Senior Director Client Solutions, EMEA AIRINC
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Global mobility: Reducing the carbon-heaviest function in HR

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Expatriate employees have a heavy carbon footprint. What can organisations do to make a more sustainable mobility programme?

11th Nov 2021
Senior Director Client Solutions, EMEA AIRINC
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Global Mobility is probably one of the most carbon-heavy functions within HR. Deploying talent sustainably on a global basis presents companies with challenges that can seem overwhelming. However, it also offers the potential to make a meaningful contribution towards carbon reduction goals

Sustainability as a focus area

The sustainability quandary is top-of-mind among global mobility professionals. 83% said that they will be implementing sustainability initiatives into their mobility programme within the next three years. 

The Global Mobility function has a number of levers that it can pull to generate more sustainable talent mobility. These levers are both strategic and tactical. Strategic actions broaden the range of options available to the business to deploy talent creatively and sustainably.

They aim to meld together competing for priorities such as enhancing the assignee experience, improving mobility’s track record on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) and offering greater flexibility, to develop solutions that fundamentally change the face of talent mobilisation. 

The strategic role of Global Mobility

Although it is not realistic to ask Global Mobility to ground all assignees and cancel international assignments, Global Mobility can guide the business in reassessing the true need and value of an assignment. By asking critical questions such as ‘can the role be performed remotely’, or ‘can it be filled locally’, Global Mobility can help the business make better decisions. 

Additionally, Global Mobility also has a role to play through the development of mobility options that support the business’ talent needs and employees’ personal agendas. For example, offering virtual assignments that simultaneously tackle, sustainability, flexibility and DE&I objectives.

Companies can now offer employees, who for many reasons may have felt a traditional assignment was not feasible, the chance to work on an international project in an international team.

As a talent enabling function, there are significant challenges for Global Mobility to develop the infrastructure that supports remote work and virtual assignments. A myriad of compliance, operational and cultural hurdles need to be overcome.

However, those companies that are embracing this type of talent mobilisation find they can expand the opportunities for employees to gain valuable international experience. 

Measurement

There are many positive steps Global Mobility can take to contribute towards their organisation’s sustainability goals. Global Mobility can influence, implement, and encourage sustainable practices across different facets of the mobility programme.

Measurable, relevant insights are critical if the right decisions are to be made however they are currently a big challenge. Despite the limited opportunities to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions associated with mobility, it is anticipated that emerging tools and measurement techniques will soon be available widely, helping to fill this information deficit. 

Indeed, measurement capabilities will be critical to meet future reporting obligations, successfully drive improvements and track progress effectively. While these measurement capabilities are evolving, forward-thinking Global Mobility teams are not resting on their laurels. 

Tactical sustainability initiatives

Throughout the lifecycle of a physical assignment, there are opportunities to change existing practices and reduce the carbon impact of expatriation. If an employee is on a commuter assignment, could the balance be tipped in favour of working from home, with a reduced frequency of travel between the commuter locations? 

If an assignee is travelling a shorter distance, could Global Mobility incentivise them to use the travel method with the lowest environmental impact – for example, carpooling or taking a train instead of a plane? 

These types of questions need to become a reflex so that every international deployment is evaluated to optimise its sustainability. Other aspects of an assignment that are ripe for a sustainability review include: 

Relocation

At relocation, rather than shipping household goods companies are providing the option of an allowance to purchase or rent furniture in the host location. Relocation providers are being asked to help the assignee to connect to the local second-hand markets and freecycle communities. 

Similarly, assignees are incentivised to choose low-impact relocation options. For example, by paying an allowance that is equivalent to the cost of airfreight to eliminate this high-carbon benefit. 

Accommodation

Where possible, some organisations are starting to require assignees to live in energy-efficient properties or they may require landlords to make adjustments prior to signing a lease. 

Utility allowances may be based on the cost of green energy providers and utility support may be limited to energy usage levels that are aligned to energy-efficient properties.

The assignee is then responsible for any incremental costs associated with making energy-inefficient choices.

Travelling less frequently but staying for longer can help reduce the carbon footprint of expatriate travel. 

Travel

Depending on the distances between the home and host countries and the frequency of travel between the two, assignees’ relocation and home leave flights alone will eclipse any other efforts they might be making to live an otherwise greener lifestyle.

Travelling less frequently but staying for longer can help reduce the carbon footprint of expatriate travel.

As such, some companies are reducing the number of home leave trips granted during an assignment and allowing assignees to take a longer time at home, perhaps coupling the arrangement with one or two weeks of remote working from the home location during the home leave trip.

Organisations are starting to request information or certification from vendors to show their commitment to environmentally sustainable business practices.

Leveraging the power of the supply chain

A powerful tool in Global Mobility’s armoury is the influence it can exert on its global supply chain network. Many companies see leveraging the supply chain as a core element in their mission to improve sustainability.

Using its wide global reach, Global Mobility can require vendors to implement environmentally friendly practices that are felt globally. 

Organisations are starting to request information or certification from vendors to show their commitment to environmentally sustainable business practices.

This nascent trend is likely to develop rapidly and, given it is also widely recognised that this is a journey, best practice tender requests are including a ratchet clause to ensure the service provider demonstrates ongoing improvements throughout the lifetime of the contract. 

Making its contribution

Although the AIRINC Sustainability Plus Survey suggests Global Mobility rarely shapes the corporate sustainability agenda, as corporate goals cascade through organisations, there is plenty Global Mobility can do to play its part.

Interested in this topic? Read HR's role in tackling the climate crisis.

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