Sustainability Initiatives in Warehousing and Distribution Centers


How do sustainability initiatives impact warehousing and distribution operations? Incorporating greener strategies can be a win-win proposition for the company, its employees, and the environment. They reduce damaging effects to the environment; promote worker safety and comfort, while garnering the respect of your customers and community. Not surprisingly, these initiatives often save money, at least over the long term. By lowering operating costs through energy-efficient technology and processes, a company’s financial performance can significantly improve. In this article, we will discuss several ways that green initiatives can affect warehousing and distribution centers (DC).

Four Ways Sustainability Affects Warehousing and Distribution Centers:


Fuel costs are headed nowhere but up. This will affect the locations of distribution centers as new ones are being built. Because of this, distribution centers may not be as large as the mega-centers seen in the past, designed to serve a vast region. They may become smaller, and the number of them may increase. They could be located closer to customers. We are already seeing this with Amazon, Macy’s, and other retailers moving to more facilities designed to deliver to customers faster. This also reduces fuel usage.  This in turn may affect manufacturing, which due to the cost of transportation, may relocate closer to distribution centers and markets.


Distribution centers will be built differently as sustainability initiatives are increased. This can affect building design and construction materials, the size of buildings, and the impact both the presence of and construction of can have on local environments, water supplies, etc. This can involve building in better energy efficiency, such as skylights or solar panels. Systems that reduce HVAC costs, such as HVLS fans or de-stratifiers may be specified during the construction phase. Energy-efficient lighting is another way newer operations will adapt. Buildings will be constructed to conserve water, electricity, and other resources. Companies are already shooting more and more frequently for LEEDs certification.

Materials Handling Systems

Within a distribution center, much of the power used is consumed by material handling – whether by conveyors, robotics, forklifts, or ASRS systems. There will be a push to reduce peak energy consumption. This can be accomplished by using variable frequency conveyor drives that can adapt to the needed throughput requirements of a particular hour, shift, day, or season. While a system may need to operate at greater speeds during peak times, it is important to allow the system to run at a lower speed with more efficiency at off-peak times. Reducing it intelligently so that performance is adequate to the task can save energy consumption. Another way to save is to utilize 24-volt, non-centralized drives that can “sleep” when not in use. A good example of this technology is Hytrol’s E24™ motor.

Operational Standards

Many distribution centers can become more sustainable by process. They can work to straighten production lines to reduce travel/transport within their walls. They can also increase reporting to help management understand where inefficiency exists.

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