The Environmental Impact of Traditional Warehousing: A Case for Sustainable Alternatives

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How the Environmental Impact of Traditional Warehousing influences the Modern Supply Chain

If you’re reading this, then you don’t need me to tell you that warehousing is a fundamental part of the modern supply chain.

But until relatively recently, it’s a part that’s been largely neglected from an environmental impact point of view. Waste has been seen as unavoidable, a necessary evil, if we’re going to get our customers’ ‘stuff’ to where they want it, on time and intact.

Things need to change.

Traditional warehousing practices have contributed significantly to environmental problems over the years. And they’ve done it in lots of different ways:

Energy consumption is amongst the biggest villains, with the massive spaces needed for modern warehousing having created a need for on-tap lighting, heating, and cooling – usually around the clock. This energy translates into substantial carbon emissions, especially when the source is non-renewable.

Material waste is another issue. The use of non-recyclable packaging materials such as plastic wrap, foam, and (some kinds of) pallets all contribute to landfill waste and pollution. Using this kind of packaging depletes natural resources, while at the same time creating even more emissions during the end-of-life waste management process.

Then, add to this the chemical fallout from machinery and cleaning agents, and you have a sector that has historically been very far from Green.

Traditional warehouses were designed without sustainability in mind (and probably before sustainability was even a thing). They usually lack natural light, which leads to more energy consumption due to artificial lighting. And insufficient insulation for temperature-controlled zones has historically led to excessive heating or cooling.

And let’s not forget the fuel consumption and emissions from the trucks and forklifts that transport goods to, from, and around these warehouses. The cumulative effect is that Logistics, as an industry, has been a significant contributor to climate change and natural resource depletion.

But warehousing is an essential part of the logistics industry, and the logistics industry is what effectively runs the world. So how do we reconcile our need for sustainability with our need for the consumables that keep the world turning?

The good news is that these days, sustainable alternatives do exist, and they offer a win-win solution for both businesses and the environment.

Sustainable Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) focus on minimizing waste, reducing energy consumption, and incorporating renewable resources. There are systems that can be designed to optimize natural light, regulate indoor temperatures more efficiently, and even use renewable energy sources like solar panels.

And in terms of operations, a sustainable WMS promotes the use of recyclable packaging materials and energy-efficient machinery, offering real-time data to further optimize warehouse processes. AKA – if you can’t see it, then you can’t fix it.

When a WMS is configured correctly, it reduces spoilage and waste of the products it stores as well. Which can only help the bottom line of your business. Win, Win, Win.

These days, with the advent of electric vehicles, even the machinery and transportation that’s used to move product can be run on sustainably sourced energy.

As well as this, over the last few years, a new focus has appeared – on re-using, repurposing and recycling existing technology. Products like our own User Services Portal (USP) are starting to come to the market. USP was designed to run on any computer equipment that can support an internet browser.

This has been an industry game-changer – not only from a sustainability point of view, but also from a cost-reduction perspective as well. As a company, we’ve always considered the most sustainable equipment (and the most financially sustainable) option that our customers have is to use the technology that they’ve already bought and installed.

These days, investing in a sustainable warehouse is not merely a philanthropic endeavour but a smart business move as well. Companies can benefit from cost savings in energy and materials, improve their brand image, and stay ahead of environmental regulations.

In a world that’s increasingly more conscious of environmental responsibility, transitioning to a more sustainable warehousing solution has never been more critical.

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