Moving the Obamas


by Emily Main

Ahh, moving. It’s about as pleasant as dental work, traffic jams or taking charge of a country that’s facing two wars and a tanking economy.

Yes, Mr. Obama, it’s time to pack. And now that you’ve established who’s in charge of environmental and energy policy for the entire country, we thought we’d give you a few tips on improving the environmental and energy policies of your new house–including how you’re getting there.

In our first installment of 44 Tips for the 44th President, we’re tackling the green move. To a certain extent, the Obamas have a head start: Keeping with tradition, Obama will be traveling to the inauguration partly by train, which is one of the greenest ways to travel and to ship freight. Unfortunately, there aren’t any moving companies that use rail freight, so he’ll have to rely on much dirtier diesel trucks instead.

The average 18-wheeler gets an abysmal 5 to 6 mpg, which, for a 701-mile Chicago-to-Washington trip, spews about 1.5 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Although quite a few local and in-state moving companies have switched to hyper-efficient trucks or ones that use renewable fuels (like Moishe’s in New York City, Go Green Moving in Southern California and even Big Green Moving in the D.C. area), national companies haven’t been as quick to follow suit.

Obama’s best bet is to hire a moving company that belongs to the EPA’s voluntary SmartWay Transport Partnership, a program that helps companies like ABF Freight Systems and its U-Pack residential moving division and Penske Truck Rental, which rents trucks to DIY movers, audit the environmental performance of their operations and then set greenhouse-gas and fuel-reduction goals they believe can be reached within three years.

But first, the Obamas have to actually pack. One would hope that the future leader of the free world could be environmentally conscious about his packing materials without having to go dumpster diving behind liquor stores, bookshops and the other usual suspects to find reusable boxes. sells, well, used cardboard boxes (at a lower price than most moving companies charge for new ones) and then picks them up to reuse again or recycle after you’ve moved.

Sadly, the coolest green packing company we found doesn’t serve the Chicago area yet–but maybe they’d be willing to make an exception for a relatively important client. Earth Friendly Moving, based in California, has perfected the art of turning trash into moving materials. They mine landfills for plastic, which they use in sturdy plastic containers that are rented for $1 per box per week (and are closed not with tape but with zip ties made from recycled bottle caps). Rather than bubble wrap, the company has created its own packaging wrap from cardboard recycling sludge, packing peanuts come from newspaper recycling sludge, and box labels are made from the starches left over from ethanol production. Even the plastic pallets used for delivery and pickup are made from recycled (and sanitized) disposable diapers.

So, Mr. President-elect, as you’re driving down the highway in your fuel-efficient truck with your belongings securely stored in recycled boxes, think about what else you’ll need to improve your new digs–low-flow toilets? Water-saving showerheads? Arianna Huffington is already envisioning organic cotton curtains and nontoxic cleaning supplies, but we’ll have a few more ideas for you in the weeks ahead…

Human Journey