Sustainability in Mobility

From Sustainable to Regenerative

Global warming, loss of biodiversity, social inequality, war; few of us will deny the world today is a pretty VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) place to be. As well as trying to keep up with the cost of rising energy prices and automatically indexed wages, we find clients are imposing increasingly stringent demands on us. Organisations around the world are looking to become more sustainable, which means they are taking a closer look up and down their value chain. And although we should all aspire to become reduce our environmental footprint, there are an almost endless number of parameters to consider. So, which can we realistically focus on as a starting point on the road to creating sustainability in global mobility?

biodiversity collapse, sustainability in mobility

'Yes, mobility incurs emissions, and yes, we must try and lower them in every way we can. But there are many ways in which we can do our bit for the planet without sentencing ourselves to a world in which all business is conducted by video link.'


The Paradox of Sustainable Mobility

The concept of sustainable mobility might appear paradoxical at first. After all, moving expats around the world involves flights, home searches, shipping of goods and all sorts of other activities great and small that create harmful emissions. Processing residency applications uses electricity, computers need replacing as they age, and what about those hyperscale data centres that keep us in the cloud?

Identifying the environmental impact of an entire value chain is a bit like identifying the length and thread count of a piece of string. Where does it begin and where does it end? How many fibres are entwined? Thankfully, there are organisations out there who will help you calculate everything from the product environmental footprint of the soft drinks your company fridge stocks to the impact of all those emails you are sending and receiving, should you be inclined to find out such things.

And indeed, with so much technology at our fingertips we can work effectively from pretty much anywhere in the world, so reducing global moves seems a quick environmental win. Why relocate at all?

I’d be preaching to the choir if I tried to explain the importance of global mobility to our loyal readership and how it contributes to creating successful, and indeed sustainable, teams. Yes, mobility incurs emissions, and yes, we must try and lower them in every way we can. But there are many ways in which we can do our bit for the planet without sentencing ourselves to a world in which all business is conducted by video link.

Net-Zero Emissions

It will not have passed you by that, especially in the wake of COP26, there is a lot of talk about achieving net-zero. Briefly put, a company achieves net-zero emissions when its activities and those of its value chain have zero impact on climate and help limit global warming to 1,5 degrees. It essentially means we are doing no further harm.

According to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), this can be achieved by assessing a company’s impact across three categories, or scopes. Scope 1 covers direct emissions: fuels used for production, vehicles, etc. Scope 2 takes indirect emissions into account, such as energy used for heating (or cooling) buildings and powering those laptops. Scope 3 involves emissions up and down the value chain, which includes all services and products bought or sold.

Achieving scopes 1 and 2 is (theoretically speaking) relatively easy if you’re in service delivery. It means banning use of all fossil fuels by introducing a fully electrified fleet and using renewable energy to heat, cool, and power your facility (and fleet). Achieving scope 3 is more complex, as we must start taking all activities into account.

Because what is the environmental footprint of updating beds, sofas, and curtains if you’re a serviced housing provider? What happens to your moving trucks when you replace them? What type of investments does your company pension plan make on your behalf? Is the paper in your printer fsc certified? What type of energy powers your local town hall? Your mobile provider? And how ‘green’ are the pigments in the crayons your students use?

How long precisely is your piece of string and what is your baseline measure?

Moonshot Missions

Suffice to say, there’s an awful lot to consider when it comes to achieving net-zero emissions. There are countless industry spearheads who are making great strides towards achieving net-zero and their commitment and efforts should be applauded and encouraged. But at the same time, we ought to take a broader view of sustainability. Not only does it make sustainability feel less like a moonshot mission, it’s also infinitely more beneficial to our planet. Because net-zero only looks at carbon emissions and there is so much more that threatens our way of life.

In just 50 short years, Earth Overshoot Day (the day each year upon which we have used up more resources than our planet has to offer) has shifted from December (1971) to July (2022). If we want to sustain today’s lifestyle, we need not one, but 1.75 planets Earth. In other words, we are depleting our planet’s resources faster than it can regenerate them. And that’s just our natural resources.

Biodiversity loss is accelerating at an alarming rate and is widely recognised as an even bigger threat than climate change. And despite the impetus created by movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, the daily reality is that socio-economic inequality remains on the rise. So, much as net-zero emissions must be achieved (and not just by way of carbon compensation programmes), it only covers a small part of the global solution.

