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Relocating Sustainably: Insights on the Carbon Footprint of Household Goods Shipments

5 Jun 2024 23:52 | Sharon Michnay (Administrator)

A post from our ESG Committee

As the relocation industry embraces sustainability, one of the most carbon-intensive processes in relocation apart from flights is the shipment of household goods. Holly Naylor from the ATMA ESG Committee recently spoke with Michael Johnsen, Vice-President of Asia Region at Arpin International Group, to gain insights on current trends, the carbon footprint of shipments and how the industry is evolving to address it.

The Carbon Cost of Shipping

Maritime transport is the most carbon-effective method for moving goods, releasing a small proportion of CO2 emissions per tonne-kilometre compared to other modes of transport such as trucks, trains, or planes. Global total shipments of all types are responsible for 2.1% of the world's CO2 emissions, according to the World Shipping Council.

Household goods shipments are the second most carbon-intensive component of relocations after flights with air shipments being more carbon-intensive than sea shipments. A report suggests that an average international move can produce up to 2 metric tons of CO2. Reducing shipment volume by just 15% could eliminate 150-300kg of carbon per move.

Steamships in particular are "extremely inefficient still," Johnsen says, given their reliance on fossil fuels. However, he expects airlines to make quicker sustainable progress given the pressure from consumers and higher associated costs. Johnsen notes it is also challenging to measure precise emissions as a half-full container still makes the same journey as a full one. However, reduced volume means less weight and packing materials, which likely lowers the overall footprint to some degree.

Less Container Load (LCL) – A More Sustainable Option?

LCL is a cost-effective and more sustainable shipping method that allows multiple shipments from different individuals or companies to be consolidated into a single container. This approach ensures that the container space is fully utilized, even if a single Assignee’s household goods shipments do not fill an entire container.

The process of LCL involves the following steps:

  • Collection of goods from various assignees
  • Consolidation of shipments at a warehouse or container freight station (CFS)
  • Loading the consolidated shipments into a single container
  • Transportation of the container to the destination port
  • Deconsolidation of the shipments at the destination CFS
  • Final delivery of individual shipments to their respective owners

By consolidating shipments, LCL offers several benefits:

  • Cost savings: Assignees only pay for the space their shipments occupy within the container, rather than bearing the cost of an entire container.
  • Reduced carbon footprint: Consolidating shipments helps minimize the number of partially filled containers transported, thereby reducing the overall carbon footprint of the shipping process.
  • Flexibility: LCL allows assignees with smaller shipments to transport their goods without having to wait for a full container load.

One potential drawback is that LCL shipments may take longer to reach their destination compared to full container load (FCL) shipments. This is because the consolidation and deconsolidation processes require additional time and handling and are a key consideration when considering an Assignee’s timeline in conjunction with the move into a new apartment upon arrival in their new country.

Driving Sustainability Through the Supply Chain

Multinational corporations are increasingly demanding that their suppliers, including relocation and shipping providers, invest in sustainability programs and carbon accounting. RMCs in turn require movers to step up their environmental initiatives to remain part of the supply chain. Arpin for example has invested in World Favor, a carbon emissions accounting program. As a company, Arpin also has a long history of environmental stewardship thanks to its President Peter Arpin’s personal passion for sustainability, which translates with the corporate focus on such programs today.

Reduce, Reuse, Relocate?

One proposed solution is reducing the volume relocated. Another is relying more on rental furniture. However, buying new furniture upon arrival in a new location may not be truly sustainable, as cheap furniture wears out and ends up in landfills after a few moves.

Shipping high-quality personal furniture may potentially generate less waste in the long run. One report on the carbon footprint of new furniture suggests that a regular item of furniture generates approximately 47 kilograms of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) or more during the manufacturing process.

Driving factors like cost are organically reducing shipment volumes already. Younger assignees tend to move less, have fewer belongings and lump sums are gaining popularity. However, families will never fully give up shipping household goods as their needs grow as they grow. Tighter corporate relocation policies will likely remain the main lever to shrink shipments.

The Quest for Greener Packing Materials

Using greener packing materials is another key initiative. Across the industry, moving companies are shifting from plastics to more recyclable paper-based materials. However, these are costly and less effective at preventing damage - a key concern for assignees and corporates. Striking the right balance remains a challenge notes Johnsen.

Harnessing Clean Energy and Human Power

Some progress is being made in the US with renewable energy, such as using solar to power truck cabs and reduce idle fuel consumption. There are also several shipping industry initiatives for greener shipping fuels on the horizon. However, many core aspects of moving still require significant human labour that can't easily be replaced by technology or clean energy. Packing and loading will likely always need human hands.

The Path Forward

The relocation industry has a long sustainability journey ahead, but progress is being made. Accreditation bodies like FIDI require environmental progress from movers. Resources from industry groups like FIDI and regional organizations like ATMA are raising awareness. FIDI has also recently created a carbon footprint calculator for the industry in collaboration withWorld Favor and sustainability is one of the key themes for the 2024 FIDI conference.

"As an industry globally, we are working towards making progress in emissions and environmental sustainability," Johnsen affirms. By shining a light on the often overlooked social and governance aspects, FIDI is helping drive the industry towards a more comprehensively sustainable future.

FIDI and other industry groups are also broadening the focus to encompass the social and governance aspects of ESG, not just environmental sustainability. "I always talk about the S and the G as well. I think that's really neglected often," Johnsen points out. By holding its members to high standards on social and governance matters, FIDI is ensuring the industry moves forward in a thoughtful, responsible and ethical manner.

While household goods shipping may never be emissions-free, a multi-pronged approach of reducing volume, using greener materials, tapping clean energy and working closely with all stakeholders can shrink its carbon footprint. This balanced approach acknowledges that true sustainability requires addressing all three pillars of ESG.

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