Living lightly on the planet is entering mainstream American culture as consumers demand eco-friendly products ranging from organic clothing to hybrid cars. Even recreational vehicle owners, a group of consumers not immediately associated with environmental responsibility, are jumping on the green bandwagon, according to the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel.
Eighteen percent of RV owners are already using solar panels, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), and new regulations are being instated to ensure wood products in all new RVs for sale in California have low formaldehyde levels. While green RVs aren’t mainstream yet, experts agree the industry is moving in that direction.
“It’s basic supply and demand,” said Michael Nohr, manager of the Pleasanton-based 21st Annual Manufacturers’ RV Show, which runs May 15-25 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. “Consumers want more green features, so manufacturers are beginning to respond.”
When he hosted his first RV show two decades ago, Nohr joked that the only green option was for the paint job. In fact, even five years ago, the average RVer would have “looked at me sideways” if he tried to steer them toward a vendor hawking green wares, he said.
“Now I’d get a sideways look if I didn’t have vendors offering those amenities — like rigs already fitted with solar panels,” Nohr said. “And it’s really not that big of a leap when you look at the numbers. RV vacations are actually greener than other ones.”
A recent study for the RVIA found that RV vacations have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than their plane/car/hotel counterparts. In many cases, the more traditional vacation emitted nearly twice the amount of CO2 than the same RV vacation, the study showed.
Vacaville-based Vineyard RV Park owner Meaghan Bertram, whose park is a certified green business, said despite the bad rap they get, RVs are inherently efficient — especially where water and electricity are concerned.
The downfall is gas consumption; however she echoed Nohr’s sentiments that consumer demands for a lighter, more fuel efficient model will force the industry to pay attention.
“Overall, I think the industry is really at the crossroads of a huge change,” Bertram said. “Five years ago, nobody in this industry even talked about green. Now it is the new buzzword.”
Sales manager Jim Eberhardt of McMahons RV Santa Cruz — a city known for its green inclinations — said he gets consumers asking about green RVs “all the time.”
He estimated that 20-40% of his customers want to know about eco-friendly options — specifically hybrid engines.
“Fuel economy is what it is,” said Eberhardt, who believes a true hybrid RV will be a huge success when it hits the marketplace. “Consumers never ask about price. A lot of them don’t understand why manufacturers aren’t doing it now.” Until they do, consumers will have to green their rigs in other ways, such as installing wind turbines and converting their engines to use bio-diesel.
Brian Brawdy, an ex-New York police officer turned green RVer, did just that when he decided to hit the road just over a year ago in a quest to live off the grid and get in touch with nature and himself. He will be displaying the fruits of his labors this week at “The Rally” in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I did it not only to be environmentally friendly. The environment I’m most interested to be friendly to is the mental environment of me being out in the middle of nowhere,” Brawdy said. “For me, it’s the combination of green RVing, but also self-reliance and independence.”
Brawdy estimated he invested upward of $10,000 in greening his RV – a 2008 Ford pickup truck with a Lance camper – and hit the road. His journey has taken him to 48 states so far. Thanks to his green modifications, much of the voyage has been augmented by nature. He installed solar panels and a wind turbine on the RV to help generate electricity. He uses a rain filtration system. And he uses electricity-sipping LED lights and fills up with bio-diesel when possible — last year he was able to use it about a third of the time.
The modifications mean he can pull over wherever and whenever – even in the middle of nowhere – because he doesn’t have the need for power hookups holding him back. That, Brawdy said, is exactly what more people need to do to send green RVing into the mainstream.
“More people need to get out. You’re more inclined to want to save something if you’ve savored it first,” he said. “Unless we start encouraging people to explore off the beaten path, nobody’s gonna want to protect it. RVing is not going away. You can’t legislate the nomadic human spirit out of people.”