When considering the greening of any supply chain it is easy to ignore the impact of warehousing and distribution centres.
Transport miles are often shown to potential consumers, but what about the environmental cost of storage?
Understandably, the main focus in distribution centres is often the streamlining of the distribution process. This video of the Ocado distribution centre makes this optimisation geek very excited. But it is not difficult, and not necessarily expensive, to improve the green credentials of your warehousing.
An old client of mine, an auto-parts distribution company, built a brand new warehouse and commissioned a state-of-the-art automated goods-to-man system, with integration directly into their internet presence. Twenty, 12-meter tall, vertical storage units in groups of three or four, rise to the eves. They are connected together and to Goods In and Dispatch by a system of smart conveyors. Orders placed on their website could be dispatched within 20 minutes having been handled by a single operative. Seven operatives working this system could process nearly 1000 individual picks in an hour. The capital outlay quickly paid for itself in labour cost savings, but they missed a trick – an awful lot of effort went into delivering a labour-efficient, accurate and optimised goods distribution process, but they overlooked energy-efficiency improvements, which could have doubled the savings.
Simply installing an insulated suspended ceiling at 3 or 4 meters that completely surrounds the storage machines could have reduced the space requiring constant lighting and temperature control by 66 to 75%; meaning significant carbon savings and cash in the bank. This measure would have had zero impact on the distribution system itself, apart from the initial cost, and would have continued to save the company money for years to come.
Lighting and heating contribute a large proportion of the energy-use profile of warehouses or distribution centres and offer many opportunities for energy savings. Focus on the ways that heat can leave the building and provide better insulation, automatic doors or heat-retentive door curtains. Programmable or sensor lighting systems can ensure energy isn’t wasted on an empty site and of course don’t underestimate energy efficient light bulbs.
Warehouses, with their large physical footprints and industrial locations, lend themselves to on-site energy generation and reclamation. Solar PV or water heating systems, wind generation, water recycling and geo-thermal systems can all be retro-fitted, or ideally integrated into initial designs – especially worth considering in countries with Feed-in Tariffs. Reclamation of waste heat generated by refrigeration or other required systems combined with better insulation will dramatically improve the energy efficiency on a site.
Any time spent in a warehouse will add something to any goods carbon footprint. Reduce that impact as far as possible and, like most things green, it will add to your bottom line.