Warehousing is one of many steps within supply chain management, but it’s just as vital as the top-tier levels. The warehouse stores all the goods until they’re ready to be sent to other businesses or waiting consumers. How and where these materials are stored has a lot to do with their quality. A well-managed warehouse will have ready-to-ship, high-caliber products — a poorly functioning one won’t. Naturally, sustainability has arrived as a practical solution for upgrading operations.
Sustainable warehousing focuses on producing quality goods with fewer costs and optimizing warehouses for minimal environmental impact. With so many products to store and transportations to make, it’s straightforward to see how these structures can have massive carbon footprints. However, warehouse managers and workers alike are working to become green and lessen their environmental impact.
Here are six ways supply chain managers can make their warehouses environmentally friendly:
Plastic packaging — especially the single-use kind — is a staple of numerous industries. Cosmetics, body washes, edible snacks and more come in plastic wraps or containers. Not every type of plastic is recyclable, which leads to ocean pollution and overflowing landfills. The pollution crisis doesn’t need to remain this way, though, when effective packaging alternatives exist.
Cornstarch, seaweed and mushrooms are a few surprising but useful substitutes for regular packaging. Cornstarch usage has seen some controversy because it competes with animal and human food supplies, but the other two materials are acceptable substitutes. More accessible options include recycled goods, such as cardboard, paper and other plant-based materials.
Ultimately, the number one priority for packaging is the recycling factor. If manufacturers can reuse a material, that means fewer resources they’re depleting.
2. Waste disposal
Waste disposal goes hand-in-hand with packaging. Non-recyclable goods travel to landfills where they sit and rot or get swept into local bodies of water. Landfill pollution affects both marine life and the humans who receive their drinking water from these sources. Diverting warehouse waste from landfills helps preserve local water and air quality. Warehouse managers can achieve this by integrating methods such as gasification, upcycling and composting.
Managers can solve over-production waste by adopting new production strategies such as the Just In Time method. Similarly, they can address waste from defective products by reassessing current production techniques — including employee training and communication with suppliers.
3. Blast freezing in freezing units
Blast freezing is a technique warehouse employees use to chill products without freezing the product itself. Sound confusing? The process is simpler than it seems. A blast freezer circulates cold air around the room — around -40 to -50 degrees Celsius — to facilitate rapid freezing. The water inside the products freezes, but so does any bacterial action. This technique reduces the time it takes to freeze food and other perishables, which contributes to energy savings.
Warehouses that use blast-freezing could save up to 30% on electrical costs, showing how cost-effective this method can be. However, the job isn’t complete without implementing freezer spacers, which allow the cold air to flow around the goods unobstructed. The perfect combination of temperature and tools can shrink warehouse energy bills.
4. HVAC management
Adding insulation to the interior walls helps regulate cooling and heating, which reduces the need to run a heating, ventilation, and an air-conditioning unit (HVAC). Less energy consumption also means lower energy bills — this money can go toward green upgrades such as an eco-friendly HVAC system. A growing number of technology developers are producing smart systems that allow business owners to control interior temperatures automatically. Once the system undergoes the initial setup, it adjusts to those settings and regulates room temperature by itself.
A destratification fan — often an industrial fan — distributes heat throughout a room, preventing it from collecting at the ceiling. Warm air rises, and warehouse thermostats might register a ground-level temperature of 15 degrees when the ceiling is 26 degrees. This unevenness forces the HVAC to work harder to reach the desired temperature of 26 degrees, but a destratification fan spreads the heat evenly.
5. Efficient inventory storage
Warehouse managers are revolutionizing inventory storage by implementing document automation and automated guided vehicles, or AGV. Using barcodes and signs to scan goods and add them to inventory rosters removes the inefficiency from manual labor. Workers might spend hours checking and rechecking lists when advanced software can pick up most of the slack instead. A warehouse located in Laverton North, Victoria (Australia) uses barcode readers to categorize and assign goods to various supply chain stages.
Freeing employees from inventory duties lets them accomplish other tasks, speeding up the operational flow. Streamlined shelving systems, in addition to automated guided vehicles (AGVs), reduce the space needed to store materials. Minimizing the distance between goods and their final locations — or even the distance to the warehouse door — diminishes harmful fossil fuel emissions.
6. Electric equipment
Though electric equipment uses energy, it doesn’t run on fossil fuels, which is one less cause of pollution to stress over. Managers can replace their traditional equipment for electric forklifts, pallet trucks and more. These devices function more efficiently than older models, allowing workers to complete more tasks than they could with old tools.
Non-road diesel vehicles are associated with increased cancer risk, and they emit 13,500 tons of particulate matter every year in Australia. Substituting diesel for electric energy can preserve environmental and human health on a substantial scale. It never hurts to step outside and breathe in a fresh gust of air — without pollution and carcinogens swimming in it.
7. Investing in solar panels or switching to renewables
The quickest way to reduce carbon footprint is installing solar panels to the roof of your warehouse or making the switching to a clean, renewable energy supplier.
By choosing these methods, companies and warehouse managers bring their operations up to speed on issues of climate change and environmental crisis. Eco-friendliness has occupied the minds of countless people over the years, but its urgency grows as ice caps melt and islands succumb to underwater burial.
Preserving and conserving the environment are top priorities for many businesses and consumers. Achieving these goals while maintaining operational standards is more achievable than ever.
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Title image via Watts Roofing Supplies/Unsplash.