Much of the focus on reducing greenhouse gases in the supply chain falls on the transportation industry. Electric cars, cleaner fuels and more efficient last-mile deliveries are just a few of the options shippers and carriers are assessing.
Facilities are often overlooked as an energy hog. Compared to other large greenhouse gas emitters, the building sector has the greatest potential for significantly reducing these emissions, according to the World Green Business Council. In fact, buildings use more energy in the U.S. than either the industrial or transportation sectors.
Whether new construction or retrofitting, warehouses can be designed with sustainable practices, and it’s not an all-or-nothing approach. Here are some of the features for operations managers to consider in a sustainable warehouse, and how moving into a green building could result in significant cost savings.
Location, location, location!
The warehouse site is critical for sustainability. Buildings use 41% of the energy in the U.S., and 29% is used for transportation, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
Tenants want their distribution centers located near urban zones to minimize transportation in and out of the building. They want to be close to the freeways, ports, highways and airports. "They’re also trying to minimize cost and emissions," Jeannie Renne-Malone told Supply Chain Dive. Renne-Malone is vice president for ESG (environment, social responsibility and governance) for Prologis, which designs, builds and operates warehouses globally.
When distribution centers are close to urban areas, not only can trucks drive shorter distances between transportation hubs like airports or rail yards, but employees can more easily get to work using public transportation. Building in a central location also reduces the need for additional infrastructure, as the streets, water pipes and utility lines are already in place.
Inside the 4 walls
Building materials: Insulation can save energy and improve worker comfort. Materials that have lower polluting properties like specialized paints, adhesives, wood products, sealants and carpeting can improve the building’s air quality while using fewer chemicals in their production as well.
Sensors: These can monitor not only lighting needs and room occupancy but can be used for other types of resource management, like gas and water. Submeters can monitor refrigeration units, machinery and other equipment for usage and energy savings.
Lighting: This is a primary driver of a facility’s electrical load, said Renne-Malone. LED lighting is the main sustainable upgrade for preexisting buildings. Prologis has efficient (which it defines as T5 or T8 fluorescent or LED) lighting in 88% of its portfolio. The company is accelerating LED adoption, which was in 27% of their buildings at the end of 2018, with a goal for 100% LED lighting by 2030.
Daylighting tubes, sometimes called solar tubes, are sheet metal cylinders with polished interiors that reflect and channel the outside light into the interior, preserving its intensity. Each tube acts as a light, to reduce or eliminate artificial light use during the daytime hours.
Fans: Cooling and heating systems can be less efficient in warehouses, which are vast, open spaces. Fortunately, these systems are not needed in every climate or season. Some warehouses find that high volume low speed (HVLS) fans are efficient at moving cool or warm air around the room, to keep workers comfortable while decreasing energy use. They can be helpful even in climates requiring air conditioning or heating.
Building owners who want to improve sustainability on current buildings can conduct a thermographic inspection, using a non-intrusive infrared imaging technique to identify uncontrolled heat gain or heat loss. The doors, walls and roof can be scanned to find possible improvements.
Outside the 4 walls
Roofs: One way to decrease the temperature inside a warehouse is adding a cool roof. This can be done with light-colored reflective materials, or even just white paint. This reflects the sunlight back, rather than absorbing it. It also helps the community address the urban heat island effect, where part of the region is warmer due to human activity.
Roofs can also hold solar energy panels. Some Prologis facilities have solar panels producing 186 megawatts of capacity generation across their global portfolio — enough energy to power 27,500 average-sized homes annually. Third parties can install solar power panels, reducing the cost to the tenant or warehouse owner by supplying less expensive energy to use in the building.
Landscaping and water usage: Even though not all warehouses will win beauty and design awards, they can still be attractively maintained, using water-efficient landscaping. Other water features can include rainwater harvesting, plumbing fixtures to reduce water use indoors and sensors to monitor water usage.
Buildings use about 14% of potable water in the U.S., but adding water-efficient efforts can lower that usage by 15% and lower costs by 10%, according to the USGBC. Stormwater drainage systems can be added to divert water from flowing into municipal stormwater systems and into on-site native prairies, holding ponds or other solutions.
A stamp of approval for facilities
Green certification programs give a stamp of approval and provide guidance as to what measures should be taken for a building to be deemed sustainable. The most recognizable name in the U.S. is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, with a number of certification levels.
LEED-certified buildings use 25% less energy, have 34% lower CO2 emissions and consume 11% less water (not to mention diverting waste from landfills). Prologis uses the LEED volume program to certify new U.S. buildings, which is possible because the company keeps its designs consistent, and the program streamlines the process. "Almost every building that we design and build in the U.S. is certified," Renne-Malone said. Companies can often use LEED-certified buildings to meet their own sustainability goals.
Prologis also collaborates with the International WELL Building Institute, which promotes health and wellbeing for people inside the building, to improve comfort and productivity. Workers in green building conditions performed better, with higher cognitive brain scores and improved performance, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.
Why supply chains move into green spaces
Customers and investors want facilities with sustainable features, Renne-Malone said. Some communities offer tax incentives for green features.
As sustainable features are baked into their designs, there is no additional significant cost to Prologis to make it green. Investors will ask Prologis how many certifications they have, and the features are important for tenant employee retention. The tenants benefit from lower utility and water bills, for example, and employees like working for companies that are helping the environment, she said. Rent for sustainable buildings can be 0 to 20% above rental costs for buildings that aren’t "green," according to the USGBC.
"Customers are looking for buildings that have a good chance of operational efficiency to reduce their operating costs."
Vice President for ESG, Prologis
Prologis offers clients a program to convert to LED lighting, which may use a lease amendment to offset the installation cost, as customers pay for their electricity usage.
Customers may also have their own sustainability goals and want comfortable and efficient buildings. One of Prologis’ customers pursued and received an Energy Star certification for a warehouse.
Renne-Malone said Prologis takes pride in the third-party stamp of approval that the buildings get. "Customers are looking for buildings that have a good chance of operational efficiency to reduce their operating costs," she said.