Think Outside the Box
Needless to say, greening warehouses is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to companies' sustainable supply-chain initiatives. The typical supply chain is full of countless moving parts, and all of them - including warehousing - have to be evaluated as a whole in order to truly understand and improve upon their environmental impact.
For example, although it may look like it's more productive to reduce the inventory coming into a warehouse in order to reduce your company's footprint, it's a counterproductive decision if it means you'll wind up using more rush air shipments from your factory in order to avoid running out of stock - because air has the largest global footprint of any transportation mode.
Additionally, if you choose to reduce the number of facilities you operate, you might end up conserving some electricity and water. However, you could burn considerably more fuel if it means you've eliminated a warehouse that's a key cog in your wheel.
In short, you can't engage in silo thinking. Nor can you take a short-term view. If for some reason your DC ownership or leasing situation is such that it doesn't make fiscal sense to "green" your warehouses now (perhaps you have just a few more months before your lease expires, for example), it may be prudent not to make improvements until you're certain you're going to stay there or until you move to a new facility. This is especially true because many sustainability investments take three to five years to pay for themselves. Meanwhile, you can always focus on other high-yield sustainability initiatives in other parts of your supply chain such as:
Load building: As a rule, the better you're able to cube your trailers and ocean containers during loading, the less protective packaging (i.e., waste) you'll need - and the fewer shipments you'll need. Fewer shipments equal less consumption.
Mode selection: Want a smaller carbon footprint? Use ships instead of planes, since they're about 96 percent greener. And use trains instead of trucks; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, this can cut your fuel use and emissions by almost two thirds.
Container size: If you ship internationally, bigger containers are usually better if you have enough cargo to fill them. Generally speaking, you can fit the contents of three 40-foot containers into one 53-footer, making more room on a vessel and requiring fewer truck moves when your shipments reach land.
Internal cooperation: Does your company have multiple divisions or departments? If so, do you all use the same supply chain? Or might there be opportunities to consolidate supply-chain operations, optimize them, and eliminate a considerable amount of redundancy? After all, waste doesn't just happen with products.
Last but certainly not least, you can take the time to study up on some promising and helpful industry initiatives. From the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program (www.usgbc.org) to the EPA's SmartWay Transport Partnership (www.epa.gov./smartway), there are many ways you can get a good view of the best practices at work today so that you can begin to map out your green strategy for tomorrow.
And rest assured, there will be a tomorrow. Green may be the hottest topic going today. But unlike other trends, it's not a fad. Like globalism and heightened security, it's going to be an enduring part of how we all do business on a go-forward basis.