Designing the Sustainable Facility of the Future

Companies are realizing the benefits of environmentally friendly warehouses and DCs and are embarking on both new builds and renovations that are earning LEED accreditation.

The idea of environmentally friendly warehouses took off a few years back. Big brands announced plans—and many of them have since come to fruition.

The United States Green Building Council, which oversees the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation program, touts a few, in particular.

Prologis, which has pursued LEED designation for 180 warehouse and distribution facilities around the world, partnered with the USGBC and M.E. Group to use the LEED Volume Program to more efficiently certify its development projects. Ecofibre Kentucky—Hemp Black, which was awarded Platinum status in September 2020 for its warehouse and processing facility, reduced its onsite water consumption by 40% and reduced energy consumption by 57%. Also, outdoor recreation co-operative REI sees environmentally friendly buildings—including distribution centers—as part of its social good strategy. REI opened an LEED-Platinum, net-zero energy facility in Arizona, complete with solar energy and a non-evaporative cooling system. (See article in MHI Solutions on REI’s LEED-platinum DC:

Cleaning products manufacturer JohnsonDiversey has long committed to pursuing LEED certification for its buildings, too, including its warehouse and distribution centers. Three facilities on the global headquarters campus were certified as LEED-EB (existing building) for retrofits, and an MHI member was directly involved.

At the JohnsonDiversey warehouse, MHI member 4Front Engineered Solutions was one of the suppliers. Kelley Hydraulic dock levelers and vehicle restrains were tied together by Kelley’s Master Control Panels. Sequencing reinforced the energy savings; a trailer must be in place with the door up before the light comes on, for instance. Vehicle restraints and Kelley’s TS Rigid Frame Shelters helped maintain a positive pressure environment, which contributed to LEED certification in indoor environmental quality.

It’s not just new builds. W.P. Carey, the real estate investment trust (REIT) firm that specializes in single-tenant warehouses and other commercial real estate, recently renovated a Class-C warehouse in Leigh Valley, PA. Before the redevelopment, W.P. Carey’s Brooks Gordon, managing director and head of asset management, said it was “outdated.” These days, it is a “state-of-the-art, cross-docked warehouse and logistics facility built to high environmental standards, and we are currently evaluating LEED certification. Now fully leased, this project is a great example of how we incorporate our sustainability objectives into redevelopment projects to add value to our portfolio, our tenants and the environment.”

Adapting a Warehouse

There is a reason for all the activity, Gordon said. “LEED certification for warehouses used to be a lot more challenging prior to the latest incarnation of the LEED rating system (LEED v4.1), as there weren’t guidelines for warehouses/distribution centers, and LEED models for other building types had to be adapted and used. However, now warehouses and distribution centers have standards of their own, which define a more tailored path to certification. That said, there can be some factors, such as access to public transport, that may not lend themselves well to warehouse assets.”

Michelle Raigosa, president of Design Management Services, advises companies of all types that want to pursue LEED certification. In the six years that Design Management Services has worked in warehouses, “there’s been a huge change in the market,” she said. “Municipalities are putting additional requirements on developers specifically for warehouses. It’s definitely a plus for warehouse developers to pursue LEED certification as an overall company-wide commitment to certifying the entire portfolio.”

That said, there are differences to sustainable warehouse design that make it somewhat tricky to achieve when compared to the standard office building.

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