Environmental efforts are essential for modern business. According to IBM, nearly 8 in 10 consumers indicate that sustainability is an important factor in their retail decision making. And for those who say it is ‘very important’, over 70% would pay an average premium of 35% to buy from brands that champion sustainability and are environmentally responsible.
For retailers, this creates pressure to reassess their entire supply chain, including how they manage warehousing and online fulfillment. And that’s exactly where the agility and efficiency of micro-fulfillment solutions come in.
While many organizations are waking up to the business advantages micro-fulfillment centers offer, most are unaware of their environmental benefits. So in this article, we’re going to explore three of the most exciting ways automated micro-fulfillment solutions can reduce retailers’ environmental impact.
1. Reducing last mile emissions
The ‘last mile’ of the supply chain is notoriously challenging, making up 53% of retailers’ total shipping costs. But it is also responsible for a great deal of environmental pollution.
Until recently, retailers had two options: use large regional distribution centers, and transport goods into cities using large trucks. Or enlist gig-workers from 3rd party vendors to fulfill from store, one customer at a time. Neither option is environmentally sound, producing huge carbon emissions and contributing to poor urban air quality and traffic congestion.
By reducing the last mile, using smaller vehicles and bundling together multiple orders to create more efficient delivery routes, micro-fulfillment resolves these issues and creates a fulfillment solution that is both more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly.
2. Freeing urban and suburban space
As the world urbanizes, physical space is an increasingly vital commodity. But manual fulfillment solutions take up large areas, creating a considerable environmental footprint and limiting the expansion of urban and suburban environmental projects.
Unlike traditional warehousing solutions, micro-fulfillment centers can be placed anywhere – including underground. What’s more, automated micro-fulfillment centers are up to 5 times more dense than manual sites, making better use of the space because items can be stacked extremely high but are still easily retrieved by robots.
Ultimately, this means micro-fulfillment makes far more efficient use of space, freeing up valuable urban assets for both residential and recreational usage.
3. Reducing Packaging
Consumers are increasingly aware of the ecological impact of packaging. According to recent polls, most Americans would be willing to pay more for goods in order to avoid using unnecessary pollutants. But many retailers struggle to overcome their dependency on plastic and cardboard.
Micro-fulfillment provides an opportunity to move away from such damaging practices, instead using reusable tote bins or crates across the entire supply chain. This would remove the need for intermediary packaging between manufacturers and regional distribution centers, ultimately improving the environmental footprint of the entire process.
If micro-fulfillment became the standard for retailers, each center could order the number of totes it needs directly from the factory or distribution center, and totes could seamlessly enter the center with zero packaging. Some experts even predict this could be extended to the end customer, delivering goods in tote bins and reducing packaging concerns to near-enough zero.
Ultimately, this all serves to demonstrate that the benefits of micro-fulfillment reach far further than might be immediately obvious. So far, we have only scratched the surface of its potential to help retailers operate more sustainably. But as the model continues to gain traction, we will begin to see clearly just how much of an environmental game-changer micro-fulfillment could be.