In 2021 UPS unveiled new environmental, social and governance (ESG) targets that will enable the company to become carbon neutral across its global operations by 2050. The company acknowledges that trends that will drive innovation over the next 10 years will be around investments in sustainability and improvements in tech fluency.
UPS has introduced many innovative green solutions into their warehouses in their quest to make supply chains more sustainable and achieve their environmental goals, which was accelerated during the Covid pandemic.
Reduction of energy consumption and waste
Warehouse execution system
In 2020, UPS Supply Chain Solutions launched new warehouse network technology to make its distribution centres smarter and more efficient, therefore reducing energy consumption. The Warehouse Execution System (WES) from Softeon defines specific customer requirements, so that highest priority orders are processed first without manual intervention – this increases productivity by up to 50%. It enables real-time monitoring of capacity, fulfilment requirements, backlogs and labour status, which reduces energy consumption, excess labour and time spent processing lower priority orders.
Atlanta, GA, U.S.
In 2018, UPS opened up a new super hub operating facility, with high-tech systems. It is a new class of sortation centre, or super hub, which enables UPS to move shipments efficiently through a network of more than 1,000 small package operating facilities in the United States.
The hubs can sort around 100,000 packages per hour, which is equivalent to roughly 1,700 per minute. Conveyor systems have stopping belts if no packages are detected. They are estimated to be around 30%-35% more efficient than older, more manual facilities.
Robotics and automation
UPS uses robotics to make warehouse operations more efficient and reduce waste. As robots aren’t dependent on light or heating to operate, UPS can focus this energy consumption on the areas used by its workers and save energy on the rest. Deploying robots also results in better space usage and higher throughput of shipments, which reduces the overall carbon footprint of the UPS warehouses.
Sortation and distribution hub in Tacoma, Washington
In 2020, UPS opened a new automated ground package sortation and distribution hub in Tacoma, Washington. The facility operates 15 autonomous tow tractors, or ‘tugs.’ They move large and irregularly-shaped packages from one area to another using lasers to navigate the building’s terrain and avoid obstacles. Assigning these relatively simple but time taking tasks to the tugs means they can use their manual labour force in more effective ways.
Autonomous tugs are used in other UPS facilities throughout North America including Louisville, Columbus and Sacramento. UPS Smart Labels applicators are also deployed in these warehouses. Using compressed air, they place labels on packages at a rate of three per second and are used to assist employees when loading package cars.
UPS Global Logistics & Distribution in Europe added capacity at a fulfilment centre in the Netherlands by implementing an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS). Tall racks, wide rows and loud forklifts have been replaced by grids and bins with robotic arms and workstations. This saves on both storage capacity and energy – it creates up to 400% more storage capacity in the same space versus a traditional warehouse and a system with ten robots uses the same amount of energy as a vacuum cleaner.
UPS has automated their fulfilment process with Locus Robotics. Productivity has increased from 40-45 lines per hour (LPH) to 80-90 LPH with the LocusBots and close to 100 LPH in some cases, helping UPS to pick, pack and ship more quickly to meet exploding demand. They are integrated into the UPS Warehouse Execution System (WES).
Carbon neutral warehouses and green electricity
UPS currently has 18 facilities that have received a green-building certification, including U.S. Green Building Council LEED, Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM), and the Green Globes Standard.
UPS is integrating LED lighting into all its facilities. An electrical current passes through a microchip, making it 90% more efficient than incandescent lighting and it also significantly reduces the amount of wasted heat that is released.
UPS is working toward goals to source more electricity from renewables. By 2025 its goal is to have 25% renewable energy in its facilities and by 2035, 100% renewable energy.
Visalia, CA, U.S.
A battery microgrid and on-roof solar power make this a near-zero-carbon facility.
The facility is equipped with LED lighting, energy-efficient insulation and photovoltaic panels installed on the roof to reduce the amount of electricity drawn from the grid.