Consumers are paying more attention than ever on sustainability, so much so that it’s become a factor when making a buying decision. A new report from the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) found that — of the 14,000 consumers in nine countries who responded to the March survey — 93% of respondents say the pandemic affected their views on environmental sustainability. Further, 54% are willing to pay a premium for brands that are sustainable and/or environmentally responsible.


This trend supports an increase in corporate interest in setting environmental goals, as well as establishing, implementing and investing in sustainability initiatives across all levels of their organizations, including in their warehouses and distribution centers (DCs). These companies see the benefits of higher customer satisfaction and a reduced carbon footprint that can contribute to a healthier planet. Likewise, many have come to realize that enacting measures to increase sustainability can also have a positive impact on the bottom line.


Here, we explore seven different ways that DCs and warehouses can minimize their carbon footprint.


  1. Replace Existing Lighting with LED. According to Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operations (IMPO) magazine, switching from high-pressure sodium, high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, incandescent, or fluorescent overhead lighting to industrial LED lights can cut lighting energy usage by up to 90%. In January 2019, the publication estimated that more than 144 million industrial lighting fixtures were in use in the U.S. Switching those to LED could save more than $3.6 billion in energy costs collectively. Additionally, implementing smart controls and sensors that automatically detect when someone is in an area and turn the lights on — then turn them back off after a given period of time — is another way to cut energy usage, and costs.


  1. Look around at all that cardboard, stretchwrap, broken wood pallets and leftover packing crates, and even metal (scrap banding, old racking, obsolete parts, and so on). All of those materials can be recycled instead of sent to a landfill, which further contributes to a reduction in carbon footprint. There are a variety of industrial waste management companies nationwide that can help implement a recycling program for a DC or warehouse.


  1. Right-Sized Packaging. There are a number of equipment manufacturers and suppliers who offer equipment that produces custom corrugated boxes on demand. These machines measure the item (or set of items) to be shipped to a customer, then automatically construct a box that fits it precisely. This eliminates the need to stock multiple different sizes of cardboard shipping containers, as well as void fill to secure the item in a carton. Further, the elimination of airspace around shipped products in their cartons allows more to fit into a trailer for transportation, further reducing emissions.


  1. Solar Panels. The S. Energy Information Administration says that U.S. warehouses spend up to 15% of their total operating budget on energy, at an average cost of $0.75 per square foot. With expansive rooftop space, warehouses offer a virtual blank canvas for leveraging the sun to generate clean energy through solar panels. Industrial buildings, which primarily use power during the day, can benefit from the panels’ peak production time also occurring during daylight hours. Additionally, the installed costs have been steadily decreasing over the past two decades, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The organization also notes that solar power has become increasingly cost competitive with utility power, and that generating and storing solar power offers an opportunity to sell that energy back to the grid, or save it for use in the evening hours.


  1. Minimize Thermal Transfer in Temperature-Controlled Storage. Maintaining refrigerated or frozen temperatures requires approximately 60% of the electricity used by a facility (conversely, a non-refrigerated warehouse typically spends just 15% of their operating budget on energy), according to Food Logistics magazine. Refrigeration is the primary culprit for this difference. Therefore, to reduce energy usage, it’s important to minimize the amount of cooled air that can escape. Some of the equipment that can help includes high-speed doors that open and close quickly, yet still provide forklift access. Alternately, automating a cold storage warehouse can virtually eliminate the need for entry into the space. Be sure to install adequate insulation in the walls and ceiling, use insulated curtain walls or door panels to further retain the cooled air, and consider reflective roof panels to reduce energy load.


  1. Material Handling Equipment. Switching from diesel or propane powered forklifts to electric can also enhance an operation’s overall sustainability efforts. The Electric Power Research Institute offers a Lift Truck Ownership Cost Comparison Calculator that offers users a way to compare the lifecycle costs and emissions levels generated by the different types of lift truck power sources. To further the benefits, it’s important to properly maintain the battery systems in the vehicles through regular watering to ensure they store the maximum amount of energy capacity, which lowers the amount of time they must spend charging. Installing high-efficiency chargers and managing the temperature of the battery is also important to extending battery life while lowering carbon footprint.


  1. Reduce Square Footage. Adding automated solutions that leverage the overhead space to maximize the cube of a building reduces the overall footprint of a facility. With less square footage to heat, cool, and illuminate, an operation will use less energy overall. The trend toward increased deployment of highly-automated micro-fulfillment centers located closer to the end customer — saving both time and transportation costs in last-mile delivery — likewise reduces carbon footprints by reducing last-mile emissions as much as 26% by 2025, according to a 2020 study by Accenture.


Looking for more guidance on ways to cut your warehouse or DC’s operating costs? Connect with us.


Scott Singer, Systems Sales Consultant,

A 10 year veteran of the 3PL and material handling world, Scott’s career has been focused on solutions engineering and design, business development, and sales consulting. Scott spent most of his career developing cost saving innovative designs for 3PLs and their clients. He leverages this experience to help 3PLs generate flexible high return solutions. In his free time, Scott spends his time exploring the four corners of the world in culture and the great outdoors.