For all the talk of carbon credits and long-term environmental goals, there are some short-term steps that companies can take today, to create greener and more efficient distribution centers, says Robin Jahnke, director of fulfillment and corporate services with Sierra Trading Post.
Jahnke uses the phrase "simply green": a label for the actions that companies can take to enact immediate improvements in the environmental impact of their facilities. They are further motivated by the need to cut costs in tough economic times. The word "sustainability" has come to describe a company's financial health as well as its commitment to social responsibility.
Sierra Trading Post is a full-service catalog "mall" for closeout and overstock clothing and outdoor gear. It ships some 2.5 million packages a year. In recent years, the company has taken dramatic steps to reduce the carbon footprint of its supply chain and distribution center in Cheyenne, Wyo. It worked with a supplier of corrugated cardboard to lower the weight of its packaging by 10 percent. The air pillows that fill out its boxes were also reduced, so that more can be fit into a truck. All of the materials used in transportation and material handling, including aluminum, plastic and the shrink wrap from pallets, are sold to a recycler.
In certain instances, Sierra Trading Post opted for a heavier grade of carton in the warehouse, so that the boxes could be reused a dozen or more times. None of the changes in packaging compromised product integrity, Jahnke says.
The Cheyenne distribution center is a model of environmental awareness. Insulation reduces the need for energy-sapping heating and cooling. Solar-powered skylights are hooked up to photo cells that turn off metal haloid lights when they aren't needed - up to seven hours a day in summer, Jahnke says. The company installed translucent windows on one side of the building to let in more natural light. Sodium vapor lights operate at half power unless a forklift operator is present. In addition, Sierra Trading Post is looking to switch from the metal haloid units to T5 fluorescent lighting, a move that will save the company half a million dollars over 10 years. Says Jahnke: "There's a myriad of things that can be done inside the fulfillment center."
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