Fuelled by the legacy of a pandemic, global warehousing demand is expected to throttle up a whopping 7% year-over-year to $326 billion by 2024. Considering this accelerated growth rate, do we have enough in the tank to keep sustainable warehousing up to speed?
What is Sustainable Warehousing?
Sustainable warehouses incorporate low-impact environmental strategies, practices and design techniques that reduce energy consumption and minimize waste production.
As part of a movement towards a greener logistics framework, these warehouses are taking advantage of technologies within the logistics industry that reduce carbon footprints and maximize the use of recyclable materials.
“The warehousing space demand was 300 million square feet in Q3 of 2021 for North America. The space requirement [in the U.S] is expected to reach approximately 420 to 450 million square feet by 2022.”
What is the Environmental Impact of Warehousing?
At first glance the environmental impact of warehousing can be seen more than anything. Business parks will often contain a number of warehouse and distribution buildings. The large physical footprint required and sheer size of many facilities is enough to make them immediately recognizable.
Additionally, the amount of land they occupy tends to eat up a significant portion of natural environment during their developmental phase. Fuel consumption by heavy equipment may be a temporary requirement during this phase, but carries on afterwards as transportation vehicles conduct ongoing shipping activities.
Furthermore, warehouses require power in order to operate which must be supplied by local services. This results in increased demand on local infrastructure to meet their energy needs.
Finally, as with any operation there’s waste generation. The amount of waste is directly related to the type of warehousing required and how effectively it handles, or has the ability to control it.
With the warehousing industry growing at an accelerating CAGR between 6% to 7%, driven mostly by the demand for refrigeration for the frozen food, there’s little doubt the environment will feel the impact unless measures are taken to curb negative affects.
Do Warehouses Cause Pollution?
It’s a fact that for the last few years, larger logistics and warehousing companies such Amazon have been dramatically expanding their network of distribution hubs.
The warehouses associated with these hubs attract a rise in truck pollution which is ultimately felt by surrounding neighbourhoods, particularly from diesel fuelled vehicles. And by the very nature of an increase in number, these facilities generate more associated waste.
Considering the impact the transportation and logistics industries have on energy consumption, new technologies are continuously being developed to help alleviate environmental pressures.
Industry 4.0 technologies such as smart manufacturing, smart factories (and by extension) smart and sustainable warehousing solutions are an effort to get in line with the preservation of resources and thus reduce environmental footprints.
Sustainable Warehouse Design
Sustainable warehouse design is not exclusive to the building itself, but encompasses all the peripheral elements that affect it including transportation methodologies and product packaging.
A more green-friendly warehouse incorporates energy-efficient equipment and building materials. For instance, lighting is one of the largest contributors on a warehouse’s demand for energy demand. Using LED technology or low e-ceilings not only lowers power consumption, but reduces heat generation – which is particularly useful in refrigerated facilities.
Compared to traditional construction, the use of non-toxic building materials, such as paints, adhesives, sealants etc, improves air quality. Moreover, the use of modern insulation materials reduce the need for continuous heating or cooling thereby reducing overall energy use.
The exterior of a sustainable warehouse can leverage multiple energy offsetting strategies such as solar panels, reflective roofing, rainwater recycling and management, and promoting green space around the facility.
Logistically speaking, where the building is situated can make a huge difference on sustainability. Locating a warehouse close to current infrastructure reduces transportation times, and therefor emissions. By taking advantage of existing roads, ports, railways, utilities, waterlines and other services already in place, the stress on the environment is also more manageable.
As mentioned, a sustainable warehouse is not the whole solution, but part of the solution. Sustainable packaging also plays a huge part in offsetting the need for more energy and helps to foster a more circular system through recycling.
For instance, Logifruit, a logistics service provider located in Spain specializes in the sanitization, management and rental of reusable packaging. Their forward-thinking efforts towards a circular economy have achieved a 20% reduction in their own carbon footprint.
Logifruit’s circular model includes renting, sharing, repairing, reusing, renewing and recycling as many existing materials as possible and as often as possible to create added value.
Warehouse Sustainability Ideas
Techniques that can make a warehouse more sustainable can include:
- Building or upgrading using energy efficient materials
- Recycling any materials possible
- Using efficient, environmentally friendly packaging
- Building upward to instead of outward to reduce land use
- Using electric or alternative clean-energy machinery and equipment
- Compacting and automating storage systems
- Leveraging efficient design and location
- Applying preventative maintenance measures
Companies with Sustainable Warehousing
Companies that are trending towards sustainable warehousing run the gamut of size and related industries. From smaller innovative companies such as Logifruit and Saica to FMCG powerhouses such as Patagonia, Calvin Klein and Coca-Cola.
The trend towards controlling or even reversing our impact on the environment is evident in the amount of effort being taken by virtually all sectors of the supply chain. Although there’s no crystal ball to give us a completely clear picture of what the future holds, we have a much better chance of making progress by actively pursuing and implementing warehousing practices that are more sustainable.
At Brimich, we’re constantly improving our operations to reduce our carbon footprint and employ strategies that improve energy efficiencies. For an idea of how we can help you keep your business on track using smart transportation and warehousing technologies, contact us today.