Rebecca Delaney, P.E., Associate Director and Operations Leader for Sustainable Engineering Studio, and Luke Leung P.E., ASHRAE Fellow, LEED Fellow, BEMP, P Eng, Director of Sustainable Engineering Studio, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
A correctly designed warehouse or distribution center focuses on the optimal speed to which orders are fulfilled, maximizes product storage and delivers top productivity and efficiency. Many warehouse designers throw energy reduction into the mix to create a “green” warehouse, which utilize energy saving equipment and technologies to lower usage of electricity and save costs. Besides lowering costs, a “green” warehouse lessens harmful effects to the environment, enhances worker comfort and improves the reputation of the company in the eyes of consumers who respect such initiatives.
With energy costs continuing to rise and consumers looking for more sustainable brands, companies are searching for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their warehouse. Businesses know that using “green” and energy efficient equipment within a distribution center can save money on energy while making the right move for the environment. To make warehouse processes more sustainable, companies need to focus on reducing, reusing and recycling.
The warehouse is a key part of the supply chain. Its job is to get products from the manufacturer into the hands of the end customer in the most efficient and optimal way at the lowest possible cost. Using material handling equipment that lowers energy usage is important for reducing energy levels. Simply replacing lighting fixtures with energy efficient, high-intensity fluorescent fixtures can produce 50 percent more light while saving 50 percent more energy.
A ‘green’ warehouse is even better – by saving your business money on energy and saving the world with sustainability efforts
For example, some companies are reaping the benefits of fuel cell-powered material handling equipment with fuel cell-powered vehicles, such as forklifts and other lift and reach trucks, deployed in warehouses, freezer facilities and distribution centers in the U.S. Fuel cells generate electricity from hydrogen using an electrochemical reaction, so there are no polluting emissions, only water and heat as by-products, reducing the impact on the environment. Fuel cells can save money on fuel and labor costs, lower emissions, and obtain substantial energy savings through increased efficiency and reliability.
Energy efficient conveyors use sensors that tell the conveyor to start moving when a product is close by and to stop as soon as it passes. These types of conveyors are not only energy efficient, they run quieter and use less parts than traditional conveyors, reducing the chance for worker injury and lowering maintenance costs.
High-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans with large diameters can cool indoor temperatures significantly so that some facilities don’t need to use air conditioning. Designed to move massive columns of air at low speeds, HVLS fans can help regulate a facility’s temperature year-round from floor to ceiling. Savings ranges from 12 to 50 percent in cooling and heating costs typically.
Reusing materials such as pallets, containers and boxes means new ones don’t have to be purchased, saving on costs. Overhead conveyors systems can take boxes to/from shipping and receiving areas to be reused.
The self-production of energy is a potential option for warehouse operations when companies are looking to offset their CO2 usage.
Photovoltaic (solar) panels and wind generators can be used to generate electricity to run equipment in the warehouse. These devices convert sunlight or wind power into electrical energy. Most solar panels are installed on the roof of the warehouse.
Instead of throwing out old equipment, update it to save money. This can involve upgrading components, increasing speed/capacity or incorporating new technologies. Retrofitting can boost efficiency by 15-20 percent or more and enable your material handling systems to function beyond their initial capacity limits to satisfy increased production demands. The cost of retrofitting is often less than new equipment costs because of the re-use of existing equipment.
Recycling of materials in the warehouse can significantly reduce waste. Some waste materials can be sold to other businesses for manufacturing into building materials or other items. Place waste receptacles around the facility for collection of paper, cardboard, cans, bottles and other items for recycling.
Recycling packaging materials and boxes is an excellent way to save on energy. Reducing the amount of packaging materials and using bio-degradable materials is an excellent green initiative.
Some companies are installing plants on their roof to add additional insulation to the building while absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen back into the environment. Reclaiming water used to water the landscaping can save on water usage, along with the installation of native plants, which typically consume less water.
A well-designed, well-operated warehouse can be a competitive advantage. But a ‘green’ warehouse is even better – by saving your business money on energy and saving the world with sustainability efforts.