As you may remember, this blog all started from a desire to think about what sustainable logistics and supply chains could look like. While I have always focused more on the environmental sustainability side, it is obvious that true sustainability has no boundary between social and environmental – despite what ESG frameworks would make you believe. All that is to say that looking beyond carbon, there are several topics that the logistics sector will have to overcome to future-proof itself:
Increase of extreme weather events
It will change the way people can work on the ground. During last year’s heatwave, I reminisced about my first placement in a warehouse during a summer with extreme heat and flooding. This type of summer will not be unfamiliar in the future. However, warehouses tend to behave as greenhouses in the heat and draft houses in winter, making 40 degrees weather unsafe and cruel to work. This presents social challenges to ensure workers are working in healthy conditions and contingency plans are in place in case business is disrupted. While cheaper has always been better for warehouse design, this now needs to be balanced with the financial losses linked to supply chain disruptions. Innovation is very necessary to ensure continuity and avoid the ripple impact of days lost.
Some countries already demand preserving or enhancing the biodiversity around built areas. However, warehouses are usually surrounded by large parking lots and concrete while being in the country side. Their impact on biodiversity is quite clear with the noise and light pollution
Noise and light pollution
Warehouses often run 24/7 operations disturbing the wildlife and potentially local communities. The ever-growing demand for rapid deliveries and shorter supply chains reinforces this intense work schedule and safety requirements obviously make lighting and engine noise a necessity. This should not come at the expense of wildlife and sound insulation, electric trucks or warmer lights are great ways to reduce the impact.
Energy generation regulation
Warehouses are energy hungry and the sheer space on top of their parking lots and their roof make them ideal spots for generating energy. PV contracts length and complexity in ownership/rental models hinder the roll-out of PV and such excuses should simply not exist in a crisis. Crises bring people together for an outcome in the same way that luxury brands started to produce hand sanitiser without appropriate packaging during the pandemic.
Location to enable low-carbon commutes
Currently, warehouses are located in remote areas and despite clear working patterns, not much effort has been put into finding alternatives to single-car use. Workers want to reduce their own footprint and organisations should think about public transport and enabling soft mobility access when locating their warehouses.
The considerations of making reasonable adjustments to ensure the integration of disabled workers in the work place have really taken the back foot
Return on investment
Yes, you read this right, sustainability can be a cost saver by reducing waste, material purchases, and electricity bills but it also requires new ways of working and some investments. The current investments’ expected returns are too short to allow for the right technology to be bought and implemented. It is usually linked to the short contract and margins associated with logistics and operations. Opportunities for change in sustainability and savings are lost there.