October 20, 2023

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your international move

As a work assignee or digital nomad, you want to see and appreciate the world, not endanger it. So how can you fit your wanderlust into a sustainable lifestyle? 

As a global provider of relocation services, we want to help our clients move overseas in the most sustainable way possible.

To help our clients make informed decisions about their international removals, our team reviewed the carbon footprint of common relocation services.

Here is what they found:   

Top tips to reduce the carbon footprint of an overseas move

1. Pick the most environmentally-friendly shipping option
2. Decide if it is better to buy new furniture or ship your old things
3. Right-size your move
4. Reduce number of flights
5. Make sustainable choices in your new location

container ship

1. Choose sea shipping over air shipping when possible

Did you know that sea shipping has a much lower environmental impact than air transport?

  • Sea shipping: 10 to 40 grams of CO2 per kilometre 
  • Air transport: 500 grams of CO2 per metric ton of cargo per kilometre

To reduce your carbon footprint, choose sea shipping for the majority of your home goods shipment and reserve air shipping only for items that need to be received urgently. 

An added bonus: Sea shipping is easier on your wallet or relocation allowance too. 


2. Buying new isn’t necessarily more sustainable than shipping from home

Before you decide to leave your household goods at home and replace them with new items when you are abroad, read on. New furniture must be manufactured and shipped — potentially creating a higher environmental impact than moving your old items.

A report on the carbon footprint of new furniture suggests that an average piece of furniture generates approximately 47 kilograms of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) or more during the manufacturing process.

Manufacturing a new sofa 90kg of CO2e
Manufacturing a new office chair 72kg of CO2e
Manufacturing a new wooden cabinet 48kg of CO2e


New furniture also has to be shipped. Depending on the country of manufacturing and your destination, new furniture may travel further with higher carbon emissions than shipping your existing furniture

Broadly speaking, buying 12 items of new furniture would exceed the CO2e impact of shipping a 20' container one way from London to New York.

“So then I’ll just rent furniture!”

Renting furniture sounds ideal, but it also comes with a carbon footprint.

Most people want to rent new or like-new furniture. As a result, most rental furniture has a life cycle of only three to four years (two to three contracts) – a much shorter life cycle than furniture purchased for personal use.

3. Rightsize your home move – Don’t ship things you don't need

Given the potential environmental costs of buying or renting new furniture, you may be feeling better about shipping your household goods overseas.

But you should still only move the items you will need going forward.

Rightsizing the volume of your home move can help:

  • Reduce the environmental impact of the sea or road shipment
  • Lessen the amount of packing materials required to prepare your goods for moving


4. Reduce flights if possible

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint while living overseas is to reduce the number of flights you take.

Using shipping calculators, we can see that international flights often generate much higher emissions than household goods shipping:

  • Shipping a 20ft container from London to New York emits roughly 544 kg of CO2e
  • Flying roundtrip from London to New York generates around 2,863 kg CO2e
  • Flying one way from London to Paris generates around 122kg of CO2e
  • Taking a train from London to Paris has a carbon impact of around 9kg CO2e
Consider reducing your flights or replacing flights with train travel during your time abroad. 

5. Learn about sustainability initiatives in your new city

Many cities offer ways to be environmentally responsible. Look for:

Recycling programmes/centres
Water conservation 
Renewable energy options
Cycle hire
Public transport or ride sharing
Used furniture/thrift stores



Sterling Lexicon Ecovadis Silver

Sterling Lexicon is proud to be rated Ecovadis Silver for our sustainable procurement systems. We are part of industry-wide sustainability efforts to help protect the environment, including leading a pilot programme to reuse packing cartons while measuring and certifying the environmental impact.

Let’s work together to move you safely and happily around the world – with only the things you need to make your move a success.

Learn more about our Moving Services


Based on the article “Does ending HHG shipping really make global mobility programmes more sustainable?” by Stuart Jackson, Sterling Lexicon Account Director


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