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Is RV Travel Ever Sustainable?



Travel poses a particular struggle for those concerned about the environment. You can drive a hybrid car to many vacation destinations, but hotels get expensive and driving takes quite a while. Flying has a huge carbon footprint but it saves the most time and many airlines today allow you to purchase carbon offsets. But if your family has an old Winnebago or a shiny new RV that you’re excited to take on long road trips, you may be wondering – what about RVs? Is RV travel sustainable?

The Green RV Concept

At first glance, the idea of a green or environmentally friendly RV sounds a bit unbelievable. How could driving a big vehicle full of stuff be a sustainable travel option?

Some new RVs do earn their stripes as sustainable travel options. Lighter, made from sustainable materials, and featuring tinted windows that block light, thereby cutting air conditioner use, green RVs are a new development.

Still, even green RVs need to run on something, and while they’re more energy efficient, it will take time to get a clear read on how eco-friendly these vehicles really are. They’re a big improvement over older models, but don’t jump to replace yours just yet – that will generate unnecessary waste. Better to weigh the continued use of your old vehicle before buying a new one.

Did You Know: Diesel Exhaust Fluid

Another factor making RVs more eco-friendly these days is the use of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to neutralize exhaust, transforming it from toxic fumes to water and nitrogen. DEF has caught the attention of the RV world largely due to its compelling name. Though only sometimes made from animal byproducts, DEF is often referred to colloquially as pig urine, as pig, cow, and horse urine are all potential sources of the substance when diluted with water.

While DEF won’t reduce your dependence on gas, it does reduce some of the harmful effects of using fossil fuels. New users need to be careful, however, as it’s dangerous to mix DEF with gasoline – it can ruin your engine by turning into something similar to concrete.

The majority of older RVs don’t have DEF tanks, but for those who have them, RV use can be made more eco-friendly by keeping that second tank full.

Lessons From RV Residents

For some people, RVs don’t just provide a fun – and maybe eco-friendly – means of vacationing; some people live in their RVs. While RV living is obviously different from the casual summer traveling that most use their RVs for, we can learn a lot from those who have trimmed their life down to just the bare essentials.

Seasoned RV residents offer important reminders, such as to resist the temptation to use single-use plates, forks, and the like. Because washing dishes is harder in an RV setting, it can be tempting to grab these disposables, but this is an easy way to squash your environmentally friendly goals. Accept the challenge and use real dishes while traveling.

If you’ll be traveling for a while, you might also consider buying small, portable appliances, such as a super compact washing machine. These machines are much more energy efficient than laundromat machines and are far more convenient when on the road. You’ll be happy not to have to trek to the laundromat on Saturday mornings during your vacation, too.

The jury is still out on how environmentally friendly RV travel is, but as with most things, RV travel is what you make of it. If you choose eco-friendly options, assiduously recycling, shopping local, and using a DEF tank, for example, you may be among the most environmentally responsible travelers out there. Take on the challenge – you’ll be glad you did.


Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

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