Trends Driving the Importance of Sustainable Warehousing

In working with the right partners, food and beverage companies can increase their sustainable practices throughout the warehouse to lessen their environmental footprint.

Elenabsl Adobe Stock 280706846
elenabsl AdobeStock_280706846

Today’s supply chains are met with the challenge of increased consumer demand amid labor shortages and inflation, while also finding ways to produce and transport products as sustainably as possible. And as a leading contributor of global emissions, the food sector feels an even greater responsibility to reduce its carbon footprint and implement sustainable practices at every point in the supply chain.

With efficiency and productivity serving as the driving force of many operations today, finding ways to carry out ecofriendly initiatives in warehouses and distribution centers can help food and beverage companies optimize their warehouse and reduce their ecological footprint.

As these companies work to reduce CO2 emissions, landfill waste, water usage and more, here are the trends driving the importance of green warehousing and sustainable supply chain management practices:

1.   Boom in e-commerce activity

The explosive growth of e-commerce is presenting challenges for distribution and order fulfillment. To keep up with demand, companies are needing to scale up and out as quickly and sustainably as possible. And to do so, companies are adopting more automation and robotics in their warehouses. This is where reusable plastic packaging comes in to provide dimensional consistency and repeatable performance for all types of automated systems.

Reusable packaging solutions, unlike traditional wood pallets or corrugated boxes, are dimensionally consistent and create a smooth interface between automated systems and product loads. On the flip side, wood pallets have a higher likelihood for broken boards or nails popping out, causing potential downtime in an automated system, or possible product damage that leads to waste. In adopting reusable packaging within these systems, companies not only increase their uptime, but also reduce their waste and subsequent environmental impact.

2.    Consumer demands for sustainability

Today’s consumers want to buy from sustainable brands. The rise of the circular economy concept, coupled with pressure from consumers for more sustainable products, is pushing many leading companies to refine their environmental practices to drive sustainability across their supply chain, including in their warehouses. According to Blue Yonder’s 2022 Consumer Sustainability Survey, nearly 65% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product just to ensure it is being produced and packaged sustainably.

One way companies can refine their practices to drive sustainability is by reducing expendable packaging. A switch to reusables effectively stops waste at the packaging source to prevent the entry of single-use packaging into the solid waste stream. When choosing multi-trip reusable packaging, companies also avoid the recurring disposal of single-use expendables. Not only does this reduce waste, but it also helps products move more efficiently and safely.

3.    Need for cost optimizations

Sustainable warehousing strategies are not only good for the environment, but also for a company’s bottom line. Adopting reusable packaging is just one way companies can drive efficiencies, while also reducing costs and improving their ecological footprint.

For example, the durability of reusable plastic packaging solutions allows them to last for many cycles through the supply chain, leading to a compelling ROI. In fact, making the switch to reusable plastic pallets reduces solid waste by 72% and energy usage by 71%, based on typical application of 3,000 reusable pallets, 6 trips per year for 8 years. What’s more, companies don’t need to constantly order new wood pallets or corrugated boxes to keep up their operations due to the long useful life of reusables. And the benefits of not needing huge re-orders of packaging are multifold; not only does it reduce the number of deliveries and the accompanying fuel, emissions and transportation costs, but it also protects companies from industry shortages and supply chain delays that would prevent their operation from running regularly.

The versatility of reusable packaging also provides transportation efficiencies, as many solutions are designed to optimize trailer space during return trips. This means fewer return trips, resulting in reduced costs and fewer emissions.

4.    New forms of fulfillment

Companies are adopting new methods of fulfillment, like micro-fulfillment centers, to meet consumer demands. Not only does micro-fulfillment allow retailers to consolidate their e-commerce activity and provide greater picking efficiencies, it also lessens their environmental impact by reducing last-mile emissions and expendable packaging. These centers can use reusable totes or bins, removing the need for intermediary packaging between manufacturers and regional distribution centers. This reduces their reliance on cardboard and wood pallets, thus reducing waste.

5.    Rise in energy-efficient systems

On top of their fulfillment and packaging choices, companies can optimize their warehouses for energy efficiency through reduced energy consumption, helping the food industry to shrink its carbon footprint. For example, energy savings can be found through different forms of lighting, including skylights, solar panels and LED. Energy management systems also can be implemented to make effective use of power. For instance, machines can be shut down when they’re not being operated. Efficient HVAC systems and well-insulated buildings also can reduce energy consumption.

As an integral part of the global supply chain, the warehouse can be a competitive asset for businesses to achieve both financial and environmental sustainability objectives in the long-term. Everything from production to storage, processing, packaging and shipping contribute to a sustainable supply chain. Improving the links between supply chains requires expanding communication, compromise, flexibility and the ability to see the long-term successes. In working with the right partners, food and beverage companies can increase their sustainable practices throughout the warehouse to lessen their environmental footprint.