Sustainability in Warehousing: 5 Strategies for Reducing Environmental Impact and Costs

Will Schneider

Sustainability in Warehousing: 5 Strategies for Reducing Environmental Impact and Costs

With the rapid expansion of the warehousing industry, companies are actively innovating to lower operational costs and make significant progress toward sustainable practices. However, achieving sustainability in warehousing involves more than simply aiming for net-zero emissions. It entails implementing measures such as:

  • Efficient and renewable energy sources.
  • Effectively managing waste.
  • Automating processes.
  • Embracing data-driven operations.

In today's world, sustainability is increasingly essential as consumers gravitate toward brands that prioritize sustainable practices. For warehouses, adopting sustainable strategies is not just an ethical decision — it’s a strategic opportunity to establish a reputable brand in the market that resonates with environmentally conscious consumers.

By doing so, warehouses can unlock new revenue streams and effortlessly comply with various market standards and regulations.

Let's explore five sustainability strategies and how they can revolutionize the warehousing industry.

#1: Automate Operations

Warehouse operations involve a wide range of interdependent and often complex activities. Manually managing these warehouse workflows has various consequences — manual processes are prone to errors, leading to:

  • Increased labor costs.
  • Resource wastage.
  • Potential customer dissatisfaction.

To overcome these challenges stemming from manual workflows, warehouse automation presents itself as a comprehensive solution. By embracing automation technologies, warehousing companies can streamline their operations.

One of the solutions is an automated Warehouse Execution System (WES), which enables:

  • Order prioritization.
  • Real-time order tracking.
  • Storage capacity monitoring.

By minimizing manual interventions in order fulfillment and inventory management, WES improves energy consumption and eliminates unnecessary paperwork.

Moreover, installing modern material handling systems also strengthens a company’s sustainability commitments. These systems include:

  • Conveyors
  • Robotic systems
  • Automated storage and retrieval (AR/AS) solutions
  • Intelligent sorting and packaging machinery

These systems contribute to improved space utilization, enabling companies to develop vertical storage spaces and reduce their warehouse footprints. Automated warehouses provide enhanced product traceability, empowering companies to optimize productivity and uphold safety standards.

Furthermore, high-tech warehouse automation systems not only optimize order processing by using the shortest and most efficient routes, but they also prioritize energy conservation through various energy-saving technologies.

For example, robots can enter standby mode when they’re not actively engaged in picking, sorting, or transporting goods. UPS successfully implemented a warehouse automation solution, reducing manual interventions in order management. This not only bolstered the company's commitment to environmental sustainability but also resulted in a  remarkable 50% increase in productivity.

#2: Enhance Energy Efficiency

Warehouses consume a significant amount of energy for lighting, equipment power, and climate control. This extensive energy usage affects not only the company’s finances but also the environment – fossil fuel reliance contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and climate change concerns.

Did You Know?

A manufacturing warehouse can consume up to 100,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each month, which would cost a business nearly $144,000 a year.
Source: Hecht Group

To show their commitment towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, warehouses should enhance their energy efficiency and invest in renewable energy resources. By doing so, these facilities can achieve energy cost savings, enjoy better lighting quality, and improve occupant comfort.

Some viable solutions for optimizing energy efficiency include:

  • Smart lighting solutions— Warehouses can reduce energy costs by investing in smart lighting systems. These systems utilize sensors to detect occupancy and intelligently illuminate specific areas. Motion sensors enable lights to activate only when humans or machinery are present, while other sensors adjust lighting levels based on natural light intensity.
  • LED bulbs— When compared to traditional lighting systems, LED lighting consumes less energy, provides brighter illumination, and has a longer lifespan. This can reduce maintenance costs for warehouse lighting systems.
  • Upgraded HVAC and refrigeration systems— Warehouses can reduce energy consumption and related environmental issues by replacing aging HVAC and refrigeration systems with advanced energy-saving options. Companies should consider assets with high seasonal energy efficiency ratios (SEER). These upgraded systems consume less energy and provide better temperature control, which helps companies to decrease energy costs while minimizing pollution and environmental degradation from these systems.
  • Heat recovery— Warehouses can capture and reuse the heat from their refrigerators to heat storage spaces. This approach helps reduce heating costs, especially in areas where temperature control is critical.

To enhance environmental sustainability, warehouses can make significant strides by adopting renewable energy generation methods. Installing solar panels on warehouse rooftops or windmills around the premises allows warehouses to harness clean energy sources. By integrating these renewable energy systems, warehouses reduce their carbon footprints and enjoy long-term energy cost savings.

The Niagara Retrofit Project stands as a remarkable success story within the realm of commercial facilities to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To elevate energy efficiency, warehouse managers should consider investing in energy management systems that monitor facility-wide energy consumption, offering valuable insights for optimizing energy usage.

#3: Rethink Warehouse Designs

Warehouse design play a crucial role in shaping workflows, storage capacities, and the selection of automation systems. When implementing an environmental sustainability program, redesigning warehouses becomes essential and offers several advantages:

  • Optimize floor layouts— This allows companies to effectively utilize their available space and create efficient pathways for seamless mobility. By optimizing the layout, warehouses can:
  • Minimize their environmental footprint.
  • Increase daily productivity.
  • Reduce energy consumption.
  • Reduce overall warehousing costs.
  • Implement green building designs— Modern warehouse designs utilize advanced eco-friendly construction materials. Through warehouse redesign, facility managers can incorporate natural lighting systems, sustainable insulation, and natural ventilation. These interventions reduce artificial lighting and mechanized ventilation requirements.
  • Incorporate advanced material handling systems— Redesigning old warehouses provides an opportunity to install automated material handling systems that draw energy from renewable sources. These material-handling devices also require less space to operate. The overall effect of such systems is increased energy savings and lower environmental impact.

