Sustainable warehousing solutions

By Ruari McCallion

April 2015

Green and sustainable warehouse practices

Green logistics make business sense

‘Green’ logistics and warehousing is not just socially responsible and good PR: it makes sound business sense as well.

Ruari McCallion has been finding out why.


A few years ago a manager from a manufacturing company said that youngsters were put off by what he described as the tough conditions in production facilities. Looking around his factory and noting a few broken windows – some with brown paper taped over them – and general uncared-for air, one could see the youngsters’ point. Whether that company is still in business today or not is unknown but the attitude is – or should be – long dead and buried. ‘Green’ does not just make for a more pleasant working environment; it is more efficient and less likely to fall foul of legislation, whether current, impending or planned. The corporate world has taken this very much on board; a huge majority of commercial occupiers have made clear that they are prepared to pay a premium for ‘sustainable’ property, including warehouses and logistics premises, according to research quoted by the UK Warehouse Association (UKWA).

The numbers really are quite staggering: 70% of businesses said they would be prepared to pay a premium of five per cent or more and no less than half of those – so 35% of ALL commercial operators in the UK – said they would pay as much as 15% more. These are no just small companies; companies whose words have been turned into action when it comes to sustainability include big retailers like Wal-Mart; healthcare and beauty products manufacturer Procter & Gamble; DHL, the logistics company; and auto manufacturers Toyota and Volkswagen.

From April 1 2018, no buildings will be allowed to be let - at all - if they are not in possession of an Energy Performance Certificate of at least Level E.

Good bye to F and G

It is not surprising that these large organisations are taking this attitude. Across the EU, building standards are being required to improve, by legislation, as the EU strives to reduce its energy usage, the costs of energy and its emissions of carbon. In the UK, the next big manifestation of that drive is the progressive implementation of the Energy Act 2011. From April 1 2018, no buildings will be allowed to be let – at all – if they are not in possession of an Energy Performance Certificate of at least Level E; April 2018 is the deadline for the eradication from the rental stock of buildings at Levels F and G. It can be confidently assumed that this is just another step along the road to genuinely low-carbon commercial buildings, as the UK and the EU as a whole seek to reduce total carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 – just over 35 years from now.

While it may be the case that early adopters of sustainable technologies in commercial buildings have been rewarded more by nods of approval than by demonstrable financial benefits, that balance has now shifted firmly towards what is called the ‘green agenda’. Both landlords and occupiers have to look upon building sustainability as a strategic investment, not simply something to provide a nice paragraph in the Annual Report.

What factors help to improve building performance, what should commercial users expect to find and what can occupiers do themselves in order to improve performance?

Look after your own

Occupiers themselves have a great deal of influence and control over the energy performance of their buildings. A construction company can build the greenest warehouse on Earth but if the tenants leave the doors open all the time then all their good work is undermined. Going beyond such basics, here are some features that occupiers can do for themselves and cut their energy bills. The good news is – they can be incorporated into existing buildings as well.

  • Invest in low-water volume appliances
  • Install rainwater harvesting systems and use it and ‘grey water’ in office, toilet facilities and in grounds maintenance
  • Increase the use of roof lights and natural lighting in warehousing and seek to reduce the need for artificial lighting
  • Increase the use of natural ventilation, rather than relying on air conditioning
  • Install roof-mounted solar panels to (at the very least) pre-heat the hot water supply for staff areas
  • Use passive solar control such as sunshading (‘brise soleil’) and thermal / glare control-treated glazing
  • Install passive infra-red (PIR) lighting controls and zoning to office and warehouse areas, to ensure lights are used only where they are needed
  • Use energy efficient condensing boilers
  • Consider installing a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit in larger facilities

If these features are not already in place in your warehouse it is worth enquiring about any government help that may be available to install it. Materials handling and logistics companies simply should not consider premises without such facilities and features as in any way suitable for new occupation. However, existing premises can be upgraded and see their useful lives extended through retrofitting.

If these features are not already in place in your warehouse it is worth enquiring about any government help that may be available to install it.

Newer and better

Companies that are considering new premises for occupation – and are maybe doing so with greater urgency in the light of the 2018 requirements – can afford to take a bit of time to ensure that the new facilities will be as green as possible. Companies like Gazeley Construction have been specialising in eco-friendly warehousing and distribution centres for well over a decade and have built facilities in the UK; France, Germany, Italy and Spain in mainland Europe; the Middle East; and China. Their buildings are designed to perform even beyond the current and impending legislation. Rainwater harvesting is standard, as is solar power and high levels of insulation. Its ‘eco-template’ approach has delivered hard savings to customers such as John Lewis Partnership in the UK of 40% in terms of energy; 39% cuts in CO2 emissions; and water usage reduction of the order of 61%.

There was a time when Gazeley’s approach was novel; it is now getting closer to the mainstream. Logistics, materials handling and warehouse operators should incorporate pretty much all the following features on their checklists for new premises:

  • LED lighting can save up to 45% on lighting costs
  • Think a bit laterally: daylight can enter a building through skylights, solar tubes, light reflectors, roof monitors, and even windows
  • Ensure that office equipment is powered through switches that can be turned off at night to reduce ‘phantom’ loads – the electricity used by various devices, such as mobile chargers, that still draw power even when they are supposedly turned off
  • Make use of roof space by mounting solar panels on them (thermal for heating water and pv for electricity)
  • Rainwater harvesting for premises maintenance and grey water use
  • Pave access roads and parking lots with semi-porous surfaces, to reduce runoff
  • Circulation fans cut heating and cooling costs by promoting even temperatures across the building
  • ‘Submetering’ – installing physical measuring devices onto machinery and equipment to monitor usage of electricity, gas, water, etc. Web-based building management software can analyse the data and identify opportunities for energy savings
  • Recycling – even warehouses can save a lot of money by recycling packaging, pallets and even the material used in the building of the facility
  • On-site power generation. As well as solar power, explore the practicality of a right-sized wind turbine; and air source or ground-source heat pumps.

Last but by no means least

Location. An apparently lower-cost logistics facility or warehouse might be in an area that is harder to get to or involves longer journeys by both inbound and outbound vehicles. Running and servicing costs must always be taken into account – they will be having an impact long after the immediate rental advantage has receded into history.



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