The UK will be hosting COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow between 31 October – 12 November 2021. To tackle climate change countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

Estimates suggest there are around 1,500 individual warehouses over 100,000 sq ft operating in the UK* and this figure is growing all the time, as warehouse fulfilment plays a crucial role in the e-commerce shopping experience. A significant part of the total building stock, the associated carbon footprint of warehouses is an important consideration for all companies who want to act sustainably, says Eric Carter, Solutions Architect at Indigo Software.

Following in the footsteps of major brands like L’Oreal and Nike, operating a carbon neutral warehouse is something many companies will aspire to, but they may not have the resources to retrofit solar panels, rainwater irrigation, geothermal heat pumps and special cooling systems. Instead, a more accessible route to take can be the introduction of a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and automation technology in the warehouse. This can deliver benefits that have a significant impact on energy / resource consumption levels and carbon footprint. Here are five examples of how a WMS can reduce your carbon emissions:

Operate with a smaller warehouse footprint

Using automation in the warehouse means you can typically use 30% less space than a conventional warehouse to store the same number of products. A smaller area requires less energy for lighting and cooling and any additional space no longer needed could be leased out to help recoup the investment in WMS software and allow a contribution to the fixed costs of the site.

Minimising handling reduces energy consumption

Further energy savings can be achieved because a WMS can control and optimise the amount of stock handling required for each transaction. It is standard functionality for a WMS to direct operators using a resource management engine. These routines ensure that operators are no longer driving around the warehouse looking for ‘ideal’ or empty locations. In fact resource management routines will ensure the operators are simply following a structured set of instructions, de-skilling the role and increasing productivity into the bargain. A good WMS will ensure operatives take efficient routes and eliminates unnecessary – and potentially wasteful – stages in a workflow.

A WMS can also identify wasteful forklift travel patterns and help you switch to shorter, more efficient routes. Every time your materials handling costs are optimised by the WMS, it creates an opportunity to reduce energy consumption.

Reduce product and packaging waste

Built into a WMS is advanced materials handling logic, which calculates the best way to pack and wrap a pallet. This helps to reduce product damage because pallets are very cleverly loaded, which in turn means the amount of plastic wrapping needed to secure items will also be lowered. A WMS application can also calculate an optimal “package profile” – the minimum size box and smallest amount of packing material needed to properly wrap an item for shipping. Less product damage and less packaging utilised also means less waste.

Operational analysis for further refinements

Stored within a WMS is a mine of information about every aspect of your intralogistics operation. This is data that can be mined to identify further opportunities to cut costs – maybe by re-organising warehouse layouts or spotting when power could be switched off during slower periods. Being able to shut down key pieces of equipment can have a big impact on lowering power bills and carbon footprint.

Removing paper from the warehouse

Using a WMS with mobile devices means operatives can be directed through workflows, which reduces the need for paper. This also improves process efficiency because data does not have to be input at a later date and an audit trail is automatically created, so goods remain visible throughout the supply chain.

Implementing a green logistics strategy can mean a lot of different things. Investing in a carbon efficient infrastructure with sustainable lighting, heating and building materials is very important, but so too is the use of technology. The entry costs are potentially lower and the impact to reducing carbon footprint is huge. It’s good for net zero, but also benefits the whole bottom line.

In the end, if your business wants to remain a market leader, finding ways to demonstrate that you are actively working to reduce your carbon footprint is going to become part of everyday business. Customers want the reassurance of a green supply chain and a WMS is yet another way to achieve net zero. Make sure you are not missing out on these opportunities. www.indigo.co.uk

* Data from UKWA

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