As a bachelor, Brian Wallace never stayed in any one city for too long. In 13 years working in the auto industry, he moved 22 times, including four stints in Detroit, four in Washington, D.C., two in Germany and one in China.

“I’ve been a very transient person,” said Wallace, who relocated again this spring in order to live with his fiancée. (The couple moved again at the end of August to a suburb of Washington.)

Many times, Wallace schlepped his stuff in suitcases, joking that that the contents of his life could fit in his car. “The one time that I did experience the full paper-cardboard box-tape routine was when my employer moved me from Washington to Detroit after grad school,” he said. “When I got to Detroit and unpacked, it was mind boggling how much debris went into that. We had boxes and boxes and all of them packed full with wadded up, perfectly good but now useless paper.”

For his most recent move, he called a college buddy who owns a “green” moving company called big green moving. Instead of cardboard boxes, the crew dropped off reusable, and recycled, plastic bins. “The comparison was pretty stark in terms of the reduced environmental impact and the tremendous ease,” Wallace said.

For years, commercial movers and corporations have used plastic totes as a way to move from one location to another, while pharmacies and supermarkets use reusable crates to transport merchandise and goods.

Slower to catch on, some residential movers have started to offer plastic bins – along with other green strategies – as demand for greener, cheaper, less wasteful moving finds a growing clientele.

In New York City, a “green” moving company, Movers Not Shakers, began offering plastic bins to clients when the company’s president found himself stuck in traffic behind a truck delivering goods – in plastic crates – to a local pharmacy. “I just realized, that’s a very efficient way of getting goods from point A to point B,” said Mark Ehrhardt, whose trucks also run on biodiesel fuel. “People dig the concept.”

Envisioning a nationwide network of green movers, last winter Ehrhardt launched Green Movers USA. Through its Web site, Green Movers USA offers a portal for customers to locate local green companies and get price estimates through a bid system.

“People just really are clamoring for a way to just have a lighter impact,” he said.

Indeed, in addition to plastic bins, green-minded movers are implementing other strategies to minimize their environmental mark.

When he opened big green moving in 2001, owner Brendan Malley planted the company headquarters in the heart of Washington, D.C., to minimize his trucks’ time on the road. Though the office is steps from the Shaw-Howard metro stop, he said 40 percent of employees bike to work. 

Malley attributes location to lowering the company’s carbon footprint by as much as 25 to 30 percent when compared to suburban-based counterparts. “We might drive two miles to get to the job and two miles to get home from the job,” he said.

Malley employs other strategies, such as biodiesel fuel, carbon offsets, and a paperless system for offering potential customers quotes. For those clients who want them, he offers lightly used cardboard boxes; his crew wears American-made organic cotton T-shirts; and he does not publicize with glossy brochures.

He said customers don’t call him because he is “green,” though they enjoy the benefit of things like the plastic bins. “As are the best environmental strategies, it just makes sense,” he said. “They get used because they make sense, not because they’re good for the environment.”

Still, there is enough demand that even traditional moving companies are edging into the green moving market. Allied Van Lines, for example, has replaced paper documents with a digital system.

During a recent stroll through New York City, I observed a truck for Moishe’s Moving Company, plastered with the slogan, “Moishe’s is going green.”

But when I called up the company, I found that just over a year ago, Moishe’s learned that “going green” has its challenges. The company scrapped plans to convert its fleet to biodiesel trucks when they heard reports linking biodiesel to world hunger. “This was supposed to be the highlight of our going green,” said Donna Arbietman, Moishe’s director of marketing. “We are still looking for a solution that we can stand behind,” she said.

(Even Malley said biodiesel is not the whole answer; he envies large corporations that can afford custom-built hybrid trucks.)

Despite the setback, Moishe’s pressed ahead with other “green” initiatives, including a paperless office system and a box exchange program. The company also offers clients the use of reusable plastic boxes and recently Moishe’s purchased a shredder to break down cardboard boxes into packing material.

“It’s much harder than we initially thought,” Arbietman admitted, “and it’s costly.” But the company has not taken the idea of converting its trucks off the table. “We’re looking for a solution,” she said. “The most costly thing we can think of is having the environment collapse around us.”

Think outside the box: Residential movers find ways to go green
Moving companies are offering plastic bins instead of cardboard boxes, paperless price quotes and trucks that run on biodiesel fuel.