Lean, Green Marc Machine

“I just got through writing a book about garbage,” said the bearded man with a smile, sitting on his Pilates ball at his desk, like Dwight Schrute from “The Office.”

“I can’t stand sitting in a chair all day,” he said. The ball keeps his core active so he does not just go dead.

Although he wouldn’t get the Dwight Schrute reference because he has never even seen an episode of “The Office,” OU Lean Institute program specialist Marc Jensen is cultured.

He has written several publications but “only three books.” Most of them are music-related.

He plays many instruments: he started on the piano; then he joined a rock band in high school and played the keyboard; the band wanted him to play accordion, so the members bought him an accordion; also, violin, mandolin and recorders. Those are all of the instruments he plays well, he admitted.

Jensen holds a doctorate degree in music composition from the University of Minnesota, with special emphasis in process-oriented composition.

He has an extensive background as an author and a print music copy editor. He worked as a freelance music copy editor before coming to his current job with Lean.

Dedicated to promoting new music in Oklahoma, Jensen was one of the founders of the Oklahoma Composers Association, a nonprofit organization that develops opportunities for composers living and working in the state.

He earned his PhD in music theory and composition at Minnesota hoping to be a professor, but he chose to move back to Norman to be with his family instead of playing the tenure track game.

So, what is he doing working for the Lean Institute?

“Helping people,” he said.

He started at the Lean Institute five years ago doing clerical work as a temp without any prior training; within a year, he wrote a grant for the Department of Commerce, taking Lean tools and looking at environmental issues.

“Lean was created as a collaboration between Outreach and Tinker Air Force Base as part of a large grant. It was already transitioning out of that, and we were trying to reinvent what it was, so we were increasing our work with other government agencies,” he said. Lean has worked with DHS, the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Postal Service.

Over the last five years, Lean has gone green and has diversified into the private sector, Jensen said.

Jensen’s job today is resource conservation, working on process improvement and sustainability—how to pull waste out of a system.

“Waste is anything that consumes resources but doesn’t produce return. It is usually looked at as time, cost, materials that get squandered, but you can look at environmental issues the same way,” he said.

Jensen is on the university’s Environmental Concerns Committee.

“Going green is kind of what I made Lean into,” he said.

He describes the false dichotomy of pro-environment versus pro-business. “If you look at pro-environment as less waste, then you can mesh that into an economic driver for businesses. We analyze the waste streams of companies. It’s fun.”

If a business eliminates waste and problems well, then the cost of doing business goes down. But the money, although easy to measure, is not the primary driver behind Jensen’s ambitions. “It’s not necessarily easy to measure the dollar savings from reductions in chemical exposure in the workplace,” but for Jensen those reductions are more rewarding than the money the company is saving.

Although the Lean Institute was not an aspiration of his while earning his doctorate in music, he still gets to teach OU courses, and he said that is his favorite part of his job.

Last semester, Jensen gave his students plants to play as instruments. He built amplification tables on which to set the cactuses and pine cones and he told them, “We are going to play nothing but these tiny sounds.”

Jensen has two children, ages 4 and 8, and they are still young enough to think his job is cool, he said. “My wife gets annoyed when I take Lean stuff at home, because she doesn’t want me to ‘Lean’ her, but she thinks it’s interesting, too.”

In his free time, Marc Jensen is interested in local goods and self-producing food. He raises chickens, he practices his music, and he builds.

“I like to build stuff. I build instruments. I build whatever I feel like. I build furniture sometimes. I just finished building a toy boat for my kids.”

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