Perhaps, the one place in the entire supply chain network that has a lot of impact on the environment is the warehouse. And, to make matters worse, this place is often overlooked in many enterprises.
According to the World Green Building Council, the building sector has the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., buildings account for 41% of energy consumption, higher than the transportation industry that consumes 29% of the energy.
With sustainability becoming a key priority for businesses today, there is an immediate need to focus on warehousing.
Energy consumption, waste management, transportation emissions, packaging material, space utilization — every aspect of warehouse operations needs a sustainability facelift.
Let’s begin by understanding the meaning of a sustainable warehouse.
What is Warehouse Sustainability?
Sustainability has become increasingly crucial in the warehouse. A warehouse is sustainable when it can operate in a manner that is conducive to the environment and society. It has mechanisms in place to minimize energy consumption, waste, emissions and the overall impact on the environment.
Warehouse sustainability also promotes the well-being of employees and the surrounding community. It creates a safe and healthy work environment. And it does all this while meeting the core business objectives.
Also Read: A Comprehensive Guide to Inventory and Warehouse Management: What, Why and How
How to Design a Sustainable Warehouse
Here are some ways to make your warehouse sustainable:
- Optimize warehouse design: A well-planned layout can maximize warehouse efficiency and remove unnecessary steps. The objective is to make optimum utilization of available space for efficient material handling, storage, order picking, personnel movement and equipment handling. Building and storing upward instead of outward can also help optimize space usage.
- Use ecofriendly building material: Use non-toxic building material such as specialized paints, adhesives, sealants and wood products to improve the building’s air quality. Additionally, focus on building insulation to prevent heat loss and reduce the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling systems.
- Automate processes: Many businesses are now leveraging warehouse management technology to automate warehouse operations and limit manual intervention in inventory management. This also contributes to energy savings as automated solutions can work in a dark environment. Further, by digitizing operations, automation reduces the amount of paperwork in use.
- Fix the lighting: Lighting consumes the highest energy in a warehouse. The use of LED lights can make a huge difference to the total energy consumption. LED bulbs also produce less heat and last longer than traditional forms of lighting. Additionally, make best use of natural lighting by installing skylights or daylighting tubes that reflect the outside light into the interior.
- Check packaging material: As part of a broader reduce, reuse and recycle strategy, lessen the amount of packaging used to ship products. Fiber-based packaging, for example, is lighter and stronger than plastic and reduces the material needed for packaging. Another strategy is to repurpose existing packaging material for further use.
- Invest in renewable energy: Switching to renewable energy in the warehouse should be a key priority. This can be done by installing solar panels to generate electricity. Not only will the use of renewable energy reduce the dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels and mitigate impact on the environment, but it will also enhance savings and improve the bottom line. Further, it will ensure that operations are not hit when the grid goes down.
- Ensure ample ventilation: Proper ventilation is a key requirement for sustainable warehouse operations. It helps to reduce the dependence on cooling systems that consume a lot of energy. It also enhances worker safety and productivity.
Choose the Right Location
The location of the warehouse is the X factor that impacts its sustainability performance. Distance between the facility and suppliers or end-users impacts transportation requirement and carbon footprint. Shorter the distance, lesser is the need for transportation.
Likewise, easy accessibility to roads, highways and ports can help bring down transportation costs as well as emissions. A centrally located facility close to urban areas makes it easily accessible, reduces carbon footprint and improves sustainability performance.