By Grainger Editorial Staff 3/7/22
Distribution centers and warehouses have always been focused on efficiency. In the past, that mostly meant investments in automation to shave seconds off order fulfillment times. Today, rising energy costs and a push for supply chain sustainability have made energy efficiency and carbon neutrality a top priority for the warehouse industry.
According to The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the commercial sector accounted for 18% of energy use in the U.S. in 2020, making commercial buildings a prime target for efficiency improvements. In some regions, government regulation may be on the horizon for distribution centers: starting in 2022, Southern California warehouses will be required to take steps to mitigate or offset air pollution from their facilities, as well as emissions from trucks moving goods to or from their location.
There is no single measure of efficiency that makes a building “green.” Instead, certifying organizations like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) consider the entirety of a building’s design, from the energy consumption of its HVAC system to the environmental impact of its site location. Certification is awarded based on the sustainability of the building's overall design.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, as of May 2021 there were 1,571 LEED certified warehouses and distribution centers operating globally. Whether you strive to earn this certification or simply want some benefits of sustainable practices, here are six tips to help make your warehouse more green.
Warehouses can be energy hogs when it comes to heating and cooling. The building has a lot of surface area to radiate away heat in the winter, and thin-skinned metal walls are a poor insulator. Investments in HVAC efficiency are a win-win: they can shrink your facility’s carbon footprint and cut energy costs simultaneously.
Electric heat comes with some drawbacks: heat pumps are expensive, and they are not efficient in extremely cold climates. If converting the entire warehouse to heat pumps is prohibitive, consider installing ductless mini-split units to heat smaller areas like break rooms and offices, which you may want to keep warmer than the rest of the warehouse.
A study in the journal Energies found that lighting is the second biggest category of energy consumption in warehouses in most cases, after heating and cooling. Investments in lighting efficiency can make your facility more sustainable.
Propane- and LPG-fueled forklifts expand your facility’s carbon footprint twice: not only do they emit carbon pollution, but their exhaust fumes must also be vented and exchanged with cold outdoor air, adding to your HVAC costs. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommends an additional 5,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of fresh air circulation for every 60 horsepower LPG or propane forklift operating inside the building. That’s a lot of air to heat in the wintertime.
Switching to electric forklifts can directly reduce your facility’s emissions. According to Manufacturing.net magazine, switching to an electric forklift directly eliminates over 120,000 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution for every 10,000 hours of use. Electric forklifts also offer lower lifetime operational and maintenance costs, creating potential long-term cost savings.
The EPA reports that a truck idling at a loading dock burns a gallon of diesel every hour, releasing plant-warming carbon dioxide, smog-creating sulfur dioxide and fine soot particles that can cause lung and heart damage among loading dock workers.
Instituting a “no-idle” policy can help eliminate these unnecessary emissions. Idle Free California recommends that companies institute formal policies and practices that guide driver behavior to reduce idling. They also recommend requiring trucking contractors to equip vehicles with auxiliary power units and fuel-operated heaters, which reduce the need for idling.
A bare warehouse roof is a missed opportunity for energy efficiency. Alternative roofing materials can make your roof a platform for renewable energy and carbon absorption.
The grounds around your warehouse can be designed for sustainability. A sea of asphalt is inherently inefficient: it absorbs heat in the summer, creating a “heat island” effect that can raise the ambient air temperature, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Planting trees in unused spaces will help absorb heat and cast shade on hot days.
Get more tips and insight on sustainable practices for your facility.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.