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Sustainability in the Supply Chain

April of 2010 will see an impressive gathering of buyers from the material handling and logistics industry at the 2010 North American Material Handling and Logistics Show (NA 2010) at Cleveland’s I-X Center. What caught my eye as I scanned for more information on this show was the seminar topic – The Business Case for Sustainable Distribution Centers. The COO of Greater Boston Food Bank and The VP of Supply Chain Management and Logistics, Crate and Barrel will make a strong business case for sustainable practices and offer attendees tips on how to implement the principles of green operations, techniques and equipment.

This got me thinking about the current efforts and trends the supply chain industry has been making towards sustainability and the recent industry news that have highlighted these efforts, three such companies that have made it in the news lately because of their efforts to create a greener supply chain and distribution centers – Walmart, Coca Cola, and Whirlpool.

Walmart is in the process of constructing a 450,000 square-foot refrigerated distribution center that is estimated to cost $108 million and be 60% more energy-efficient than traditional distribution centers. Alternative sources for energy will come from solar thermal panels and wind turbines installed on premise.

Coco Cola is taking measures to ensure that while business grows (especially its global business which is set to grow exponentially), its carbon footprint doesn’t. It has ambitiously targeted 2015 (with a base year of 2004) to reduce its emissions by 5% in annex 1 (developed) countries. Coco Cola is also working with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to adapt sustainable supply chain operations and reduce the impact of its operation on water resources.

My best case study for this blog is Whirpool; Whirpool has always been a leader in energy efficiency and environment friendly practices since the 1970’s. It was one of the earliest companies to push for Energy Star qualifications for its products. Currently, it has several green initiatives in the works – but the one that we would be most interested in is Whirlpool’s supply chain redesign plan. Whirlpool plans to consolidate and replace older distribution centers with new, energy-efficient facilities that will conserve electricity using energy-efficient lighting (including motion sensors that will turn off and turn on lights automatically) and skylights wherever possible. Whirlpool is also replacing its internal-combustion-powered industrial clamp trucks for cleaner electric models in all 25 of its worldwide factory distribution centers. The electric forklifts not only reduce emissions, they also reduce the noise level and product damage. So this investment for Whirlpool seems like it will definitely pay off in more ways than one.

At Bluff, we are doing our share to become stewards of the environment. Some of our efforts include using recycled steel and aluminum when manufacturing Bluff dock boards, dock plates and yard ramps.

Using near-zero VOC, water-soluble paint formulas for our liquid-coated/painted dock boards, dock plates, yard ramps and rail boards and implementing powder coat technology as surface coating for our Crash Guard products has resulted in a huge reduction in VOC emissions. We have installed energy-efficient lighting in our manufacturing facility that resulted in a 24% annual reduction in electricity consumption. And by continuing to develop and manufacture innovative and green products for our customers, we continue to strive toward reducing waste, improving efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint.

With manufacturers, distributors and retailers working cohesively to achieve sustainability, I think the case for a greener business environment in the supply chain industry has already been made, but these efforts will only be successful if they are sustained, widespread, and continue to grow.