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LEED Platinum Grainger distribution center: success in sustainability, logistics, automation

Why Minooka, Illinois, I thought, as I prepared to take a tour of the Grainger Distribution Center last week. Having moved from its Niles, Illinois, location, there were good reasons. “Well for one, truck drivers are thankful that the distribution facility is located in a more rural area and easily accessible to major roadways and interstate highways,” said Rob Favaro, Sr. Director ILDC, Supply Chain – Distribution Ops, and tour guide for the day. The 1 million-sq.-ft. facility is the company’s central stocking center, which features a state-of-the art automated material handling system and rated the largest LEED platinum facility for Commercial Interiors.

I wrote about this story back in December 2013 —  — and it is much more impressive in person.

Fellow media members, including CONTRACTOR’s Candace Roulo, were invited to the LEED Platinum distribution center located southwest of Chicago. According to the USGBC, an upfront investment of 2% in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20% of the total construction costs – more than ten times the initial investment. Green building has also been shown to reduce operating costs by an average of 13.6% for new construction projects and 8.6% for existing building projects. 

From the building’s layout and flow to the use of automation contributes to a more productive employee and efficient workspace for the 450 logistics and warehouse team members. “We try to use automation as much as possible,” said Favaro.

By taking into account team member feedback and ergonomic best practices—once a month, one-on-one employee meetings and discussions occur—the workstations are designed so that they do not require any pushing and pulling of carts, reducing the risk of sprains. In fact, there are employees affectionately named “water spiders,” according to Favaro, that travel to and from workstations to pick up boxes so employees don’t have to leave their station themselves.

Practicing what it preaches in terms of safety, team members are trained in back safety and ergonomics, hazardous materials management and industrial power equipment, and all Grainger’s U.S. branches and distribution centers have trained first aid emergency responders. And, half, if not more, of the employees have cross-functional aptitude to excel in other workstations.

Sustainability Features

The facility uses all high efficiency plumbing fixtures, as well as high efficiency water heaters. Plumbing fixtures include electronic dual flush 1.1/1.6 gpf toilets; electronic flush 0.125 gpf urinals; sink faucets that include electronic metering faucets with a flow rate of 0.5 gpm; kitchen stainless steel sinks aerator flow rate 1.5 gpm; and showers with a 1.6 gpm flow rate. In addition, all of the water heaters installed were high efficiency units and had a minimum of 90% AFUE rating.

Approximately 80% of the facility is comprised of a nearly “passive” warehouse where the occupied space is primarily heated from the solar wall, machinery and those occupying the space, and the air is cooled and circulated from large ceiling fans, designed for high-volume industrial use.

Some of the other major green attributes include:

• Energy efficient HVAC system that includes Energy Star equipment.

• R-22-free refrigerant.

• A 2,200-sq.ft. solar wall, which uses innovative air and solar capabilities to help reduce energy consumption.

• Energy efficient lighting along with motion sensors.

• Electric automobile charger stations.

• A recycling program initiated to collect cardboard and shrink wrap from operations. In 2012, for example, Grainger U.S. distribution centers recycled 303 tons of cardboard and 22 tons of plastic wrap per facility for a total recycling rate of 72%.

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