Sustainability has earned its place among other social priorities like education and national security. Our actions over the next few years will define the long-term livability of earth. Taking quick action today might mean a less severe disruption to our way of life tomorrow.

The environmental impact of supply chains can be four times greater than the impact of the participating organization. Making warehouses and distribution centers sustainable must be a priority if we’re to create greener supply chains and a more eco-conscious global economy.

What Are the Benefits of Sustainable Warehouses and Distribution Centers?

What’s the point of greener supply chains? Here are some of the reasons why now is the right time to explore sustainability.

A More Livable Planet

For years, experts have been calling for significant reductions in carbon emissions. Governments have done little, and environmental protections in the U.S. and elsewhere are getting scaled back. The world needs global citizenship from corporations now more than ever.

More Manageable Expenses

Achieving sustainable warehouses and distribution centers can be self-serving. LEED-certified buildings use 25% less energy, 11% less water and divert millions of tons of waste from landfills, all of which means lower ongoing costs for businesses.

Approval From Customers and Regulators

The US government is on an anti-regulation blitz, but it won’t last. Pressure from international and domestic groups, plus savvy consumers, means revising existing business models in the name of sustainability. It’s worth the effort, as the majority of people prefer shopping with sustainable businesses.

How to Implement Sustainable Practices

If the reasons above seem like good ideas for pursuing sustainability at your warehouse or distribution center, here are some ideas on how to begin.

1. Optimize Traffic for Industrial Equipment

Lift trucks, forklifts and order pickers log a lot of miles in distribution centers every day. Having convoluted, redundant or empty pick and stow paths means paying for energy you don’t need to use. Inefficient travel adds up to unnecessary wear and tear, too, meaning retiring assets before their time.

Product slotting optimization can help managers organize facilities using demand and product velocity as a guide for travel patterns. Forklift task interleaving is another useful measure. It helps ensure operators perform as many useful functions as possible before idling or parking their equipment again. Warehouse management systems can improve efficiency and fulfillment time in situations where fully automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) aren’t realistic.

2. Choose New Lighting

Lighting is one of the easiest changes to make in creating a more sustainable distribution center. With a few substitutions, your facility could enjoy long-term savings that more than make up for the cost of the upgrade. Compact fluorescent lights use less electricity than traditional T12 fluorescent tubes. LED lamps use less power still and last longer than previous-generation light sources for warehouses.

3. Repair or Upgrade Dock Doors

As vital as docks are in transitioning products, it’s easy to overlook their role in regulating the climate inside the facility. If there are any worn-out gaskets or weatherstripping on your docks, you’re losing energy and money. If a repair isn’t enough to restore the barrier between your indoor and outdoor environment, consider upgrading to doors with faster opening and closing times and improved insulation.

4. Address Idling Trucks

Are you keeping track of idle time for trucks visiting your facility? If you’re not, the potential energy waste might amaze you. Full docks on busy days, poor scheduling and bottlenecks in loading and unloading can all contribute to idling. Making the loading and unloading processes more sustainable might require investments in more advanced scheduling and enterprise planning systems.

Climate-controlled indoor driver stations are another popular addition that can build goodwill among business partners and keep drivers from idling their trucks to stay cool or warm.

5. Use Smart Architecture

Existing and future facilities must be built from the top down for energy savings. This setup can start with a green roof or other “cool roof” technologies, which combat the heat island effect and help facility managers cut expenses and energy use while climate control is running.

Green roofs can also play a part in industrial and commercial water reclamation systems. In general, water efficiency upgrades result in a 14% drop in water usage and 10% lower water costs. A new roof upgrade might also incorporate solar panels for sustainable energy generation or perhaps solar tubes to provide interior lighting without overhead fixtures.

Sustainability in the Supply Chain

Ultimately, there are lots of ways for facility managers to create more sustainable distribution centers and warehouses. It takes an investment of interest and capital, but the results are far-reaching and globally significant.

Megan R. Nichols is a STEM writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys writing about the latest news and trends in manufacturing, the supply chain, and science. To keep up with the latest news, follow her on Twitter.