Make a Plan: The First Step Toward Sustainability in Order Fulfillment

Published : October 16, 2014

first-step-towards-sustainabilitySustainability is currently a trending catchword. We hear it in the news all the time. It usually refers strictly to environmental issues. Think: sustainable forests, clean water, or even agriculture.

Individuals concerned about their own personal environmental impact already know what this means and how to do their part. We turn down the thermostat in our homes, for example, to lessen carbon emissions and recycle aluminum and glass when we can.

But, when talking about businesses and business practices, the term isn't quite so clear. Just what, exactly, does "sustainable" mean in the world of order fulfillment?

Order Fulfillment Sustainability

In business, sustainability is indeed an environmental issue.

The idea behind sustainability is to put less stress on the environment in which we all live and breathe. This means using fewer resources, using those resources more fully and putting fewer toxic substances into our air and water. Businesses, however, have to keep an additional goal in mind when they consider environmental issues. They must keep their customers' needs at the forefront, as well. Sustainability programs cannot simply be about using fewer resources. They must, according to Ed Romaine of Integrated Systems Design, find a way to create more value for customers at the same time. That is, sustainability practices must use less, but they must also do more.

How to Implement Sustainability in Your Fulfillment Operation

How can you strike that delicate balance between being environmentally conscience while also giving your customers the maximum value they have come to expect from your company? Here are a few steps you can take.

  • Have a clear blueprint. The best intentions are useless if they aren’t implemented with a concrete plan. Analyze your fulfillment operations. Where can you optimize your processes? Where can you minimize waste? If you feel you're too close to the operation to see it clearly and make these decisions, bring in a qualified consultant.
  • Look beyond the physical. Sustainable shipping practices are not just about using fewer boxes or less electricity. Look at less-tangible assets like time and space, as well. Can an operation currently using two warehouse facilities be streamlined into one, for example? Do you have operational redundancies? Can any part of your shipping process be made more efficient, saving on resources that otherwise would have been devoted to handling and storage? All of these steps can cut costs and reduce waste.
  • Involve everyone. It turns out that, according to a recent article by Jim Bruce on the UPS blog Upside, employees are "at the heart of every corporate sustainability effort." Make sure you share your sustainability plan with your employees. Explain your goals clearly and the exact steps you plan to use to implement them. Be open to feedback from the people on the floor. Involve your customers, as well. Ask them to recycle used shipping materials, for example, or to reuse the original boxes if they have an item to return.
  • Don't forget to look outside. What's outside your facilities makes an environmental impact as well. Are your facilities near public transportation, for instance, allowing your employees to leave their cars at home? If not, consider offering incentives for carpooling, such as front-door parking. Is your property landscaped? Trees and lawns can cool parking lots and buildings naturally, saving on air-conditioning costs. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, directly affecting the size of your company's carbon footprint.

Sustainable order fulfillment business practices are a win-win proposition. They protect our environment, of course, ensuring a healthier future for all of us. But, they can also cut costs and waste at your business while simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction, and that translates directly into healthier profit margins for you.

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Topics: Supply Chain Logistics

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