In recent years, every organization has been enormously concerned about the sustainability of its supply chain. In fact, according to McKinsey, a consumer company’s supply chain, for instance, accounts for more than 80% of its greenhouse-gas emissions and beyond 90% of its impact on air, land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources. Therefore, great potential exists to reduce environmental impact and other aspects of sustainability if companies focus on their supply chain.
Achieving fully sustainable operations and logistics can be difficult as supply chains are global and complex. But with the appropriate adoption of emerging technologies like IoT (Internet of Things), organizations have more potential to improve various aspects of sustainability.
The Internet of Things
Over the past few years, the Internet of Things has become one of the most important technologies. IoT is now considered by DHL in its Logistics Trend Radar as one of the technology trends that have a higher impact with revolutionary applications, and Forecasts suggest that by 2030, there will be around 50 billion IoT devices all around the world, up from 8 billion in 2019.
Oracle defines IoT as the network of physical objects embedded with sensors and other technologies to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet. Thus, resulting in smart assets that communicate and interact.
IoT is used now in many ways in the logistics and transportation industry. Its ability to increase transparency and visibility can improve, to a great extent, productivity, efficiency, and sustainability with the proper understanding and use of the technology.
With the acceleration of e-commerce in the last few years, warehousing and transportation are becoming significant contributors to sustainability impact. In this article, we try to answer the following question: What are some of the applications of IoT for sustainable warehousing and freight transportation?
Sustainable Warehousing via IoT
The World Economic Forum (2009) estimates that 13% of all supply chain emissions are due to warehousing and logistics buildings (The remaining 87% stem from transport operations). The environmental issues of warehousing receive less attention than transport operations. But to achieve a fully decarbonized supply chain, logistics managers have to take advantage of the potential of cost savings by running warehouses more efficiently.
Smart, Green Building
Green building rating systems, like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), can give guidance and recognition to the sustainability of a warehouse’s design. Green buildings that are LEED or BREEAM certified have many benefits: They are cost-effective, they prioritize people’s health and well-being, and they are eco-friendly.
IoT technology with Big Data and AI helps improve the sustainability of green buildings by creating smarter ones that can optimize their operation and the whole-building performance. IoT sensors can be used to monitor gases (e.g. CO, CO2, etc) control climate, track water and electricity consumption, detect fires, and much more.
IoT technology offers many benefits concerning the health and safety of workers in their daily activities and operations.
In 2017, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2017, forklifts were involved in 9050 non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses and 74 deaths in the US alone.
Falling objects and workers’ fatigue are also other common sources of injuries in warehouses. The IoT, with its mix of sensors and cameras, can scan the working environments and potentially detect and quickly alert workers to any sensed hazards.
Sustainable Freight Transportation via IoT
Global supply chain means long distances, and that also means more energy consumption, more vehicles, and more risk. Here are some applications of IoT to make freight transportation more sustainable:
By using IoT technology, with its real-time monitoring, we can find more efficient routings as needed (e.g. when congestion or weather impact routing). Therefore, we can reduce the consumption of fuel (diesel and gasoline) of freight vehicles – which are considered as one of the biggest energy users and the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Another benefit of IoT with respect to Sustainability is the reduction of waste. With IoT technology, we can track and have comprehensive supply chain visibility. This presents the opportunity to reduce all kinds of loss, theft, or damage.
Health and Safety
Freight transport has an impact on the environment as well as on societal sustainability. Noise, accidents, and work environment are often ignored, but they must also be considered to achieve sustainability goals.
IoT technology can play an additional role in workers’ health and safety. Through a connected workforce and connected vehicles, the IoT technology alerts drivers when they need to take a break. Key indicators data can be analyzed to quickly discover any risk of an accident.
IoT technology can also be used for the predictive maintenance of vehicles and machines. By constantly controlling and monitoring their condition, the potential danger to equipment operators is decreased.
Enabling a Sustainable Supply Chain is difficult, however, the good news is that there is great potential to reduce the environmental impact by focusing on critical parts of the value chain like warehousing and transportation.
Not all initiatives must be substantial. Companies can take many small steps that could have huge impacts. Using technologies with appropriate supply chain strategies is a good way to start. This mix can benefit the coexistence of sustainability and profitability in the supply chain.
See also: “How IoT, AI, and Blockchain Can Create a Sustainable Supply Chain”, and “Is the Future of Supply Chains Local?”.