Warehousing goes green – how environmental issues are changing warehousing

Road haulage has long been at the sharp end of environmental awareness, but warehouse and distribution centres are increasingly focusing on improving their environmental performance for three main reasons:

  • Benefits to the bottom line – greener warehouses are often cheaper to run
  • Beating legislation – Unilever has revealed that their ‘green’ brands are performing 42% better than others. Companies that take action ahead of environmental law being enacted end up with better reputations and more customer support
  • Brand harmony – millennial customers dig deeper and expect more from their brands, including clarity on supply chains.

How to green your warehouse

Every warehouse operator is constantly looking for ways to reduce operational costs without negatively impacting efficiency. There are three very different approaches to improving the environmental performance in warehousing and distribution:

  1. Retrofit environmental tools into existing warehouse facilities
  2. Build new warehousing with environmentally friendly principles
  3. Move to greener 3PL partners (third party logistics companies).

Many firms are constrained by their budgets and circumstances as to which of these three they can implement but whichever route an organisation takes, it will generally see the benefits within five years for retrofits and often within a single year for new builds and new partnerships. We have six tips to help any warehouse or distribution centre experience environmental benefits.

  1. Start where you need to be

Several recent surveys suggest that a major source of energy consumption in a large storage warehouse is not in the building itself but related to the transport that uses the building. That makes perfect sense – haulage companies and all parties involved, are aware that road haulage, order fulfilment and returns are substantial energy users. Novel logistics approaches are putting new-build warehouses closer to their usage sources, meaning smaller warehouse facilities distributed across ‘network’ territories to minimise the transport used to convey goods to and from customers. This approach also permits consideration of efficient transport routes, with river and canal transportation returning to popularity and electronic vehicle networks being factored into distribution centre planning.

  1. Build tight, build small, build green

Traditional warehouses are large. New green logistics enterprises, however, focus on high density storage, often accompanied by automated retrieval (AS/RS) which allows companies to construct smaller, taller, more energy efficient warehouses. This saves money on land purchased, reduces construction impact and gives more likelihood of getting necessary permissions as smaller, cost and space efficient construction is more appealing to local authorities and local residents alike. There’s another major benefit to AS/RS warehousing, which comes up when we look at waste.

  1. Doors, windows and vents

In older warehouses these three areas can be costing a fortune on a daily basis. If you are losing heat in winter and air conditioning your warehouse in summer, you could be paying out a vast amount that isn’t necessary. Properly insulated doors, well fitting windows and vents that are remote operated so they aren’t left open 24/7 will save you money. It’s also important to look at the entry points to your warehouse storage and operational facility – automatic doors can reduce your energy use substantially because manually operated doors just tend to get left open at busy times, meaning you’re heating, or cooling, the world outside.

  1. Audit warehouse waste for profit

Any distribution service faces a problem with waste material. Businesses must analyse waste from the packaging that surrounds bulk delivery through to the waste products of operation like oil, chemicals and batteries through to the waste generated by packaging for delivery and returns, this is an area of operation that leaks money like a sieve. Look at recycling as a cost centre – can you reuse material, can you be a recycling centre for other local businesses, can you reduce packaging or make it easier to dispose of? A traditional warehouse uses forklifts and pallets to move and store goods, but AS/RS tends to use conveyor belts and electronic vehicles, reducing the carbon footprint and also requiring much less waste product such as shrink wrap, which is a major cost component around forklift use. The packaging challenge is a particularly public one at present with the public debate about ‘Blue Planet’ and plastic straw use actually creating legislation at a phenomenal rate. Getting ahead of this surge of interest won’t just benefit your organisation financially, it can make you a business leader.

  1. Automate or schedule in-warehouse movements

New build warehousing tends to be automated but even the oldest warehouse facility can run a schedule that allows a business to limit forklift use. Eliminating extraneous journeys can reduce the carbon footprint of your warehouse, give your trucks a longer period between services and even extend their viable lifetime. A really simple change is to teach operatives to turn off engines and remove keys while loading or unloading forklifts – this one act alone can reduce energy use by 12% per annum. Moving to a 3PL distribution centre can allow you to reduce forklift dependence without having to completely redesign your current warehousing space.

  1. Reduce energy costs

Lighting and climate control can both be major costs in manually operated warehouses, while automated spaces may cost more to establish, they require considerably less energy to run. Lighting is machine level, not human level and heating is product-related, not human related, so it can be maintained at a steady state level much more easily. For new build warehousing, it’s worth considering looking for a net-zero design – which is a building that generates as much energy as it uses. Solar panel installations can dramatically reduce the energy bill for an organisation as well as allowing it to more easily meet local building regulations. Eco-friendly lighting can be retrofitted to any warehouse, cutting costs by up to 80% over traditional lighting. Not only does eco-friendly lighting save you money on energy costs, it doesn’t need to be replaced nearly as often, which reduces labour costs too. Water-saving initiatives such as reducing the flush volume from toilets and lowering the bore of hoses used for maintenance, can save considerable amounts over the year and moving from propane to electronic forklifts can save around £13,000 over five years.

It’s obvious that almost every warehouse can benefit from greening its activities and that the challenges of facing today’s environmental imperatives may actually be a trigger to economic gain.

We provide warehousing and distribution for a variety of businesses located throughout the UK.

The majority of our warehouses provide an eco friendly packaging service using shrink wrap, if you require. Details of warehouses and the services each offer, to ensure order fulfilment to the highest standard, can be found in our online directory.

Simply contact us today on 0800 1707 555 to find warehouse space for rent in your desired area, with the right warehouse services to fulfil all your product requirements.

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