The supply chain is one of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions — about a fifth of emissions come from multinational supply chains alone, research shows. But scaling up operations doesn't have to be environmentally detrimental.
It's important to keep your impact in mind at every step. Most often, a sustainable approach to growth will have the added benefits of pleasing customers, boosting efficiency and making it easier to further scale your business in the future. Here are five places to start.
Establish long-term goals. Scaling up isn't going to happen overnight, which means you've got plenty of time to plan ahead and lay the foundations for your long-term goals. Consider where you'd like to be in five years' time so you can better understand what factors you need to implement to achieve this. For example, do you want to automate the majority of your processes? Would you like to make your transportation more environmentally friendly? Deciding this now means you're better equipped to manage these goals while also controlling the scale up of your business.
Switch to eco-friendly alternatives. The supply chain produces a lot of unavoidable waste in the form of packaging. Luckily, there are some alternatives you can choose that are more eco-friendly. For example, you could ship your items in biodegradable or recyclable cardboards and plastics. You could also consider reusing your wooden pallets and recycling them once they're no longer fit for purpose.
Lighting is very important for warehouses, so consider switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar power, as well as more energy efficient options like LED bulbs. You could also consider options that will help lower your energy consumption, such as having robot pickers that can work in the dark, or a smaller physical footprint.
You could also consider automating some of your processes and go paperless. This is not only more efficient but cuts down your waste even more. As long as you continue to follow them, even small changes like this can make all the difference when you start to scale up.
Automate processes. As you scale your business, it's likely that you'll need to automate some of your procedures to keep things running efficiently. Warehouse automation means you can effectively optimize various elements of your processes, including picking and packing.
Automated storage retrieval systems give you the opportunity to store products upwards, higher than a human could realistically reach, meaning you can reduce your physical footprint and therefore your energy consumption. Smaller warehouses are also much more widely available in towns and cities, which allows you to be based much closer to your customers to reduce delivery times, carbon emissions, and costs.
Accurate automation also generally has a gentler handling technique, which reduces the amount of damage to products that can occur as a result of human error, meaning less waste and reduced costs. This is especially important if you've adopted the use of greener, biodegradable packaging which can be more fragile than traditional options.
Most warehouse automation systems can be scaled up as your company grows, so don't worry about automating everything right away. You can start with the most vital areas first, expanding as you go.
Adopt a warehouse management system (WMS). While automated processes can help you pick and pack your orders, a WMS can help you organise your warehouse layout and manage stock flow. Plus, adding an enterprise resource planning system can help you communicate effectively with customers and suppliers.
Again, this can help you manage your stock level and optimize your storage space. If you know what your most popular products are, a WMS will let you adapt quickly. You can communicate with your suppliers to order more of what's doing well, and you can also cut back your orders on items that aren't as popular.
This allows you to use up your warehouse space more effectively, so you're not wasting valuable room or energy on products you're not selling. Again, this means you can occupy a smaller physical footprint, even as you scale up, so you can lower your energy consumption.
Extra benefits of a WMS include the ability to monitor your processes from anywhere — even remotely — so you can have full control over the day-to-day activities of your business. These systems can also help improve relationships between your customers and suppliers, as you can quickly respond to messages, as well as track orders at every step of the supply chain.
Invest in intelligent fleet management. Switching to electric vehicles and sustainable fuel sources wherever possible can help cut down your carbon emissions. But you can also go one step further by investing in innovative technologies and transport management systems (TMS).
A TMS is great for streamlining your processes. It can help you plan the most efficient routes for delivery, meaning you can reduce the number of journeys your fleet needs to take. This not only makes your transport more cost effective, but also helps cut down your carbon emissions.
As an added benefit, these systems will also let you track vehicles, capture delivery data, and transfer data to your WMS seamlessly. This can help improve customer service, as you can give real-time updates at every stage.
While scaling up your business, it's important that you don't lose focus of your eco credentials. Bear the tips above in mind and you can make your supply chain more environmentally friendly, as well as more efficient.
Craig Powell is managing director of Balloon One, a supply chain technology provider.
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