How to Improve Warehouse Sustainability

A lot of business leaders are trying ways to make their businesses more sustainable. That primary concern is spreading to the supply chain. Warehouses have a significant environmental impact and are a major location for companies trying to cut back on carbon emissions.

The focus on this is growing in the ranks of material handling experts too.

40% of executives and managers responsible for the decision-making process for handling materials think that sustainability is an important concern today, according to the “Annual Warehouse and Distribution Center (DC) Equipment Survey” by Logistics Management. In 2022 only 36% of those who participated in this Logistics Management survey believed environmental sustainability was an important aspect.

Warehouse owners and managers are able to take action to ensure that their buildings are more eco-friendly, from choosing the best location for their warehouse to purchasing equipment. Here are eight suggestions for how to improve warehouse sustainability.

1. Create a business case for more sustainable warehouses

Supply chain professionals are likely to face resistance as they attempt to improve the sustainability of their warehouses because doing so could require large investments or process modifications.

Supply chain managers are able to provide a number of reasons why they push for more sustainable facilities, for example, the increase in regulations from the government that require reports on or reducing greenhouse emissions of gas. Demand from business partners as well as consumers to be greener has grown and reducing energy usage and environmental impact can help save money.

“[Making Warehouses sustainable] is beneficial for the environment however, it could also make sense for business,” said Suzanne Fallender vice head of global environmental and social governance at Prologis an international real estate firm that specializes in logistics within San Francisco.

Also read: What is Warehouse Automation: Definitions, Types or Benefits

2. Pick warehouse locations more carefully

Warehouses have been built by companies traditionally in areas that were not populated due to the ease of securing the huge spaces needed for their building.

Many companies are currently reconsidering their strategy for warehouse locations for a variety of reasons, not least environmental issues, according to Magali Amiel who is director of CGI which is an IT and business consulting company based in Montreal. Since many companies are now placing warehouses nearer to their customers the delivery vehicles — which are the most commonly used method of transporting products to and from these warehouses — aren’t required to travel as far, which could help to reduce emissions.

In many instances warehouses located close to areas with high population levels allows warehouse owners to choose more sustainable transport options than truck, Amiel said. For instance, some businesses in the Netherlands are building warehouses close to waterways, allowing workers to move more items through barges and ships. Both modes of transport typically are less carbon-intensive than trucks.

3. Choose more sustainable designs

Sustainable warehouses begin by building them.

Prologis which aims to be net-zero in emissions throughout its value chain by 2040, is making sustainability a part of the warehouse’s operations right from the start, Fallender said. This could mean choosing more efficient and environmentally friendly construction materials, choosing those that are more suited to the climate in which the facility is located, and also requiring designs that make use of less concrete.

Prologis is also working to design buildings so that they comply with the requirements of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. This is a designation given to buildings that have met certain standards of sustainability and efficiency, Fallender said.

Other actions could make a warehouse more sustainable from the start.

Warehouse designers should ensure that buildings can make the most of natural light according to Tamar Warburg director of sustainability at Sasaki which is an interdisciplinary landscape, architecture, planning, and design company based in Boston. This will reduce energy usage by reducing the requirement for artificial lighting, and possibly, cooling and heating.

Facilities owners are also able to work with contractors and architects for ensuring that construction components such as insulation are designed to meet the purpose of the building and the environment around it, Warburg said. This could further cut down on heating and cooling requirements as well as the footprint of the building’s carbon footprint.

These steps don’t require the construction of a brand-new facility.

Warehouse owners are able to employ these design strategies when retrofitting or renovating their facilities, Warburg and Fallender said.

4. Choose energy-efficient lighting

Supply chain managers can improve the sustainability of their warehouses by using artificial lighting. LED light bulbs are 95 percent more efficient in creating light than incandescent lightbulbs, as stated by Energy Star.

However it is true that not all warehouse operators have made the change, Fallender said.

“Some do not know how much this will aid,” she said.

5. Switch to electricity

The switch to electric power can improve the efficiency that warehouse operation more environmentally sustainable.

Prologis has switched to electric forklifts as well as other equipment on site which could help cut down on greenhouse gas emissions as well as decrease the need for fossil fuels Fallender said. Prologis has also begun employing more efficient HVAC systems and has also implemented charging stations for electric vehicles so that its customers can convert their fleets of commercial vehicles into electric cars (EVs). The construction of charging stations assists warehouse workers who use electric vehicles.

6. Go solar

Solar is a crucial method to investigate since warehouses can be a great option to install solar photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

Warehouse facilities are a good source of land and roof where PV panels collect the energy Warburg said. The amount of space that is available inside warehouses and around them means that they can usually satisfy their own energy needs by using solar PV panels.

“[If the building is equipped with electric systems that are all-electric and complemented by solar PV, then it’s an ideal choice for a zero-energy building or one that produces all the energy that it consumes when you spread it out over a 12-month period,” Warburg said.

Also read: How Blockchain Technology Helps Develop Smart Buildings

7. Build a smarter building

Utilizing automation and smart building technology such as sensors that switch off the heating and lighting on and off when the building is empty can aid in reducing energy usage and improve efficiency.

Warehouse operators and owners must also be able to digitize and automate their processes for business, Amiel said. This will reduce the amount of paper usage.

8. Rethink how you use land

Operators of and owners of Warehouses need to be aware of what changes to the environment around their buildings could improve sustainability.

At one time, businesses cut down on trees and plants around their warehouses as far as they could, since warehouse operators and owners believed that the greenery could affect operations or hinder the visibility of vehicle operators, Amiel said.

Warehouses are also traditionally situated on hardscapes that were impermeable.

The type of landscaping can cause an excess of erosion and water runoff and may negatively impact the water quality in the area, Warburg said. Many businesses are adding more plants to their warehouses for carbon sequestration. They’re also putting in permeable flooring and installing more plants that resorb stormwater that is on the premises.