Distribution centres are constantly looking at ways to streamline their processes and reduce waste whilst being kind to the environment. The overall aim is a lean, green centre that meets business and customer expectations.
It is important to choose the right distribution centre who has implemented a series of environmentally friendly strategies that have minimised their carbon emissions and decreased their operating costs.
One way businesses can reduce their carbon footprint is by using a ‘sustainable distribution’ centre. These eco-friendly warehouses demonstrate their green credentials with a range of initiatives, designed to minimise their environmental impact.
The goals are still the same: an efficient supply chain operation that is highly productive and cost-effective, delivering to customers in the UK and overseas.
Nevertheless, with climate change and the environment at the top of the agenda, it makes sense for distribution centres to ‘go green’ and use eco-friendly strategies that will pay dividends in the long-term.
These strategies include:
- Construction of the centre from eco-friendly materials, e.g. carbon-neutral roofing and flooring made from recycled fibres.
- Automation: ‘smart controls’ on conveyor belts and pick-to-light technologies.
- Solar thermal heating systems
- Rainwater harvesting
- Photovoltaic solar panels
- Packaging: uses recycled materials
- Wind turbines
- Bio-fuel plants
Electricity, i.e. lighting and heating consumes a great deal of energy, contributing heavily towards running costs. Automated systems minimise one’s reliance on artificial lighting in a variety of ways with the emphasis on using natural sources instead. Allowing a greater percentage of natural light to flow into the centre rather than relying upon roof lights will reduce energy consumption and overheads.
There is still a role for artificial lighting if used in an energy efficient way. Use motion controlled lighting systems that switch on/off each time movement is detected.
An ‘eco-friendly’ distribution centre will have BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) accreditation that highlights its low environmental impact (www.bre.co.uk) and an Energy Performance Certificate – ‘A’ rating.
All of these strategies mentioned above will reduce one’s carbon footprint.
Eco-friendly order processing
How does this apply to order processing? The aim of order processing is to fulfil customer orders speedily and accurately on a constant basis. Doing so will lead to repeat orders and long-term relationships.
Order processing involves people and machinery with differing energy consumption levels and the trick is to utilise those to one’s advantage in a sustainable way. There are various ways to do this as described below.
Reduce the time spent by operatives picking orders by sending the products to them. Group products together logically and ensure operatives can reach these in a safe, effective manner. Provide soft surfaces for them to lean on.
Pick-to-light technologies are another energy saver. They use a system of lights that flash, indicating where the next item is. An LED display shows the number of items ready for picking. This fast and accurate technology can function as a standalone or integrate into existing systems.
Automated fans that adjust to changes in temperatures, speeding up or slowing down in response are another good choice instead of manually operated fans. Replace these costly energy guzzlers with an economical, environmentally aware system.
Use an automated picking tray system. These systems work on a goods-to-person system, presenting the operative with products on pallets or in containers for them to select. This enables products to be stored in a compact fashion, making better use of space and resources. Smooth performance combined with low energy output is good news on the sustainability front.
Speed is always of the essence but so is accuracy. It is vital that operatives choose the right product every time so implement a series of checks in the order processing system. One way of doing this is to take a photograph of each product along with a written description that accompanies it on its journey through the process. These forms of identification are checked at every stage in order processing thereby ensuring that operatives pick the correct product.
The actual products themselves are wrapped using eco-friendly materials such as recycled plastics, once-used cardboard boxes, and reconditioned pallets and die cut containers. This ‘want not waste not’ ethos also saves money.
Automation is the answer but these systems must be energy efficient whilst performing to their maximum capabilities. This means motorised conveyor belts with no gear units that only operate when there are products in transit. In some cases, only part of the conveyor belt is required to move a product to its desired location.
Smart controls ensure that the conveyor belt only runs when required, i.e. products have to be transported rather than operating constantly even when empty.
Summary: green logistics
All of us are strongly urged to reduce our carbon footprint as part of an environmentally aware campaign to save the planet. It is easy to view this as hippy, ‘tree-hugging’ nonsense but the results speak for themselves.
Increasing numbers of businesses are implementing eco-friendly strategies into their processes, having realised the benefits of doing so. Not only does it make sense from a business perspective but also demonstrates one’s commitment to ethical business practice that will be favourably received by suppliers and customers.
There are costs involved with implementing eco-friendly technologies and systems and initially, these are high. However, long-term savings will be made if one adopts this view. Think about a decrease in running costs due to reduced energy consumption, effective use of distribution operatives and an automated order processing system.
Smooth, sweet and green. Here is the perfect symbiosis of nature and technology that results in a highly effective, top performing system, saving time, energy and money.
Sustainable distribution centres are the future. Embrace these initiatives and reap the rewards. Not simply to be sustainable, but to ensure that your more green aware customers and potential customers know that you do what you can to reduce your carbon footprint. You’re likely to reap the rewards of those more eco-conscious customers.