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Easy being green: Make the small things count: In this climate, many materials handling companies are being increasingly socially responsible and are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. In some cases, this means creating a greener product, in other cases it means a greener process and a sustainable working environment.

Back in the 1990s, it was trendy to market a product as green. Now, it's not cool for a product to be anything but green. In fact, green isn't just about the product anymore, it's about every link in the supply chain. According to the recent 2010 United Nations Global Compact and Accenture ( report titled "A New Era of Sustainability," a survey of more than 750 CEOs from companies around the world, 93% of respondents said they believe that environmental issues will be critical to the future success of their businesses. And, some companies, including National Grid, are even tying executive pay to environmental performance. In this case, compensation is calculated against performance in reaching company carbon emissions reduction targets.


In an effort to both increase the bottom line and work to a greater, greener good, businesses are looking for more ways to be environmentally savvy. "Many companies are taking a strong position on green initiatives and looking for suppliers that are taking the same initiatives and providing green solutions," says Keith Allmandinger, senior manager of marketing for Komatsu Forklift ( "This is driven by corporate responsibility and responsibility to our environment."

Green is responsible, but in some cases, it's also required. For example, more and more retailers are demanding environmentally friendly products. Toward that goal, Staples now challenges its suppliers to compete in a "Race to The Top" to find innovative solutions for product manufacturing, packaging and distribution; Procter & Gamble recently launched a Supplier Sustainability Scorecard to measure the environmental impact of suppliers; and in April, IBM announced that its suppliers must track environmental data.

What are companies in the materials handling industry doing to go green? Here are a few examples of how green solutions have paid off in the workplace and on the bottom line.

Electric lift trucks and off-peak charging

Even though we're in the midst of an evolving culture, people don't always like change. In regard to lift trucks, says Allmandinger, "People like what they're using, like the fuel types, and are used to doing things a certain way because they're familiar with equipment performance and run time. We have to convince them first that a greener way will still get the job done and still have the performance they expect," he adds.


Komatsu recently introduced a versatile electric counterbalanced lift truck into the U.S. market that can operate indoors, outdoors and even in cold storage where condensation was once an issue. The truck can replace IC units in a number of applications and also can have a positive impact on CO2 emissions.

But with electric lift trucks comes the need for batteries as well as the energy and cost associated with charging them. One way to optimize the process and maximize savings is to charge batteries during off peak hours.

Utility companies charge more for energy during peak hours when the demand is highest, usually during the day. "This period represents the worst time financially to recharge the battery," according to Steve Munton, director of emerging technology for EnerSys ( For example, it costs about $9 a day to recharge a typical forklift battery rated at 30 kilowatt-hours at 3:00 p.m., when costs are 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. "By simply delaying that charge cycle until 2:00 a.m. when electricity is closer to 3 cents, the cost drops significantly to 90 cents per day," Munton says. "That's $8.10 savings, or a 90% cost reduction."

Improved product, process

Simple changes to business as usual can result in dramatic improvements. As an example, Hytrol Conveyor (www.hytrol. com) has a dual green focus. "We're not only looking for ways to save the end user resources, we're finding ways to save in our own facility," says Hytrol's manager of marketing Phillip Poston.

On the product side, Hytrol has developed a new conveyor system with a decentralized 24-volt motor that uses 60% less energy, in part because it shuts down individual zones and motors when not conveying product.

On the process side, the company uses a powder paint system that helps to eliminate the need for an air permit because no volatile organic chemicals are emitted into the atmosphere. The company also employed a value stream mapping exercise to modify its manufacturing environment. By removing unnecessary steps, using forklifts for heavy tasks, and creating focused factory areas, Hytrol was able to eliminate 60% of its lift truck fleet, resulting a savings equal to 70 tons of coal per year.

Look to the light

Lighting is a universal area to seek green solutions and energy savings. Rachel Young, communications specialist at Orion Energy Systems (, explains that replacing outdated HID (high-intensity discharge) fixtures with high-intensity florescent fixtures can produce 50% more light while saving 50% of energy costs. In large manufacturing facilities, the savings can be enormous.

For example, when the Miller Brewing Company replaced the old light fixtures in its Milwaukee facility, annual savings totaled more than $127,000 and 2.1 million kWh. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that environmental impact was equal to planting 380 acres of trees, taking 340 cars off the road, and saving 3.5 million gallons of gas and 83,000 barrels of oil.

Heating and cooling

Heating and cooling systems are another place to look for savings. "In manufacturing and warehouse facilities with high ceilings, there can be as much as a 30-degree temperature differential between the floor and the roof deck," says Katie Hunt, marketing communications specialist for Big Ass Fans (

By installing large ceiling fans with small motors that consume little energy, substantial volumes of air can be circulated slowly and quietly through big spaces. With the right fans in the right place, the temperature differential between the floor and the roof deck can be brought to within 2 degrees.


In fact, ceiling fans can take the heat generated by functioning machinery and use it to actually heat a facility. In some cases, mostly in southern climates of the country, the right fans can eliminate the need for a heating system and the associated cost of the energy source, installation, up keep and potential repair.

Recycle, reuse pallets

Another way to go green is to keep material out of the landfill. Incorporating reusable, returnable pallets into your supply chain is one way to accomplish this goal.

"It's a given that this technology lends itself to recycling," says Allan Howie, managing director of the Reusable Container and Pallet Association (RCPA, industrygroups/rpcpa). Howie adds that reuseables is a hot topic and one that's at the forefront of the industry.

"Every year 223 million pallets go into landfills," explains Eric Renteria, president and CEO of Green Line Armor ( "Our goal is to reduce landfill waste by 100 million pallets a year." Renteria's company has developed a hybrid pallet that incorporates a 100% recyclable, bio-composite bumper that encapsulates the ends of the pallet to add strength and durability to extend its life.

The cost perspective is also green. Renteria explains, "Users can buy one [hybrid] pallet and use it 200 times instead of buying 220 or 30 standard pallets."

Pre-cycle packaging

One way to intercept materials before they go to the landfill is to pre-cycle. For example, if a company changes its marketing approach, product packaging may also change, having behind a surplus of top quality containers. Instead of shipping the surplus off to a grinder or a landfill, pre-cycling gets that product to a 2ew end user.

Gina Crespo, marketing and advertising manager for McKernan Packaging (www., explains, "We find buyers for unwanted, obsolete packaging components and give them another life and repurpose by putting them back in to the industry.

Even the government is going greener. LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) status for new U.S. government buildings has been ratcheted up from silver to gold, ensuring that design, construction and maintenance of the building measures up in a number of environmental fronts.

By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
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Title Annotation:special supplement: Warehouse & DC
Author:Rogers, Lorie King
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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