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Green Materials Handling; Industry Outlook Survey

From conveyors to pallets, industry leaders make the case for how their products can make a difference to companies focused on the green supply chain
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
April 01, 2010

Pallets, totes and containers

Recycling packaging
Reduce, reuse and recycle. That is the value proposition of using reusable packaging products, like plastic pallets, containers and totes, says Pete Budney, vice president of marketing and product development for ORBIS (888-217-0965, http://www.orbiscorporation.com)). “You're reducing the amount of waste that's going into the landfill because you're not manufacturing additional product,” says Budney. A lifecycle analysis done for a major soft drink company found that a reusable plastic shell required 43% less energy over its life, created 80% to 90% less solid waste, and generated 30% to 60% fewer greenhouse gases compared to a single-use corrugated shell.

Lighter, recyclable pallets
“Companies looking for ways to improve their environmental performance find all-plastic pallets a compelling solution,” says Bob Moore, chairman and CEO of iGPS (800-884-0225, http://www.igps.net)). In the case of iGPS, users can augment their sustainability efforts in several ways. For one, the pallets are part of a pool that is used over and over. In addition, they are 30% lighter than a typical multi-use wood pallet, which reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation. Finally, they are 100% recyclable and do not contribute to deforestation. That results in fewer pallets going to the landfill. Last but not least, plastic pallets are never painted as are some wooden pallets, eliminating the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in some paints. 

Cradle-to-cradle sustainability
While traditional wooden pallets often end up in the landfill, presswood pallets have received Cradle-to-Cradle Certification at the silver tier from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) for their ingredients, recyclability and design principles. The pallets are manufactured from wood waste products, molded under high heat and are free of bugs, bark and mold, which makes them appropriate for export. The wood for presswood pallets comes from low- grade timber stands that are uneconomical for other purposes; 93% of the biomass of the tree is used in the production of the pallet. The unused 7% is often used to provide energy in the factory's boiler system. Unusable presswood pallets are also being used in waste-to-energy and biofuel plants. “In the future, we hope to develop new products with old Inca pallets,” says Gary Sharon, vice president of Litco International (330-539-5433, http://www.litco.com)).

Software and ergonomics

LEED-certified heating/cooling
While LEED may not recognize most warehouse and distribution center technologies, Big Ass Fans (877-244-3267, http://www.bigassfans.com)) is one of the exceptions. “We have helped customers document energy savings and thermal comfort in about 20 LEED-certified buildings,” says Christian Taber, an applications engineer. “I'd say at least 80% of our customers are now asking us about the impact of our technology on the bottom line of their operations and the environmental benefits as well.” The fans use relatively small motors—0.5 to 2 horsepower—to turn large blades at low speeds. In cold climates, the fans circulate the warm air that accumulates at the ceiling, reducing heating costs by 20% to 40%. In warm climates, the air velocity coming off the blades makes a work area feel 5 degrees to 10 degrees cooler than it is. “If you don't have air conditioning, your worker will feel comfortable with a minimal use of energy,” says Taber.

Designing a sustainable supply chain
Think green, and software may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But supply chain network optimization and design solutions are emerging as a front-line tool for companies concerned about sustainable supply chains, says Kelly Thomas, JDA Software's (800-438-5301, http://www.jda.com)) senior vice president of manufacturing. “Network design tools have always used constraints to create the most efficient supply chain, and now we can also take sustainability factors into consideration,” says Thomas. Last year, JDA began to include carbon emission data elements along with water consumption and production as part of its data model.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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