Sustainability + mobility: Trends and practical considerations

November 10, 2022

With several trends converging now is the time for companies to renew their sustainability goals.

In this article, we’ll explore how mobility and sustainability intersect, highlight current trends, and provide examples and practical considerations to inspire mobility professionals to expand their programs to include sustainable practices.  

About the contributors

U.S. Bank partnered with Graebel Companies, Inc., a leading provider of global talent and workplace mobility solutions, to share insights in this article. Graebel is committed to environmental leadership and is active in educating the relocation community on best practices to raise the industry’s awareness and sustainability performance. Their initiatives demonstrate how a relocation management company (RMC), in partnership with its clients and suppliers, can embrace a commitment to sustainable business practices.

We also included insights from Vini Valverde, Director, Global Mobility with UPS. With a global footprint and customers in more than 220 countries and territories, UPS sees how climate change, air quality and other socioeconomic challenges intersect, and is proud to continue leading sustainable innovations that overcome these obstacles or as Valverde shares, “Our purpose doesn’t stop with people or packages. We are moving our world forward by delivering what matters!”

Level-setting: Sustainability concepts for mobility

According to one broad definition, “sustainability is the ability of a system to be maintained at a certain rate or level. It involves creating a system of permanence; a structure where people, planet and profit can live in harmony without compromising one or the other.”1 In a practical sense, the term has evolved to encompass not only concerns about the impact of business activities on the natural environment but also the promotion of positive social and ethical outcomes. 

Embracing a commitment to sustainability can take many forms. For mobility professionals, it should begin with an acknowledgment that mobilizing talent significantly impacts relocating employees and their families, business constituents within and outside of our organizations, and the environment through the resources consumed and the carbon emissions created to physically move people and their belongings. Through our work, we have considerable influence on the efforts of our companies to grow profitably while doing right by the communities they operate in. 

While the pressure to demonstrate results can feel a bit overwhelming it also provides an opportunity to support the broader sustainability goals of our organizations and the people they serve.

Sustainability trends for the mobility industry

Several trends are converging right now which highlight the importance of finding sustainable solutions within the mobility industry. These trends include increased regulatory pressure at the global and local level on companies to adopt mitigating strategies; younger generations, particularly Gen Z and Millennials who are more active in calling for environmental policy change, are entering the workforce and rising into leadership positions; and pandemic-driven inflation, supply chain volatility, and an examination of the future of work, are influencing the mobility industry to revisit their environmental sustainability plans.

  • Environment: More and more organizations are incorporating environmental standards into their sustainability practices. This is true across the globe. The Worldwide ERC reported on how the 2015 Paris Agreement resulted in signatory countries agreeing to implement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to alleviate climate change2. Industries have also rallied to the cause by driving accountability through certification and recognition programs. And companies are incorporating sustainability goals into their long-term strategic plans. U.S. Bank actively tracks key sustainability metrics to meet targeted goals including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and sourcing 100% renewable electricity within our operations by 2025. UPS has also taken steps to create a greener, healthier and more resilient planet with its mission of being 100% carbon neutral by 2050. Similarly, Graebel has engaged with a consulting expert to determine the scope of emissions throughout its value chain and set a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. 
     

  • Social and governance: More and more corporate mobility teams and supplier partners are aligning their sustainability objectives within environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives, just as more companies are focusing on commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and the social impacts of their businesses and corporate governance. Valverde has been working closely with UPS and their supply partner RMC to learn about what they are doing in the ESG space and to place programs aimed at providing great relocation options for UPS employees while driving the company’s commitment to building a better world. U.S. Bank and Graebel have also incorporated sustainability goals into their boarder ESG strategies. 
     

  • Mobility as brand ambassadors and idea pollinators: Mobility teams, specifically talent recruiting staff, have a unique opportunity to tune into the sustainability messaging of their companies and reinforce those messages throughout the mobility lifecycle. It is important to recognize an employee’s mobility experience provides an early and critical opportunity to demonstrate the company’s commitment to sustainable practices. In this way, the mobility team can be a strategic brand ambassador.  
     
    Building on the phrase "think globally and act locally" mobility professionals might also "act locally and share globally." Mobility programs with global reach are uniquely positioned to foster a strong exchange of ideas. Local successes can be scaled up for international colleagues and supplier partners, while local teams are likely to gain insights from global peers and partners on how to perfect their own approach. Another great way to stay engaged is by following and participating in the Worldwide Employee Relocation Council’s sustainability initiatives. The WERC recently created a Sustainability Advisory Council which is committed to supporting the industry’s sustainability efforts through the delivery of research, content, resources and learning opportunities. 
     

