The Eco-Friendly RV Is Reinventing an American Tradition

From the classic family road trip to a wandering retirement plan, hopping into a recreational vehicle (RV) and hitting the open road has been an offbeat aspect of the American culture for decades now. But it hasn’t exactly been the environment’s best friend. Considering the average motor home had gas mileage in the mid-to-low single digits, and the stereotypical American mantra of “bigger is better” ruled the RV market for many years, the idea of an eco-friendly RV may seem far-fetched.

But times have changed. Today, most major RV manufacturers offer at least one eco-friendly RV option designed to appeal to the growing generation of consumers who want to satisfy their wanderlust in a more sustainable way. And some startups are combining the popularity of the tiny-house movement with mobile-home designs, aiming to satisfy the millennial desire for minimalism in a new way.

But is an eco-friendly RV really possible? Do these tiny homes on wheels function like they say they will? And is there enough of a market for sustainable RVs to succeed?

Case Study: Homegrown Trailers

Homegrown Trailers is a Washington-based RV manufacturer with just one basic trailer design, three option packages and a mission to “fuse a global desire for compact, environmentally conscious and healthy living spaces for all types of people — including those who haven’t traveled in RVs before.”

Enter the Homegrown Trailer, an RV with a wood-sided body in an iconic teardrop design, a 100 percent solar power system, a composting toilet and energy-efficient appliances — all constructed from sustainable, nontoxic materials. And weighing in at just over 2,000 pounds (dry weight), a Homegrown Trailer can be comfortably towed by smaller, gas-efficient vehicles.

Alongside its ambitious effort to be friendlier to the environment than its gas-guzzling, chemical-toilet-toting ancestors, the Homegrown Trailer doesn’t skimp on appearance or amenities. It offers a purposeful kitchen with hot water, an outdoor shower, comfortable sleeping room for four, adequate power outlets and charging stations to meet a full family’s electronic needs. With four wood-panel color schemes available for the exterior and trimming options for the interior, this eco-friendly RV is sure to appeal to nearly any environmentally conscious traveler.

Plus, the green machine even gained the seal of approval of TreeHugger, Outside Magazine, InHabitat and other popular environmental blogs and publications that don’t hand out the seal lightly.

Is an Eco-Friendly RV Really Possible?

Wandrly published a study comparing the cost of living and environmental impact of three different fictitious RV-driver personas, offering side-by-side comparisons of their travel expenses versus what they would expect to spend living more traditionally.

“When it comes to the environmental impact their vehicles and home have, a mobile lifestyle is better for our planet than living in a house,” Wandrly concluded. In fact, mobile living had 92.8 percent lower water consumption and about a third of the electricity usage (as measured by one full-time traveler.) The point is to create a far smaller footprint, resulting in less energy required for heating, cooling, lighting and security.

Is There a Market for Green RVs?

The fact that long-established behemoths of the RV industry like Airstream, Coachmen and Forest River have invested in designing and marketing sustainably constructed, environmentally friendly RVs speaks volumes about the market potential. These companies aren’t in business to make the world a better place. They’re in business to sell RVs. So if they’re investing in eco-friendly options, there must be a growing crowd of potential buyers out there clamoring for the opportunity to buy one.

Love the idea of getting closer to nature without giving up the comforts of home but worry about an RV’s impact on the environment? Perhaps you’re part of that growing crowd yourself.

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