates, adding the certificate to their CVs and showcasing their methodological skills even led to new career opportunities. “Two months after updating my resume with the certificate on work platforms like LinkedIn, recruiters started contacting me for interviews,” Efi (Greece) emphasizes. Her fellow graduate Jessica, a chemical engineer from Switzerland, shares a similar experience: “Just recently, I got my first job in the continuous improvement department of a major chemical company. Thanks to my knowledge of Lean Six and Sigma acquired from TUMx, I was able to answer all technical questions during my interviews and show my motivation for quality management.” Maggie, another young professionalalso emphasizes that. “Taking these courses gave me confidence and credibility I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she recalls. Ultimately, her certificate not only enabled her to apply for her dream job, but also to shine in her interview. “The process improvement techniques I learned put me on the fast track to contribute and grow professionally.”

It is all about investing in yourself

Of course, acquiring the certificates is a means for young professionals to gain further qualifications beyond their studies and thus get a little closer to their own professional goals. However, according to Dr. Hutwelker, it is always important not only to work toward this, but above all to focus on one’s own development and self-realization. “It’s always worth investing in yourself and being open to knowledge. That’s why you shouldn’t just aim for a certificate, but take in everything new and make it your own by implementing it,” he stresses. “With our online courses, we primarily want to challenge our participants to think about who they are and who they want to be. Giving them the methodical knowledge they need to improve not only their own professional future, but also that of our planet, is truly wonderful.”

Are you ready to embark on a new professional journey and launch your own Green Belt project? If so, be sure to read our PRME report for more information and embark on a new path for your future.






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