Understanding Sustainability

It is perhaps important to revisit the definition of sustainability at this point. The dictionary tells us that something is sustainable when it can be maintained at a certain rate or level. It can fulfil the needs of current generations without compromising those of future generations. And this doesn’t just mean environmental sustainability, it means sustainable economic growth and a healthy, cohesive society too. But if we’re depleting our planet to the point that we need an Earth-and-three-quarters to fulfil today’s needs, then shouldn’t we be looking to give back more than we take? And this means giving back on all fronts, not just natural resources.

Back in 2021, Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites Consulting explained sustainability to us in words we could understand: “Sustainability becomes clearer when you divide it into three components: better for me (organic, natural, additive free, etc.), better for the planet (emissions, biodiversity, recycling, etc.) and better for society (fair wages, child labour, gender equality, etc.).”

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

This is where the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals come into play. The UN has identified no less than 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’. These Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, offer a roadmap to all the ways in which we can help contribute to a better world for all.

Belgium comes in ahead of the global curve on the SDGs. We have access to clean water and good sanitation; we enjoy quality healthcare and an educational system that sets us up for job opportunities and solid economic growth. Our cities and communities are becoming increasingly sustainable, with green parks replacing swathes of urban concrete.

There are all manner of platforms that help us reduce food waste, share bikes, cars and scooters, and we enjoy widespread access to public transport. We have access to clean energy (although the energy crisis means its affordability is debatable) and live in a peaceful nation with a fair justice system. Gay marriage is a legal right and women enjoy leading positions in both the private and public sectors (though equal pay remains an issue).


The Positive Compass

We might have a lot going for us, but we face some major issues too. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, one in 10 children in Belgium lives in extreme poverty, and despite the so-called ‘betonstop’ ten football pitches of open space disappear annually. As a society, we need to challenge ourselves to not just do no further harm, but to restore, regenerate, and make the world a better place altogether. Businesses have an important role to play here.

Our September Member Meeting keynote speaker Niels de Fraguier introduced a dynamic and holistic approach to making change happen. The Positive Compass is a great way of making sense of what being an ethical organisation means. It details how you can be part of the global solution by becoming a regenerative business. Built on five key pillars – Purpose, Planet, People, Partners, Places – it helps identify key areas in which you and your organisation can start making a difference.

Take advantage of The Positive Compass’s free toolkits; they are invaluable if you want to become a purpose driven organisation that leverages business as a force for good.

Empowering Transformational Change

When we hold the Positive Compass pillars up against the SDGs, becoming a sustainable, regenerative business starts looking less like having to scale Mount Everest and more like trekking up Ben Nevis. Introduce volunteer days where team members give back to the community or clean up flyaway litter. Plant a Tiny Forest next to your office and give local biodiversity a boost. Add a beehive or two and replace the sugar in your canteen with your own honey (it’s healthier and doesn’t get more local than this). Introduce a great mental health plan for team members. Be an equal opportunities employer. Involve your team and brainstorm all the ways in which you too can become a more sustainable organisation.

The opportunities are endless, and it is up to you to take action. So that the next time you receive an RFP that requires clarification on your sustainability efforts, you’ll be able to say you are taking positive action to not only reduce your organisation’s environmental footprint but to improve the world around you. Of course, the impact of each individual business is different, and a shipping company will need to do more than introduce a butterfly garden in the office parking lot to offset the impact of shipping a container halfway around the world. We must each uncover our own baselines and build from there.

using business as a force for good

Sustainability Symposium EuRA Dublin 2023

Creating sustainability in mobility is a massive task and not one any one company can tackle alone. It’s why mobility industry associations EuRA, WERC, CERC, FIDI Global Alliance, IAM and CHPA have joined forces to create a Sustainability in Mobility Coalition. They have spent the past year working alongside each other to develop a pioneering approach to helping their members across disciplines achieve their sustainability goals.

ABRA, the Association of Belgian Relocation Agents, is proud to support their work as an Affiliate Coalition Member. If you are attending the upcoming EuRA Relocation Conference in Dublin this April, then be sure to join the Symposium on Tuesday the 25th to learn what has been done already and how we can implement best practices.

We hope to see you there!





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