In the words of Niall FitzGerald, former CEO of Unilever, “Corporate social responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is a nice thing to do or because people are forcing us to do it…because it is good for our business.” Businesses aren’t immune to the consequences of waste and excessive energy consumption; wasted materials and energy cost money and are the enemy of your deadline and your bottom line, as well as being bad for the environment. That means corporations have multiple arguments for moving toward more sustainable business practices by eliminating inefficiencies.
One of the places they can find a number of unaddressed inefficiencies is in the logistics supply chain, particularly in warehousing and transportation. As the economy picks up after a sluggish decade, the main concern for many is growing the supply chain to meet demand. However, companies that adopt green warehouse practices as they expand their logistics operations to meet this demand will reap a greater profit from their growth and be better positioned to grow in the future.
Green Warehouse Practices That Save Money on Operations
Arguably the most sustainable green warehouse practice is reducing energy use. Everything in the supply chain requires energy to operate. As a result, measures that save you energy in the warehouse are also saving you money on every operation in the warehouse. One of the biggest uses of energy in the warehouse is the lighting system, but it’s not a good idea to lower light levels in a warehouse. Providing good lighting is one of the best things you can do in a warehouse to increase worker safety, prevent forklift damage, and improve efficiency. Instead, focus on ways to reduce costs while still providing good light, like the following:
- Plan: Warehouses tend to change layout over the years as products and the equipment used to move them change. This can leave warehouses with insufficient lighting in some areas. Create a new layout for your electrical lights that accounts for things like equipment and racks that cast a shadow, ensuring that the energy you spend on lighting isn’t wasted and increases worker efficiency as well.
- Modernize: Many warehouses still use metal halide, mercury vapor, or halogen lights which provide bright light but do so inefficiently. Metal halide lights emit only 25% of the energy they use as light, while the rest is dissipated as heat, raising both your climate control costs and lighting costs. LED lights can provide brighter light at 150 lumens per watt (compared to 115) and waste less energy as heat.
- Rewire: While light is incredibly important in work areas, it can also be a waste of energy in rooms where no one is present. Instituting a lights-off policy in break rooms and restrooms when no one is present can save money and using timers and sensors can ensure the policy is followed.
All of the above strategies do require an investment in time and money to create a plan and follow through with it. However, a carefully considered lighting plan provides cost reductions and productivity enhancements that offer a good return on the initial investment in time and energy. Many companies that take up green practices will discover that they offer this win-win scenario whether they address other energy or material waste.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Another serious concern for environmentalists is solid waste. Industrial materials that end up in landfills can be an environmental hazard. Even relatively harmless materials like wood pile up in landfills where they may take more than a decade to decompose. Wood, paper, and cardboard products must be replaced by harvesting lumber, and both the process of cutting down the trees and processing the raw materials can be environmentally harmful. For the sake of sustainability and with the budget in mind, it makes sense to reuse materials where possible. Material that is eliminated from the warehouse is material you don’t have to buy, material that is reused is material you don’t have to pay for again, and material that is recycled is material that you’re paying less for–in one way or another.
- Reduce: It is rare that you’ll find a warehouse that doesn’t already have a cardboard baler to reduce the volume of recyclables. However, the use of cardboard boxes can be reduced by replacing them with metal or plastic containers that can be used, cleaned, and used again, lowering both material intake and operational costs.
Reuse: The disposable one- or two-use stringer pallet has given way to reusable block or plastic pallets. Since these pallets have a much longer lifespan, companies don’t have to keep purchasing new pallets—and be party to excessive timber harvests—to keep operating. Wood block pallets will last 15-20 trips through the supply chain, while high-quality plastic pallets are able to make 80-100 trips.
Recycle: The advantage of sturdier materials like metal and plastic is that when they’ve become too worn to continue operations they can be melted down or reground and returned to use, lessening the environmental costs of harvesting and reducing landfill space. Scrap metal companies will often compensate a business for its unwanted metal, and plastic products can be ground down and reformed into other items including pallets.
There is, however, a trade-off in switching to sturdier reusable materials. Steel containers and pallets are heavy and the increased weight means there are increased energy costs for transporting them, with an increase in carbon emissions, too. Reusable wood block pallets, for instance, weigh quite a bit more than stringer pallets, and with repeated use, they deteriorate, leaving behind debris in the warehouse and trailer. Plastics, on the other hand, are light, strong, reusable, and recyclable, making them one of the greenest materials you can use in your supply chain.
Green Warehouse and Sustainable Transportation Practices
At less than 50 pounds, plastic pallets make it possible to cube out trailers before they weigh out.
Green warehouse practices don’t start and end at the loading dock. They encompass the entire journey from the production center to the end retailer, and in order to make sustainable warehouse practices count, logistics managers need to ensure efficient transportation as well. One way to reduce waste and increase the efficiency of product transport is to choose lighter, reusable shipping pallets. At less than 50 pounds, plastic pallets make it possible to cube out trailers before they weigh out. With heavy product, more of your load will be actual product rather than shipping material, and when used with lighter product, your overall trailer weight will be lower, saving on emissions and lowering fuel costs. All of these things increase transportation efficiency, reducing both your Total Cost of Business (TCOB) and environment-harming carbon emissions.
There are lots of green warehouse practices that can benefit both your company and the environment. Plastic pallets are a simple, Earth-friendly choice with environmental benefits that extend well beyond the warehouse that uses them. Environmentally conscious companies that are looking to reduce both their solid waste and their emissions can benefit both the environment and their profit margins by adopting plastic pallet pooling in their supply chains.
The iGPS pallet pool provides a lightweight GMA spec plastic pallet with cradle-to-cradle recyclability. To optimize your green warehouse practices, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.