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The ABCs of “Greening” the Warehouse Facility

Determining the warehouse facility’s carbon footprint — and then reducing it as much as possible — can put your company on the road to environmental sustainability.

Rajiv Saxena, Vice President, Global Supply Chain Engineering, APL Logistics (Q3 / Summer 2013)
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How Can a Warehouse Carbon Footprint Calculation Be Used?
By now, it should be clear that warehouse carbon footprint calculations are multifaceted, many-layered processes, ones that are usually best undertaken with the help of sophisticated algorithms. Their potential applications and benefits are just as diverse — and as relevant for companies that are locked into longtime leasing agreements or purchases as they are for those that are in a state of facility-related expansion or transition. Among other things, they can be used to:

  • Compare the environmental merits of one facility versus another;

  • Choose the most sustainable structural attributes for a facility during construction or renovation;

  • Evaluate different kinds of material-handling equipment with sustainability in mind; and

  • Select the most environmentally friendly heating and cooling solutions.

They also can be used to gain important sustainability insights such as:

  • Figuring out which facilities in a company’s network have the largest carbon footprints and therefore are most in need of “greening”;

  • Identifying which areas within a particular facility are the most — or least — sustainable; and

  • Determining how many carbon offsets should be purchased for a particular facility.

Just as important, they could be used for all of the above. The key thing is to actually use them because whether a warehouse’s carbon footprint figure winds up being far larger or smaller than initially expected, one thing is certain: In order to be considered part of the sustainability solution instead of the sustainability problem, the calculations should be regarded as a springboard, not just considered a fait accompli. In other words, even warehouses that are green enough to earn Energy Star ratings or LEED certifications will usually have plenty of room for environmentally friendly improvement.

For example, since doing carbon footprint calculations at 35 of our facilities in North America, APL Logistics has reconfirmed the environmental value of investing in lighting conversion initiatives wherever we can — especially now that we know that metal halide lighting has a carbon footprint that is nearly three times greater than that of fluorescent lighting. More of our facilities also have launched more ambitious recycling programs, including some that feature partnerships with polymer companies that will come and pick up all of those facilities’ baled plastic waste and use it to make new products. And several of our facilities in the North have reconfirmed the importance of using roofing materials with higher R factors or greater insulation in order to ward off heat loss. Just as important, we’ve now made doing at least one green project per year a required component of our ongoing Lean Six Sigma and JDI programs.

The Last (Green) Word

Obviously warehouses are not the only places in supply chains where opportunities for sustainable improvement abound. From conducting better transportation optimizations to implementing more fuel-efficient mode shifts, there are numerous ways companies can reduce the environmental impact of their logistics — and many reasons why they should. However, it is something that you as real estate and site selection professionals are especially qualified to advocate and oversee, not to mention an important step in the right direction.

Realistically speaking, logistics may always have one of the world’s larger carbon footprints, because you can’t get products from point A to B without some form of transportation and (usually) at least some degree of warehousing. However, with a little work and a lot of cooperation from all involved, there’s no reason why logistics can’t tread a little more softly.
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