A proper warehouse redesign enables companies to maximize storage space utilization; this eliminates various operational bottlenecks that increase warehousing expenditure. Also, it enables better tracking of material handling asset utilization across the facility, leading to optimized labor costs.

To achieve optimal results, warehouse redesigns should be guided by data. Companies should utilize existing performance data to inform their decision-making process when selecting a warehouse design that is both energy efficient and built to last. Furthermore, warehouse redesign efforts should prioritize workflow optimization and enable seamless integration of state-of-the-art warehouse management technologies.

#4: Utilize Eco-Friendly Packaging

Warehouses process millions of orders daily. These orders are packaged in single-use containers or packages, contributing to over 85% of unregulated solid waste. Moreover, the production of packaging materials requires a substantial number of natural resources, further exacerbating the pressure on our already limited resources.

Additionally, non-degradable packaging materials end up in landfills or incinerators, causing pollution and further depleting natural resources. Driven by consumer demand for sustainability, there is a growing global movement towards alternative packaging solutions, forcing warehouses to rethink the way they package their products.  

Implementing eco-friendly packaging in warehouses promotes environmental sustainability and cost savings in several ways:

  • Focuses on reduced material waste— Alternative packaging solutions utilize readily available resources and are made from recycled materials, resulting in little to no waste. By reducing the demand for natural resources, warehouses can help mitigate environmental and natural resource degradation. Additionally, this packaging requires less energy to manufacture compared to other packaging solutions.
  • Cheaper transportation— Eco-friendly packages are lightweight and compact compared to traditional packaging solutions. These packaging solutions are cheaper to transport and can save warehouses substantially on shipping costs.
  • Improved compliance — Warehouses that embrace sustainable packaging practices can ensure compliance with environmental regulations. By avoiding improper disposal practices that could harm plant, animal, and marine life, companies can mitigate the risk of fines and penalties associated with non-compliance.

Leveraging sustainable packaging solutions shows a company’s commitment to innovation and the protection of the environment. By investing in eco-friendly packaging, warehouses can:

  • Enhance their brand reputation.
  • Attract sustainability-conscious customers.
  • Benefit from cost-effective marketing through organic advocacy.
  • Contribute to environmental remediation efforts.

#5: Improve Waste Management

Warehouses committed to environmental conservation must embrace comprehensive waste management strategies that encompass recycling, repurposing, and minimizing waste throughout their operations. By implementing these strategies, warehouses can reduce their ecological footprint and foster a sustainable business model. 

Did You Know?

"20% of every dollar spent in the industry is wasted - adding up to $8 trillion, or 10% of the global GDP."
Source: Mingo Smart Factory

One key aspect of waste management is conducting frequent workflow audits and regularly maintaining equipment. Through these measures, warehouses can identify and eliminate wasteful processes and defective equipment, streamlining their operations for optimal efficiency. Additionally, investing in advanced material handling devices enables safe sorting and packaging of sensitive or hazardous materials, minimizing the risk of environmental pollution.

However, waste management extends beyond inventory control alone; warehouses should also prioritize the conservation of other vital resources, such as water, pallets, and packaging materials. Adopting sustainable practices, such as collecting and reusing rainwater for irrigation and sanitation purposes, not only reduces the strain on local water resources but also mitigates water pollution.

Similarly, the implementation of efficient irrigation systems optimizes water usage within warehouses, further contributing to water conservation efforts. Moreover, warehouses can promote the use of returnable pallets or extend the lifespan of pallets through regular maintenance, which reduces the need for new pallet production.

In the pursuit of sustainability, waste-to-energy conversion emerges as a viable solution in cases where recycling may not be feasible. Practical waste-to-energy solutions such as anaerobic digestion of organic waste or incineration can be used to generate energy from warehouse waste. By incinerating waste, warehouses can produce energy to power their facilities, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels. This not only promotes a circular economy but also strengthens their commitment to achieving net-zero operations.

A robust waste management system serves as a true reflection of a warehouse's dedication to building a reputable, sustainable, and profitable business model. It enhances the company's reputation among shareholders and potential investors, attracting further funding to support warehouse expansion and meet evolving customer expectations. 

Final words

Warehousing sustainability is a long-term strategy. Every facility should develop a trackable sustainability plan and identify the resources and skills needed to achieve these goals. However, the success of such initiatives heavily relies on the buy-in and support of top management.

To stay at the forefront of sustainability practices, warehouses must continuously monitor market trends and advancements in technology. By staying informed about emerging technologies, warehouses identify innovative solutions that can significantly enhance their ability to meet sustainability objectives.

Regularly updating sustainable goals to align with technological advancements and evolving business needs is essential to remain competitive and ensure long-term profitability.

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About the Author

Will Schneider is the founder of InsightQuote, a match-making service for B2B services, and writes informative posts about fulfillment services at Read More