In these fuel-efficient times, terms such as carbon footprint, certified green, environmentally conscious, and sustainability are eco-friendly buzzwords in the travel trailer industry. However, these terms mean different things to RV manufacturers and customers. How do you know if an eco-friendly RV is truly good for the environment or just greenwashing? The travel trailer industry has caught on to selling green travel trailers to sustainably-conscious consumers because these terms and their claims of greenness or off-grid functionality can fool buyers. The concept of greenwashing refers to manufacturers of eco-friendly RVs who apply for one certification, then label it as certified green. The problem is it may be as simple as installing some recycled floor tile, while the rest is anything but green.
How to Be an Environmentally-Conscious Consumer
A true environmentally-conscious consumer must look into the facts behind any green claims. True sustainability is a holistic approach that begins with manufacturing design and continues throughout the entire life cycle of a product. To be sure you're buying a sustainable travel trailer, manufacturers need to be held to a standard of accountability by a third party. The gold standard for a truly green RV or trailer is TRA Certification. TRA has developed a widely accepted green certification program for the RV industry that examines not only the finished vehicle but the raw materials and the manufacturer's green practices, then the product's recyclability when its useful life is over. The TRA certification has defined the RV manufacturer's practices and products for review to show "their commitment to making smarter construction and component choices."
10 Things to Look for in Eco-Friendly RVs
Many aspects make travel trailers environmentally friendly and sustainable, and it's important to recognize all of them. Here are 10 things to look for in an eco-friendly travel trailer.
1. Fuel Efficiency
The number one gold-level standard for eco-friendly RVs is fuel efficiency. How efficient is the towing efficiency if it's a bumper pull or fifth-wheel travel trailer? What is the mileage of your RV or tow vehicle? Can it be pulled by an electric vehicle? A gas-guzzling motorhome may get four miles to the gallon. Generally, a towable travel trailer gets much better mileage than motorhomes, which are notoriously gas hogs. Motorcoaches typically use giant fuel tanks to power electricity generators, but the motorhome can't go anywhere without fuel. There must be a balance between something you'll enjoy and use. For example, if you can't get a good night's sleep in an awkward, small bed, then you might need a full-sized, dedicated queen size bed.
2. All-Electric RV
Consider an all-electric RV. As battery technology evolves, so does the travel trailer industry, with the focus shifting from gas to electricity. We're seeing new technology, such as powerful, lightweight batteries, emerge to meet that demand. Fuel-efficient systems, such as lithium batteries, and other support systems, such as LED lights and all-electric appliances, lead the way. The ability to regenerate unlimited power from the sun without relying solely on fossil fuels is extremely important. The most eco-friendly option is the self-regeneration of electrical power from our natural environment, the sun. Living Vehicle was founded on the principle of providing a fuel-efficient, certified green travel trailer with electrical systems that makes sense while pursuing an adventure camping experience that won't harm the environment.
3. Solar Panels
Harnessing electricity from solar panels is the greenest energy solution. If you reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and utilize a camper or trailer responsive to the environment where you create your resources while camping, you have greatly reduced your carbon footprint right out of the gate. Look for solar panels that are lightweight, highly efficient, and integrated into the trailer by the manufacturer. Solar panel technology is improving daily, and the wheels are turning faster and faster for a bright future. The more solar power in your travel trailer or camper van, the better.
4. Energy Efficiency
When solar power is captured from the sun, it harvests power and stores it in a sustainable storage device called a battery. Batteries transfer power into the trailer or camper's appliances and energy systems, such as lighting. Of course, the less power needed for systems, the greater its efficiency. LED lighting has become a game-changer when it comes to energy efficiency. The same is especially true for historically high-energy appliances like air conditioning systems. HVAC units use less power and typically operate for long periods.
5. Water Efficiency
Look no further than the seasonal droughts affecting California to understand how vital clean water is to your off-grid lifestyle. Water is a camper's most valuable natural resource. Today, many trailers even have full bathrooms with beautiful spa-like experiences. Water is a limited resource when you're traveling off-grid. At 8 lbs a gallon, water is neither lightweight nor easy to transport in large amounts. Remember, 100 gallons of water weights more than 800 lbs. Although that extra weight is not easily towed, some high-tech options allow you to camp with that much water on board -- such as water generation from air and water filtering systems. What's critical is to avoid inefficient water fixtures because your camper won't be as eco-friendly as it could be. Low-flow fixtures are the best way to get the most bang for your water-use buck.
