The shift toward sustainable warehousing is still accelerating despite the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. External pressure on companies to adopt greener practices continues to rise alongside the need to balance costs and operational efficiencies. It’s anticipated the call for sustainable action will increase demand for strategic warehousing, automation, and eco-friendly packaging, among other currently unforeseeable needs. But sustainable warehousing can do more than help the environment – there are efficiency and cost gains to be had as well. In light of these environmental factors, we’ll discuss the ways in which the industry is inching toward a more sustainable future with greener warehousing solutions.
Facility Location and Design
In an ideal world, a warehouse should always be strategically located in close proximity to ports, roads, airports, and customers for optimal distribution. Both cost and CO2 levels can be lowered via thoughtful network design (or redesign where necessary) that strategically takes into account the local areas serviced. The benefits of strategic warehousing can also extend to next-day fulfillment for companies delivering this service.
Companies may also apply less drastic, tried and true changes for sustainability. For example, lighting is a primary driver of electrical load, and switching to LEDs is known to reduce costs and environmental footprint. Plus, other adjustments like efficient HVAC systems and good building insulation improve ongoing energy consumption. To help monitor warehouse usage, clever energy management systems with built-in sensors and timers monitor electricity, water, and gas usage. This improves sustainability while reducing overheads.
While retrofitting existing buildings is a step in the right direction, building new green warehouses can achieve sustainability certifications such as those granted by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Innovative building projects matching LEED requirements are reported to use 25% less energy and have 34% lower CO2 emissions. Companies can stand to gain cost-effectiveness and reduced environmental impact, in addition to a credible green tick of approval.
If you are hunting for a warehouse of your own, check out our post on the four things to consider.
Automated Electric Vehicles
The widespread effects of COVID-19 on the supply chain are pushing rapid adoption of technologies in and outside the warehouse. In fact, a global survey revealed 77% of operational decision-makers in warehousing believe the “best way to automate is by augmenting workers with technology.” This turn of events brings the future of automation even closer than anticipated.
Now, companies must look beyond what’s going on in their own backyard and assess their supply chain’s sustainability efforts.
An interesting way automation is playing a role in sustainability is outside the warehouse in distribution yards. A key link in the supply chain, these yards shift huge masses of freight between warehouses and roadways, albeit with highly repetitive manual work involved to get the job done. Overreliance on manual operations means the majority of yards experience congestion and idling trucks, and are a hotbed for carbon emissions.
Distribution yards make the perfect candidate for automated electric vehicles. Yard managers dispatch and monitor their movements to and from trailers, and can intervene where required. There are massive advantages from safety and efficiency perspectives, but it also significantly mitigates environmental impacts. It’s only early days for the tech and we’re excited to see what the future holds for electric vehicles in this setting.
Packaging material places a considerable burden on the environment, representing approximately 2 billion metric tons of plastic produced since mass production began. Pressure to rethink packaging has gained momentum over the last few years, and future-focused companies are making moves to adapt before heavier regulation comes in. Warehouses providing pick and pack fulfillment services can make the industry more sustainable by integrating smarter packaging alternatives.
Waste minimization can be difficult in an industry where packaging waste is inherent in day-to-day operations. However, options for eco-friendly packaging now abound, so there are solutions to fit every need. Biodegradable packing peanuts, for example, offer an excellent alternative to styrofoam banned in certain parts of the U.S.
Research and development have brought about unusual yet creative ideas for the future of packaging. So far, there are up-and-coming innovations from renewable sources such as mycelium (mushroom) and prototyped seaweed packing materials. Until some of these newer types become more accessible, companies can opt for recycled paper and cardboard options which do better for the environment than harmful disposable plastics.
Other small actions which are straightforward and easily implementable include appropriately recycling materials such as cardboard and metals, and swapping disposable packaging for durable pallets and containers. Every small action counts as the industry collectively changes in pursuit of a sustainable future.
From strategically planned premises, automation fused electric vehicles, and innovative packaging alternatives, we can see one thing for certain — the future sure looks bright for sustainable warehousing.