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Putting the Focus on Sustainable Logistics and Warehousing

As the focus on supply chain sustainability increases, companies are paying more attention to the role that their warehousing, logistics, and transportation play in the overall picture.

In September, Nike announced that it was opening a new distribution center powered entirely by renewable energy. Located in Ham, Belgium, the facility is part of the shoe and apparel manufacturer’s move to zero carbon and zero waste.

“Our new Court Distribution Center represents Nike’s continued investment in a fast and flexible supply chain to deliver the full range of our product to consumers when they want it, where they want it,” Nike COO Eric Sprunk said in a blog post. “This state-of-the-art facility will increase our responsiveness as we accelerate our digital growth and better serve millions of consumers across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.”

Known as “the Court,” the new facility expands Nike’s logistics capabilities to meet growing consumer demand while advancing sustainability at scale. At 1.5 million square feet in size, the distribution center runs on wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass power.

Compared to a traditional warehouse, the Court’s rack-supported structure required less steel and concrete, minimizing waste and reducing material used in the construction process, Nike said.

The distribution center expands Nike’s European Logistics Campus, which opened in 1994 and today comprises six distribution facilities across Ham, Laakdal, Meerhout, and Herentals. The company says that capabilities such as single-order consolidation and faster digital shipments make it possible for the facility to ship a single order as efficiently as it would a 10,000-item order.

Other sustainable features include a surrounding infrastructure that includes a network of canals, enabling 99% of inbound containers to reach the local container park by water. This eliminates some 14,000 truck journeys each year, reducing associated carbon emissions, Nike said in its blog. “More than 95% of waste generated on-site is recycled,” it added. “For instance, pathways used by employees around the facility are made from recycled footwear material.”

Getting Onboard

Nike isn’t alone in its efforts to make its logistics and warehousing operations more sustainable and eco-friendlier. According to supply chain and logistics expert Chris Cunnane of ARC Advisory Group, warehouse sustainability is a “major concern” in the global supply chain right now. The good news is that there’s plenty of room for improvement in this aspect of the overall supply chain.

“There are many steps that warehouses can take to become more sustainable, especially when it comes to energy consumption,” Cunnane writes in “Five Initiatives for Supply Chain Sustainability”. Simply replacing existing lighting with energy-efficient LED lights, for example, helps significantly reduce energy usage while also improving facility lighting.

Additionally, more and more companies are turning to solar and wind power to reduce their reliance on traditional energy sources and generate their own energy. “For many warehouses, the cost for the installation of solar panels can be recouped within the first six months,” Cunnane writes. “For those warehouses that are not suitable for solar panels, wind energy is an alternative, as well as skylights which can let in natural light and reduce the amount of electric lighting that is needed.”

Key to the Future

Earlier this year, logistics company Baytree broke ground on a new facility that’s being hailed as the “most sustainable warehouse in the UK,” SHD Logistics reports. The building is insulated, airtight, and fitted with solar panels. It also contains air source heat pumps that extract heat from the air outside to power equipment inside, the publication points out. Clear panels in the warehouse ceiling reduce the need for artificial lighting, and all existing lighting is LED and environmentally friendly.

Baytree’s building is also fitted with an energy monitoring system complete with smart meters which track energy usage, as well as turn lights and heating off when parts of the building are unoccupied; this can be controlled remotely. The sensors monitor air and water quality, internal noise, lighting, humidity, temperature, and patterns of occupancy.

“From a business point of view, it’s so important to consider the environmental impact of your work and so much planning went into this build to ensure a sustainable working environment for the [occupant],” David French, director at KAM Project Consultants, told SHD Logistics, “which is key for the future of the logistics sector.”

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