6. Minimizes Waste
What is the greatest form of waste from an RV? You may think it's bodily waste stored in the black water tank; however, while that is waste, it can be mitigated by a composting toilet. Properly disposing of solid and liquid body waste has a very small negative impact on the earth. The most substantial waste is the exhaust from a motorhome's engine or an RV’s gas generator. Excess exhaust waste is also connected to the insulation in the walls. Poorly insulated walls or ceiling requires you to burn more fuel to keep the space comfortable. Minimizing all waste is key to a green RV.
7. Resource Efficiency
An eco-friendly, gold-level RV depends on efficiently using its limited resources -- whether it's electricity, water, or fuel because you're in a self-contained environment. If you're off-grid, your onboard resources are all you have, and the more efficient those resources are, the better. For example, a propane stove is a typical RV appliance. A stove that uses less propane than another stove, then that's valuable energy saved. So, in this case, an electric stove is the best way to conserve resources. A well-insulated trailer with closed-cell insulation and double-pane windows will use much less energy and is more sustainable.
8. Indoor Air Quality
It's important for eco-friendly travel trailers to be in a space with clean air and good circulation for you to remain as healthy as possible. As you sleep in your comfortable bed, you may inhale harmful off-gassing you don't even realize. Most mass-produced trailers have all sorts of composite materials, such as wood and plastic laminates, adhesives, and caulking that give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These gases are released into the environment and can harm people and their pets. As if our outdoor environment wasn't bad enough due to forest fires and CO2-emitting combustion engines, a poorly designed trailer's indoor air quality can be extremely harmful and release harmful chemicals into the air.
A trailer, by design, is an air-tight space, so any mold or chemicals that off-gas into the space can be hazardous to your health. Ideal air quality is best achieved in a space with low or no VOC products. So how do you know? Find out what the travel trailer is made of. The best product is aluminum. It's lightweight, lasts for generations, doesn't off-gas, and won't rust. And look for vehicles that have very little carpet and other fabrics, such as cloth sofas and curtains. These products are loaded with VOCs. That new car smell is your first clue that it's not a healthy space for you or the earth.
9. Sustainable Materials
This leads us to the next category, sustainable materials. Natural, solid wood is better than composite materials. It's also a naturally renewable product that can be replenished, generation after generation. Using recyclable materials that last a long time and are reusable, such as aluminum, is also extremely sustainable.
The least sustainable thing you can do is use a single-use plastic bottle, take one drink from it, and toss it in the trash. The water is gone; although you may recycle it, it's still a one-use object. So, the more times you can reuse something, the better. It’s also important to keep that in mind when outfitting your new travel trailer with eco-friendly products.
10. Quality First
Most importantly, make quality a top priority. The highest quality travel trailers, such as Airstream, which has existed for nearly 100 years, are built to last several lifetimes. Instead of buying five trailers over the course of 50 years, wouldn't it be better to buy just one? A product constructed with quality in mind is highly sustainable because it was designed to last for generations. In the travel trailer world, some manufacturers get hyper-focused on creating a light trailer because lightweight is fuel-efficient. However, that isn't necessarily true because a light camper is probably just a cover for cheap plastic materials that break down quickly and must be replaced. For example, a computer printer designed to last one or two years that uses hundreds of ink cartridges over its lifetime is not very sustainable. Cheap cars or camper vans that end up in the wrecking yard are not environmentally friendly because they were poorly made. Unfortunately, we've become a throwaway society. These disposed-of products end up in landfills or, worse, in our waterways or the ocean. This waste is harmful to your health and the health of every living species on Earth.
Owning a travel trailer is all about appreciating nature and experiencing the great outdoors in an environmentally friendly way.
Click to learn more about destination travel trailers: 10 Tips for Buying the Best Destination Travel Trailers