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The symphony of green logistics: Orchestrating eco-friendly warehouses

With warehouses being some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the logistics space, it is essential to optimize them for sustainability.
With warehouses being some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the logistics space, it is essential to optimize them for sustainability.
10 April 2024 •

The global climate crisis has reached a crescendo, with more erratic weather events and natural disasters plaguing the earth as global emissions continue to increase by 1.5 percent today. The tail-end of 2023, for example, saw a series of natural disasters, including one of the most devastating wildfires in the Hawaiian island of Maui to date, which almost destroyed the historic resort town of Lahaina.

 Now more than ever, it is essential for the world to harmonize and solve the climate crisis. Governments, organizations, and individuals have deployed solutions that lower their carbon footprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Optimizing the warehouse for sustainability

While some organizations have adopted electric vehicles (EVs) over internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, others have opted for green energy sources such as hydrogen and solar energy to power their operations and warehouses. Accounting for at least 11 percent of the logistics industry’s global greenhouse gas emissions, warehouses utilize enormous amounts of energy for lighting, heating, and sometimes cooling. In the U.S., for example, warehouse and distribution facilities constitute 11.1 billion of the 14.8 billion square feet of industrial real estate in Q4 2022.

This problem is only exacerbated by supply chains stretching across continents, with some e-commerce giants promising next-day delivery to their customers.

Furthermore, with at least 68 percent of highly empowered consumers actively seeking brands that reduce their environmental impact, businesses are incentivized to fix their warehouse processes to be ecologically sustainable.

By greening their warehouse operations, businesses also achieve significant cost savings, when they minimize waste, streamline processes, and optimize space.

Employing techniques to green warehouses

Optimizing a warehouse for sustainable operations begins with building an efficient floor plan that simultaneously maximizes storage space while encouraging the efficient flow of products.

With a well-designed and executed floor plan, businesses eliminate the need to develop additional routes to link their supply chains from end to end. In turn, less energy is consumed in the upkeep of the warehouses.
With a well-designed floor plan, businesses eliminate the need to develop additional routes to link their supply chains from end to end. In turn, less energy is consumed in the upkeep of the warehouses.

Businesses can also be strategic about their item placements, by storing frequently picked items at accessible locations. They may also consider employing artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize their delivery routes, where specific parameters like delivery urgency and distance per stop are used to map ideal journeys. This helps to cut down on travel and delivery times, improve efficiency, and reduce the carbon footprint of overall operations.

Circling back to the warehouse, businesses should also remodel their warehouses with eco-friendly, energy-efficient power solutions. Motion sensor LED lights are a good choice, as are efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems — after all, approximately 30 percent of a warehouse’s total energy cost is derived from HVAC.

DHL works with cleantech startup BeeBryte to optimize their warehouses’ HVAC systems in Singapore. Using a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, and patented optimization technology, BeeBryte accurately predicts each warehouse’s thermal needs and finetunes the cooling systems accordingly.

To further supplement their green warehousing efforts, businesses should opt for eco-conscious packaging that is recyclable and sustainably sourced. Instead of traditional packaging materials like plastic and styrofoam, businesses can choose alternatives such as recycled paper, cardboard, plant-based plastics, and compostable materials.

Minimalist packaging is also viable, where businesses strip down unnecessary layers to emphasize practicality and functionality over aesthetics. With consumers growing more conscious of excessive packaging, rethinking it is crucial for businesses to win their loyalty.

Adjusting warehouse processes for a greener delivery

Aside from introducing new techniques to optimize warehouses, a closer look at existing processes can help businesses identify areas they can optimize immediately.

The basic process that businesses should optimize is their inventory management. Ideally, companies should deploy a robust inventory management system that assesses their inventory levels by conducting audits, categorizing items, and eliminating excess stock.

 This helps them ensure that inventories are kept bloat-free with minimal waste generated.

Data such as the overall rate of returns, return rate of specific goods, and reasons for returned items carry value and aid in a businesses’ understanding of its consumers.
Data such as the overall rate of returns, return rate of specific goods, and reasons for returned items carry value and aid in a business’s understanding of its consumers.

Companies should also look into understanding the traffic patterns within their warehouses. By analyzing movements and identifying bottlenecks, businesses can adjust their warehouse layouts and improve the overall efficiency of their operations.

Where possible, businesses should explore using technology to enhance their processes. Aside from inventory management systems, robotics, and automation are viable tools that are proven to boost warehouses' accuracy, speed, and overall efficiency.

Even a simple mobile application can go a long way in boosting warehouse performance. The Labor Share App, developed by the DHL Group intrapreneurship program, Start-up Lab, at the height of Covid-19 in 2020, enables the DHL Supply Chain team to coordinate and fulfill deliveries with few delays. The app was instrumental in solving the labor shortage challenge during the pandemic.

By reexamining existing processes, businesses can work towards improving the efficiency of their warehousing management. Combined with green logistics-focused techniques, businesses will further benefit from adding a layer of sustainability to their operations.

With individuals, businesses, and governments alike seeking to bring global warming down to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, warehouses stand as some of the biggest culprits behind global carbon emissions. However, by consciously implementing green techniques and applying measured changes to existing processes, businesses can steer their warehouse management toward a sustainable direction.


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