Sustainability: Facility Design

Building Green Warehouses Is Just One Step...


If a company has re-roofed a distribution center or DC parking lot with lighter-colored materials—or even to put something such as grass on the roof—it’s significantly reduced that facility’s heat island effect. If it’s changed to more modern lighting technologies, it may have reduced its light-related electricity requirements by as much as 70 percent.

And if ongoing drought conditions have inspired it to seek out new landscaping options that make better use of things like storm water, it’s probably dramatically lowered its water consumption.

These activities are exactly the kinds of things that LEED validators look for during a facility certification process. And as an added bonus, they’re often the kinds of things that CFOs and accounting departments love, because many of them wind up being money-savers, too.

That’s a perfect segue to our next question: Are greener warehouse design practices more expensive?

The jury’s divided. Some experts say that green materials are 5 to 7 percent more expensive. Others say these materials are comparably priced. But most of them agree that many green investments usually pay for themselves fairly quickly.

Thankfully many green warehousing initiatives wind up being both sustainable and cost-effective, because their emphasis is on minimizing waste and improving efficiency. So it’s a win-win for everyone.

Consider the effect of installing skylights in a facility. Not only does this allow companies to use fewer artificial lights and reduce ongoing electricity consumption in a DC, it also tends to create a more pleasant work environment. Even small window installations can result in huge lighting and morale improvements.

Or think about forklifts. They may not log as many miles as trucks or trains. But they still cover a fair amount of ground each year, and some of that ground is probably highly unnecessary. Simply shortening the journey between a facility’s most popular products’ storage slots and the loading dock via a product slotting optimization can significantly reduce a company’s forklift energy requirements—and ultimately its overall expense.

On a broader scale, if a company has given its DC personnel Lean training, the chances are good that some of the money-saving projects they’ve implemented are related to better energy use. Our company’s warehousing line of business launched a Lean initiative a couple of years ago, and while all of the nearly $8 million we’ve saved can’t be tied to carbon footprint reductions, many of them can.

The green-equals-saving-more-money formula is true on the transportation side of the equation, too. For example, ocean transportation is both up to 96 percent greener and at least 75 percent less expensive than air. And not only can an intermodal move cut fuel use and greenhouse gas production by as much as 65 percent on moves greater than 1,000 miles, it’s also less expensive.

One more green question: Assuming that they have some money to invest in greening their facilities, what are some other brick-and-mortar improvements companies might consider?

One idea is to install facility dock doors that open and close more quickly—or doors that have higher levels on insulation—because both can dramatically reduce a DC’s temperature loss. And (although it’s not a brick-and-mortar improvement) companies should consider investing in better advanced scheduling software programs to reduce the amount of times trucks have to wait—while idling their engines—for a dock door to open up.

What’s your take on some of the other current hot buttons that businesses can’t afford to ignore?

Globalization is one of the biggest forces at work both from a network design and facility layout perspective. Facilities’ proximity to ports and a wide variety of transportation alternatives has become increasingly important. And warehouses that can offer transloading and other deconsolidation services are becoming increasingly valuable commodities. Granted, this issue isn’t as significant in the food industry as it is in others. But it still bears mentioning, because it could affect food companies’ access to the best facilities in certain areas.

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