With the worst of the pandemic (hopefully) behind us, businesses are beginning to refocus on the issues that dominated the agenda pre COVID lockdown. In our sector, along with others, this includes sustainability. Not only is saving the planet a moral imperative, but our customers expect ‘green’ credentials from us and ultimately, we will be compelled to meet sustainability standards by law.

Sustainability is high on my own agenda and so I was pleased to be able to chair a roundtable discussion recently on the subject of sustainability in warehousing. Whilst the heavy-hitters around the table were keen to embrace warehouse sustainability, practical experience was relatively limited – so by sharing our knowledge, we all learned something new!

One quick win discussed, for example, was the use of Hydro-treated Vegetable Oil as a straight swap for diesel in plant such as yard shunters. Many vehicle warranties now permit this and apparently, it is so interchangeable that HVO can literally be added into half a tank of diesel and the two fuels mixed together. HVO is a sustainable, fossil-free fuel derived from vegetable or used oils, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% and has lower particulate emissions than diesel. As such, it offers an easy and affordable step towards ‘net zero’ rather than the leap needed for electrification.

Having said that, it was agreed that MHE switching from diesel/gas to battery-operated is a proven cost-saving and carbon-saving improvement. However, there are some negatives. Warehouse insurance can be affected by the change to electric vehicles, due to increased fire risk. Charging points may need to be relocated, and the electricity supply to legacy warehouse buildings may not always be sufficient to support the hugely increased demand.

Of course, electric batteries have to be frequently recharged too and although the new Lithium Ion batteries are safer, longer-lasting and easier to recharge than traditional Lead Acid batteries, they are also heavier and much more expensive.

Cost is clearly a potential barrier to becoming more sustainable, but pay-back calculations on sustainability investments depends on how expensive ‘non-green’ alternatives will prove, since government policy changes are likely to drive ‘dirty’ energy costs up going forward.

What’s more, the government has recently ramped up its commitment to Green Finance, which means interest-free loans are available for some investments. This is a welcome move and UKWA is currently investigating how we can support members in taking advantage of this new opportunity.

Ultimately, the cost of NOT investing in sustainability will be high. Not only do our customers and investors increasingly care about this issue, but so do potential employees. Sustainability not only enhances your CSR credentials, a compelling sustainability policy and reputation will help you attract and retain the best talent – which is another burning issue for us all!

Clare Bottle


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