  • Talent: Talent demographics are shifting and younger generations in the workforce are increasingly willing to call for a focus on positive corporate citizenship. According to a national survey conducted by BBMG, a branding and social impact consultancy, and GlobeScan, a global insights and advisory consultancy, Gen Z participants were three times more likely to say that the purpose of business is to “serve communities and society” rather than to simply “make good products and services”3. This generational push combined with emerging legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic, namely heightened expectations of employer duty of care and accommodation of remote work arrangements, makes it clear that employee expectations of personal and societal well-being are here to stay. 
     

  • Supply chain: A recent WERC sustainability survey of senior HR leaders reveals that corporations are leveraging their supplier networks to deliver on sustainability goals, with 56% encouraging or requiring suppliers and business partners to meet specific sustainability criteria. For the largest companies, those with more than 50,000 employees, 61% reported using the buyer-supplier relationship as the most common tactic.2 UPS is one example of a company using sustainability criteria when issuing RFIs/RFPs. Valverde states, “We should not wait 3-5 years to reach out to other partners in the industry. It is incredibly important to be a consistent exercise so we can have a better understanding of their commitment and practices related to environmental sustainability, community involvement and programs that can benefit their clients.” Graebel is similarly focused on partnering with key suppliers to establish metrics and reduce carbon emissions. They established a Sustainability Partner program in 2021 which recognizes supplier partners who are committed to sustainability, particularly those working to reduce carbon emissions and who are committed to progressive social policies and community involvement.

Current state of sustainability + mobility initiatives

The culmination of trends driving a renewed focus on sustainable business practices is a mobility industry that is broadly engaged. Nearly all senior HR leaders (90.5%) participating in the WERC sustainability survey reported having a sustainability strategy approved by top leadership and most respondents (88.9%) confirmed that management had committed sufficient resources and funding to support the organization’s sustainability efforts2. Increasingly, consumers – both individual and institutional – are expecting businesses to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability goals with verifiable results.

Investments in innovation can offer early mover advantages and be a key competitive differentiator among mobility industry suppliers. Such investments are also critical in supporting a company's overall sustainability commitment. Valverde agrees, “At the end of the day, the UPS mobility function needs to incorporate services in a manner that helps us meet or exceed our corporate sustainability goals, such as the use of eco-friendly materials, and adoption of practices to minimize generation of waste materials such as discard and donate programs to reduce shipping amounts resulting in lower carbon emissions and waste.”

Practical considerations for mobility professionals

The following are actions you may consider taking to move your sustainability efforts to the next level. 

  • Travel: Invest in tools and resources that enhance the mobile employee experience while reducing the need for face-to-face contact with service provider.
    • Whenever tasks can be completed virtually, the organization’s mobility-driven carbon footprint is reduced, and the employee and family avoid the disruptions and stress that inevitably accompany physical travel.
  • Service providers: Insert sustainability goals into your agreements with service providers
    • Let your suppliers know your company’s objectives and inquire about how they may sync with initiatives they may be involved with. 
    • Conveying your company’s sustainability goals with suppliers may help them prioritize their investments and lead to meaningful impact. 
       
  • Carbon footprint: Consider modifications to reduce your mobility program’s carbon footprint 
    • Where possible try to reduce your company’s reliance on fossil fuels.
    • Where it is not possible to reduce your company’s reliance on fossil fuels, consider investments in renewable energy infrastructure and carbon reduction strategies as a means of offsetting your program’s footprint.

Find your sustainable way forward

If you are newly embarking on a journey toward sustainability in your business, consider taking practical first steps that will help you build confidence to push forward. Also, consider leveraging the learnings of peers who may be ahead of you on the path. And, if you are seeking to refine existing strategies by incorporating current trends or infusing fresh energy and momentum into your initiatives, consider sharing your experience with your peers. Collaboration is the bedrock of the mobility industry and leveraging that spirit to advance the collective cause of achieving sustainable practices can be a rewarding and yes, sustainable endeavor. 

U.S. Bank is committed to this journey, and we hope that the trends and practical considerations presented in this article along with the strategies the UPS and Graebel teams have generously shared inspire positive steps forward.

 

Read more about how homebuying and mobility trends impact employees and connect with corporate relocation experts and home lending specialists.

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1. Sustainability 101: 35 terms and definitions you need to know (sustainablereview.com)

2. Worldwide ERC; “Environmental Sustainability: A Guide for Global Mobility Professionals”; 2022

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