Who is Integrated Strategies?

November 14, 2007

Greening the Warehouse

Helping the environment is the big push in business. We've talked about the advantages to the marketing side of the business before. Today I'd like to go over some of the options out there for making your warehouse more environmentally friendly and why it's a good idea.

Warehouses are typically looked upon as industrial and environmentally unfriendly. This perception is holding back many companies from making real progress at cleaning up their act in the distribution centers. The opportunities available to reduce waste and energy are immense because of the purpose and operation of warehousing. Just like with offices, it is much more difficult to "Green" an existing warehouse than a new one but it is still possible and will save you money in the short and long-terms.

What areas are most ready to cut your costs and help the environment? To name just a few, you have paper reduction, transportation efficiency, lighting and air conditioning/heating. With all of these you can implement simple equipment or procedures than can provide you with quantitative results.

Paper Reduction

Old warehouse methods typically generate a large amount of paperwork. The less warehouse technology in place means that there is more paperwork needed to track all the transactions taking place. Some warehouses have room upon room for file cabinets filled with paperwork. Paper is may be recyclable but generating it and using it is not environmentally friendly. Technology is a way to reduce the paperwork generated by an operation and improves productivity at the same time. Advance Shipping Notifications (ASNs) and Warehouse Management Systems (WMSs) are the two best ways to reduce paper usage in a warehouse. Storing and backing up all the data across a building server or servers is the best way to enable quick retrieval and efficient storage.

Transportation Efficiency

Trucks stopping and going at your distribution center let out exhaust which releases greenhouse gases into the environment. Minimizing the impact of the trucks in your control can further reduce your environmental impact. Carbon footprint studies take into account the transportation associated with your company and products during the calculations. Moving trucks through faster or putting procedures in place for them to shut off engines when waiting is minimal cost but provides an impact.


The lighting industry is beginning to take off on the back of environmentally friendly solutions. The reason for this is the extremely aggressive pay-back period for the technology in almost any application (both new or existing). If you are currently using metal halide, high-pressure sodium or t-12 lighting you fall into the category of prime candidate for an upgrade. Typically the payback period is going to be less than 2 years and the on-going savings are fairly significant. New environmentally friendly bulbs also give you the ability to discard your light recycling program that is draining money because you can throw the new bulbs away with the regular waste.

T8, and more commonly now T5, lights offer significantly lower energy usage and higher light output which means fewer lights required for the space. It's the best of both worlds. When you implement the light fixtures in combination with motion detectors to deactivate unneeded lights the savings becomes even more significant. Every major light manufacturer is moving to provide attractive T5 solutions and replacement plans to existing operations. More often than not they will come to your site and perform a free lighting assessment to show you the potential savings for your warehouse. Again, if you are using the older technology the Return on Investment will probably fall in at less than 2 years. As far as green technology goes, that is hard to beat.

Air Conditioning/Heating

Unless you fall into one of those great parts of the country (like San Diego) that has nearly perfect weather all year long, there is a good chance you spend money on heating and possibly cooling for your warehouse. Most warehouses in the country typically only provide heating unless there is a business need for air conditioning. The utility costs for heating a warehouse can be fairly significant though. There are three areas of the warehouse that can help you cut the cost you spend on heating and cooling.

First is the roof. If you are in an existing facility it is probably unlikely that there is anything that you will be able to do to upgrade this. New roofs are costly affairs and would probably result in operational downtime which is usually difficult to justify. However, in new warehouses the roof should be evaluated as more than just a way to keep out the elements. Look at the insulation value of the roof to determine the potential savings on heating and cooling. All that warm air in the warehouse rises to the top and a poor roof will exchange the warmth from inside for the cold outside forcing you to heat more on the inside than you would otherwise. Work with a specialist in HVAC if necessary to run the calculations.

Second is the warehouse doors. Dock doors are the primary contributors to warehouse air leaks. Cheap dock doors offer almost no insulation value from the outside. During the winter the cold air outside will cool down the air inside the warehouse. The principle is the same as with windows in residential housing. High performance windows offer better insulation and lower your heating/cooling costs every month. Doors with higher insulation factors are more expensive but could lower your monthly operating costs. However, the second problem with dock doors is that they are often not aligned correctly to be flush with the warehouse floor or dock leveler. Leaving doors open or gaps under and around the door will defeat any added insulation the door many have. Even with regular doors, make sure that they are flush with the floor and stay closed as much as possible during cool months.

Third is the walls themselves. Warehouse walls are usually not the most insulated construction materials in the world. Concrete tilt-up panels or metal walls offer more protection than dock doors, but still let in the cold. Adding additional insulation around the inside of the building will also reduce energy usage. The additional insulation keeps warm air in and the cold air out. You don't need to add it from top to bottom on the walls. Usually all that is needed is from the roof to about 15 feet above the floor. The goal is to protect the warm air in the warehouse (which has risen to the rafters) from trying to exchange heat with the outside. This is the same reason why upgraded roofs are good ideas.

Finally, use energy efficient equipment. Heating and cooling equipment is slowly becoming more energy efficient and you should take advantage of that fact in your operation. It is the simplest and easiest method to quantify the savings on.

Focusing on these four areas of the warehouse will give you the greatest environmental improvement for the cost. There are many different ways to green your warehouse and many of them will also improve your business and bottom line. Evaluation for potential impact by a professional consulting company will often cost little if anything. There is almost no reason not to try and find the areas you can help.

Technorati Tags: , ,

No comments: