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Mindful Mobility: Practical Steps for a Sustainable Relocation

For more than 70 years, Graebel has led the talent mobility industry in evolution and growth, making sustainability a significant focus and commitment in the process. Each part of a mobile employee’s relocation journey — from shipping household goods to home finding and settling in — presents opportunities to choose sustainable options and reduce our collective footprint. That’s why we’re always eager to help our clients build environmentally friendly mobility programs and to guide their mobile employees toward sustainable choices throughout their relocation process. Given the challenges the world is facing, it’s one way we can leave the world better than we found it.

Based on decades of experience, learnings and data, we’d like to share some best practices businesses can keep in mind when developing and implementing sustainable mobility programs:

Adopt a sustainable mindset

As companies consider how they’re relocating their mobile employees, it’s helpful to factor sustainability into their mobility program assessment and development process:

  • Begin with thoughtfulness. A relocation is an exciting venture, with many tasks, schedules, and decisions to make: each one can have a positive impact on the environment. Embrace the journey as an opportunity to make a difference.
  • Use each relocation as a “teachable moment.” Every person involved in a relocation journey has a role to play in creating sustainable moves, from internal company stakeholders and supplier partners to the mobile employees themselves. Each relocation should be used as an opportunity to determine what a sustainable move could look like and begin building mindful practices together.

Making mindful mobility choices, pre-departure

Opportunities to make sustainable choices can happen as early as in the departure phase of a relocation journey and continue throughout the move. Whether packing and shipping household goods or coordinating travel arrangements, there are many ways to positively impact the environment:

  • Travel arrangementsAccording to Worldometer, the average global CO2 emissions produced per capita is 4.79 tons per year. Some developed countries far exceed this amount, clocking in at an alarming range of 15 – 37 tons per capita. For this reason, companies should be mindful of emissions as they strategize mobile employee travel for home and school finding visits. According to the myclimate calculator, a flight from New York to London produces 1.7 metric tons of carbon emissions alone. With this in mind, it makes environmental sense to maximize visits, limit unnecessary travel and embrace green and sustainability-minded options that providers may offer (airlines, hotels, temporary housing, car rentals, local transportation companies, etc.).
  • Household goods shipping – Household goods shipping presents a significant opportunity to minimize environmental impacts during a relocation journey. According to a recent report that was provided to Graebel by Ruby Canyon Environmental, an average US-domestic move generates approximately one metric ton of carbon emissions, and an average international move produces two metric tons. With this in mind, simply reducing the amount of household goods shipments of each by 15 percent would eliminate 150 and 300 kilograms of CO2 emissions, respectively.
  • Consider types of freight shipments – When planning international moves, relocation professionals should consider whether both air and sea freight shipments are necessary and appropriate, since air shipments produce more emissions than sea shipments (1.2 versus .8 metric tons, respectively).1 The method of shipment should be determined by cost, how quickly the household goods will need to be delivered, and the emissions that would be generated. If one method can be eliminated or avoided in enough cases, an organization could reduce their household goods shipping emissions significantly, overall.

Helping mobile employees make sustainable choices

Even under the best of circumstances, moving can be a busy and stressful time. Because of the many decisions a mobile employee and their family will have to make during the course of their relocation, they may not have the capacity, knowledge or resources to figure out which household goods (HHGs) they’ll need in their new location, and which items could stay behind; as a result, they often end up with larger shipments than would truly be necessary. Below are four proactive solutions businesses can encourage mobile employees to use, to reduce the overall shipment size of HHGs before a relocation and minimize carbon emissions:

  1. Discard or donate unwanted goods – Many relocation management companies/relocation services providers offer formal programs to help mobile employees dispose of their unwanted HHGs in sustainable ways. Graebel, for instance, offers a formal Discard and Donate Program, which allows employees to easily donate their unwanted household goods to others in need before their move. According to Home Sweet Home, our supplier partner in this initiative, the program has been proven to reduce the cost of each move by three to four percent and carbon emissions by 250 kilograms. The resulting cost savings often end up covering the expense of the service, so positively impacting the environment can come at no extra cost to the organization.
  2. Do it yourself (DIY) discard or donate programs - Mobile employees can also be encouraged to recycle or donate HHGs on their own. Here’s how:
    • Food items – Mobile employees can choose to donate unused food and canned goods to food banks or ask their relocation management company (RMC)/relocation services provider whether they offer a food donation program. For example, at Graebel, we support Move For Hunger, which mobilizes transportation networks to deliver surplus food to communities in need. Through the program, movers/removalists employed by our supplier partners collect food on scheduled packing days and donate it to a local food pantry. In 2022 the Move for Hunger program donated 2,500 metric tons of food, which provided 4.5 million meals to families in need.
    • Furniture and clothing – Mobile employees can use local resources like Nextdoor, The Salvation Army or Goodwill to sell or donate unwanted furniture and clothing.
    • Electronics – Relocating employees can find qualified local electronics and computer equipment recyclers that accept old electronics, helping to conserve national resources and avoid the air and water pollution that’s typically created during the mining and manufacturing of new ones. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency for a list of reputable organizations to share with mobile employees in the United States. In the U.K., try this handy recycling locator. Wherever your employees may be in the world, online research can provide a variety of resources for recycling their unwanted electronic devices.
  3. Leverage virtual access – Businesses can encourage mobile employees to embrace sustainable offers from service providers. For example, a 50-mile round trip visit, by car, to conduct a pre-move household goods survey would generate 20 kilograms of Co2 emissions.2 Taking advantage of a virtual survey would eliminate those emissions, while still providing an accurate assessment of the household goods in the mobile employee’s home.
  4. Skip the debris pick-up – Rather than arranging a separate moving company/removalist pick-up of an employee’s unused boxes before a move – or asking their local municipality to collect unpacked, empty boxes after a move – encourage mobile employees to save the boxes for a future move, home storage, or for shipping gifts and packages to family and friends in the future. This would eliminate the truck emissions that would be transmitted during a special pick-up of the materials. Another option would be to post the availability of boxes on a neighborhood app like Nextdoor, to see if a neighbor in their new community could use them. This would encourage sustainability through the reuse of materials.

Keeping a sustainable focus on home finding

Whether mobile employees have permanent housing readily available upon arrival or they need to stay in temporary housing for a while, businesses can continue to incorporate sustainability into their mobile employees’ relocation experiences. There are two ways to help reduce carbon emissions related to destination housing:

  1. Use virtual visits. Businesses can encourage mobile employees to use virtual visits for initial property viewings, whenever possible, to reduce transportation-related emissions during the home search process. Narrowing down options through virtual visits before arranging in-person viewings of short-listed properties can have a significant impact on reducing transportation carbon emissions. Agents have become experts at delivering services virtually, which saves on both round-trip flight and vehicle emissions; it also significantly reduces a mobile employee’s time commitment, keeping them free to be more productive at work and to prepare for their move. If virtual visits aren’t possible, organizations can help mobile employees build an efficient property-visit itinerary, to minimize travel time and vehicle emissions.
  2. Select sustainable properties. When selecting properties for employee consideration, business stakeholders should recommend:
    • Locations with good walkability and access to public transportation, to minimize or eliminate the need for a car entirely when it comes to getting to and from work, school, hobbies or exploring their new destination
    • Buildings that embrace sustainability through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, natural and sustainable furnishings, or ‘smart water use’ programs

Settling in at the new destination

Businesses have an opportunity to proactively set their mobile employees up for success, along with their accompanying families, so they can more easily settle in and integrate into their new communities. Below, we share three ways businesses can encourage mobile employees to support local environmental goals in their new location:

  1. Adapt to local environmental practices. Businesses have an opportunity to include the new destination’s recycling and waste policies and norms during the mobile employee’s area orientation, and to encourage them to take part in these practices throughout their stay in the new location. These norms vary from location to location. For example, in Berlin there are more than five different recycling bins, each one for a different material. Helping mobile employees understand the local customs will set them up for success from the beginning, so they can do their part to build sustainable practices.
  2. Use public transportation, whenever possible. Encourage mobile employees to use public transportation as much as possible, particularly in cities that have well-developed public transportation systems. Many cities have public transit passes, which can make it an economical, user-friendly and environmentally supportive way to get around.
  3. Control energy use. Whether staying in permanent or temporary housing, businesses can encourage mobile employees to conserve the use of energy when lighting and regulating the temperature in their environment. Relying on natural light and adjusting temperature settings, even by a few degrees, can have a big impact on reducing the amount of energy needed to keep homes comfortable and lit. Once mobile employees are settled into their permanent housing, coaching them to explore utility company programs and incentives is another way to encourage sustainable solutions. Many provide free energy audits with cost saving recommendations and rebates to upgrade to cost saving devices, like smart thermostats and LED light bulbs.

Keeping an eye on the new horizon

Every day, people around the world are seeing new opportunities to incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives. At Graebel, we’re committed to incorporating sustainability into talent mobility. Whether working with our vendors, our clients, or our client’s mobile employees, we're dedicated to leveraging opportunities and learnings to provide exceptional experiences and sustainable solutions.

Contributions from Maura Carey, Dwellworks; John d’Ambrosio, @properties; Barry Matheny, John L. Scott Real Estate; and Jeff Heisler, Home Sweet Home (Discard and Donate).

1,2 Graebel 2021 GHG Inventory produced by Ruby Canyon Environmental

About the Author

Ben Ivory, CRP®, SGMS-T®, Senior Vice President, Global Initiatives. Ben joined Graebel in 1982 and is known throughout the relocation industry as a person who lives our culture and character. Ben has served our global organization and branch network in various leadership capacities with a great deal of integrity. Through the years, Ben has held various management roles within Graebel in the U.S. with responsibilities for Graebel International’s ISO Quality System and the development of the Graebel Relocation Alliance, and abroad serving as the managing director for several years providing senior leadership for our moving and relocation services throughout the EMEA region. Ben holds both the Certified Relocation Professional (CRP®) and Senior Global Mobility Specialist (SGMS-T®) designations from the Worldwide ERC® and served as chair of the FIDI-FAIM Steering Committee, FIDI USA, a past board member of the Corporate Relocation Council of Chicago and current member of the boards of Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart and of Rotary International - Wilmette Harbor Club.

Profile Photo of Ben Ivory