Is Green Warehousing possible?

With Moller-Maersk announcing its first low GHG emissions warehouse in Denmark, many organisations are asking whether green warehousing is possible and/or desirable.


The answer to both is yes – but making the business case requires an awareness of what can be changed, and how, to make existing warehouse space greener, at the same time as recognising how new warehousing can be built to be greener and cleaner.


The benefits of green warehousing


Lower energy costs


Running costs are a major part of any warehouse, whether you’re using a fully automated pick and pack system or a simple pallet storage outlet. While fossil fuel based energy has – until recently – looked cheaper than alternatives; in the long run it can be expensive both because it’s inefficient and because reliance on it can encourage wastefulness in other ways.  Renewable energy may be more expensive upfront, but can help reduce costs elsewhere by creating a mindset that leads people to look at consolidating orders, optimising shipping routes and generally have a more innovative approach to energy use.


Better corporate profile


green warehousing

Bad food and poor logistics go viral, and for any organisation with a warehousing operation, there’s always good PR to be garnered from sharing your environmental awareness with your customer base. From re-using packaging (see below) through to green roofs, these are messages that resonate with consumers and set your company apart from the wasteful, highly publicised, largely empty boxes sent out by other organisations, which end up being featured negatively on social media.


Happier staff


If green warehousing is good for your PR, it’s just as good for your employees. While greener logistics has a positive impact on your external profile, greener warehouse practices have a beneficial influence on your workforce. Knowing that they work for a company that’s trying to make a difference has several effects:

  1. People stay longer in jobs where they feel the company has good values
  2. Companies are more likely to recruit better talent if they have a strong positive public profile
  3. Workers are more productive if they feel their employer is making a positive difference in the world.

These effects, added together, both reduce recruitment costs and improve productivity, not only making good environmental sense but also great business sense. Given that a recent Reuters study, nearly two thirds of people surveyed said they were more likely to take a job with a company that demonstrated a strong commitment to sustainability, this has to be a key consideration when exploring how to green warehousing.


Hazard reduction


In any warehouse space, there are chemicals and other materials that are hazardous to personnel or to the environment more generally. A green warehousing focus looks at reducing reliance on harmful chemicals like solvents and degreasers and finding more environmentally friendly alternatives. This has two big benefits: first it puts your staff at less risk, meaning that your warehousing is unlikely to experience the kind of costs associated with cleaning up spills or the business delays that can arise from hazardous spillages and second, the costs relating to handling and disposing of toxic chemicals are also reduced.


Reduced wastage


Using recyclable (or recycled) packaging, often looks like a greater initial cost, but the ability to re-use these materials can reduce this cost centre in the long run. As an example, cellulose rather than plastic packaging is compostable, which reduces your warehouse carbon footprint, boosts your sustainability credentials with your customers and allows your staff to feel better about their work. However, while logistics and fulfilment can look like the only area in which wastage can be reduced, there is another part of the warehousing process that can benefit from a green approach. Paper wastage occurs when warehouses produce packing slips, order confirmations, shipping notices and return documents without reflecting on how useful they are. In many cases, the proportion of essential records is much lower than the amount of records produced and there are a range of costs associated with excess paper use: printing, storage and copying being the obvious ones. At the end of the lifespan of paper documentation is disposal, which is a cost in itself, and may include the use of shredding machines and specialist disposal services. In similar vein, many warehouses can reuse pallets and storage materials which gives these materials a longer life, keeps them out of landfill and reduces disposal fees.


Technological advances


There are advanced technologies that can help create green warehouses, like robotics and automation, but even if your warehouse rental doesn’t give you such highly sophisticated technology, there are much simpler but equally cost-effective technologies every warehouse can explore. LED lighting is becoming commonplace in warehouse settings and again, while the upfront cost is higher, the long term cost us much lower because LEDs last longer and consume less power. Electric forklifts are another possibility and with the UK forklift market being pretty equally divided between diesel or LPG powered machines or battery-driven electric ones, this is a place in which companies can being to green their warehousing easily, as each non-electric machine comes to the end of its life. Beyond forklifts, a warehouse space might move to high volume, low-speed fans if they are using fans to cool warehousing. These large fans can cut energy costs by a third, by reducing the ambient temperature by up to four degrees without a massive electricity bill.


Better processes


One example is cross docking, where warehouses are extending the just-in-time philosophy to the process of moving products directly from an incoming supplier vehicle to an outbound delivery vehicle without ever using the warehouse space. While this has to be a limited part of warehouse logistics, each time a warehouse can crated this kind of process, it uses almost no warehouse resources, saving money, energy and wear and tear. Better inventory processes aren’t often seen as green initiatives but making sure your inventory is properly packaged, effectively labelled and carefully stored means that you have less risk, lower spoilage and quicker pick and pack processes, which in turn means lower insurance premiums and injury rates, better usage of stock and more orders processed per day.


Given how many environmental initiatives a warehouse can adopt, there’s bound to be something that every warehouse space can do to make itself a little greener.

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