Sustainability has been one of the buzz words in the logistics sector for quite some time now. Robbert Van Boxelaere demonstrates day after day that a sustainable warehouse not only looks good, it also offers financial benefits. Van Boxelaere works as a sustainability engineer for WDP, a Belgian real estate company developing and renting out logistics real estate in Belgium and the neighbouring countries.
Why should a company invest in a sustainable warehouse in the first place?
Would you as a customer or investor still want to have your name associated with a company that pollutes or is rather rash with its energy consumption? It might sound a bit like a cliché but we are first and foremost accountable to our children.
You often have to invest in sustainability to start with but it also pays dividends after a certain period of time. A standard warehouse seems on the face of it to be a lot cheaper than a sustainable one. But the opposite often turns out to be true if you factor in the total cost of ownership (including energy costs), on top of the rent. Investing in sustainable solutions is therefore not only moral choice it is also simply a wise one.
When is a warehouse a sustainable warehouse?
It is not so cut and dried as that. It is more a questions of just how sustainable a warehouse is. The BREEAM standard in Europe, for example, is used to assess the sustainability of buildings. An examination is made of nine key themes: management, health, energy, transport, water, materials, waste, ecology and pollution. Depending on how well the warehouse scores according to these criteria, it is assigned a ‘Pass’ to ‘Outstanding’ grade.
We as a real estate developer cannot decide whether a warehouse is BREEAM-certified. That is a job for an independent advisor.
WDP also renovates existing warehouses. What items can you adapt in an older warehouse to reduce CO2 emissions?
We actually do the same thing as for a new warehouse: insulation, install solar panels, put in a heat pump, provide a rainwater collection system, …. However, the most important consideration is to get together with the customer to figure out where exactly there is room for improvement. You may obviously invest in LED lights but that is not always this most rewarding investment.
"The importance of a properly managed warehouse in terms of sustainability is often underestimated"
How you decide what is the best investment or otherwise for a customer?
We have developed a special tool for this purpose, the WDP Smart Energy Tool. In this case, we first of all perform general analyses. If the measurement findings are not as good as they should be, we can see that certain items may be improved upon. In the next stage, we make a more detailed investigation of a) the energy costs and b) energy consumption.
Energy costs have a bearing on the energy supplier's cost prices. We may then examine the electricity bill together with the customer and undertake further energy contract negotiations, if need be.
In the case of energy consumption, we assess the various warehouse spaces and users in great detail. We also measure real-time consumption in order to identify and eliminate any abnormal peaks.
Do you have an example of the outcome of such an energy analysis?
The WDP Smart Energy Tool is now being deployed as part of a pilot project involving seven customers. In the case of one customer, we succeeded in making a major improvement within a very short space of time. At end of each daily shift we saw there was suddenly a huge peak in the level of energy consumption. This was because all the forklift trucks had been connected to the battery chargers at that time After fitting timers we were able to divert this peak period to cheaper less busy periods. This meant our customer's investment in such an energy management system could be recovered on the very same day.
Do you have any advice for sustainability-related measures present-day warehouse managers can still take?
The importance of proper warehouse management is often underestimated. Suppose you insulate a building extremely efficiently but the dock gates are always being left open, the heat will still be lost through the loading bay. You may still manage to create the most sustainable building possible. But if the building is not properly managed, you will still be pouring your money down the drain.
Published ealier in VIB magazine