Going RV-ing? Try Going Green

Photo: RVsAhh, the open road. What could be more American than a cross-country road trip? Just pack up the kids and hop in the RV. But wait–isn’t that an unsustainable way to travel?

Not for Sara and Matt Janssen, who converted their RV into a green motor home. The pair sold their house and has been living in the 36-foot motor home with their four-year-old daughter ever since, traveling the country promoting sustainable living, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

The greening of their RV included putting in bamboo floors, repainting with nontoxic paint, and installing a waste-grease fuel system that has saved them over $25,000 in fuel costs. “It’s a self-contained lifestyle,” said Sara, a photographer. In addition, the home’s small size keeps their material waste at a minimum. “We can’t buy anything because it won’t fit,” she told the Times.

Although selling their home might seem a bit extreme, the Janssens are part of a growing movement to green-up RV travel. Even celebrities are on board: Willie Nelson gained a lot of press attention a few years ago for creating his own biofuel, called BioWillie, which he uses for his tour bus. And the time couldn’t be riper: Despite the recent fuel crisis, motor home ownership is on the rise, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. As of 2005, nearly one in 12 U.S. vehicle-owning households owned an RV.

“If you can make an RV sustainable, you can make any industry sustainable,” says Ty Adams, another green-RVer quoted in the Times (his rig runs on biofuel). Adams and Brian Brawdy, a wilderness expert who drives a converted eco-friendly camper, also hit on one of the ironies of such travel: Those who answer the call of the RV adventure lifestyle are often driven by a love of nature and a desire to escape to it, but driving an RV is also one of the quickest ways for a traveler to damage the natural environment.

Although RVs may have the reputation of being gas-guzzlers on the road, “when they stop moving, they’re exemplary models of conservation,” writes Rich Luhr, the publisher of Airstream Life magazine, on his blog Tour of America.

He points out that even before the addition of green features, motor homes often use far less water and energy than the average household, which could mean that staying in an RV while traveling is more eco-friendly than staying in a hotel. But with 8.2 million RVs on the highways at any given time (including rented RVs), and with an average of only eight miles to the gallon, most RVs still need a major overhaul to qualify as eco-friendly.

And although individuals have begun eco-converting their motor homes, the industry itself has a lot of catching up to do. Mass-manufactured green RVs have yet to have a large presence in the market. In fact, just two years ago, the manufacturer Featherlite Luxury Coaches released the most expensive RV yet: a $2.5 million Franken-bus of imported goods, including African sapele trim on the steering wheel, Italian upholstery, and bath hardware from France. That’s a hefty carbon footprint, before your foot even hits the gas pedal.

But in the long run, “people RV because they like that sense of independence,” said Brawdy. “I hope it communicates to energy independence as well.”

Photo by zTransmissions via Flickr.


  1. The Modern RV
    August 12, 2013, 5:51 pm

    […] of purchasing an eco-friendly RV or refurbishing your current RV with green features has even hit the world of celebrities. Stars are expending the time, money and effort to make their tour buses and RVs much better for […]

  2. alabama camping
    May 21, 2010, 3:00 pm

    wither one is going for rv camping, or tent camping or taking yurts, he or she should be aware of the facts about our planet. and the most serious problem which our planet is facing is the global warming and every one should took part and do something either big or small to contribute in this movement. as either by making the campsite clean before leaving it, or by planting at the campsite which you visit.

  3. rv club
    April 13, 2010, 11:45 am

    as the world is global village now, so everyone should participate in global green programme and appreciate the efforts of others too.

  4. Marlan
    February 16, 2010, 2:00 pm

    This is a great article and even though a couple of years old deserves to stay in the forefront. I personally believe that as time progresses America will be less affluent, salaries will depress and the RV as an alternative to apartments/houses will become more viable than ever. Factor in the idea that the workforce has to be more mobile than ever and you’ve got the perfect living space. True – when moving, RV’s consume more fuel – but other than that, when not moving, they exemplify green living.

  5. california rv camping
    February 15, 2010, 1:41 pm

    i am also the supporter of green rv camping and use the same methods to adopt green rv camping.

  6. Climatarians green community
    November 29, 2009, 10:35 am

    Adopting a greener lifestyle is something that everyone should aim at. Of course not everyone can go to the extreme of selling their house as you have suggested, but most people can do much more than what they are doing right now to make a positive impact on the environment. At Climatarians, our global sustainability directory, we actively encourage all green initiatives.

  7. Martella
    July 20, 2009, 3:48 pm

    If you want to go another step in greening your RV and any of your internal combustion engines — you need this amazing non-petroleum, non-toxic fuel and oil treatment.
    EthosFR+ Saving $$$ At the Pump and Making America Greener One Vehicle At A Time.
    Please watch this great video —–
    Then listen to this recorded call — what an eye-opener!
    access code 101122#
    recording code 053109#
    EthosFR+ is a non-petroleum, non toxic, non hazardous green fuel treatment. It is EPA registered and has had successful test results CARB certified and EPA approved laboratories.
    EthosFR reacts with fuel to allow it to burn cleaner this results in better mileage, less emission, and a cleaner engine.
    EthosFR increases MPG and average of 7% – 19% and reduces emissions 30% and more. (95% of all vehicles – results will vary due to different driving habits, vehicles and environmental conditions.
    You simply add just 2oz or less of EthosFR+ for every 15 gallons of fuel (gas or diesel) in your car, truck or any internal combustion engine.

  8. palman
    July 1, 2009, 11:56 am

    Rather than build a house on our island, we’ve installed a 30-year old airstream trailer on it.
    This seems greener to me on many levels: it was a used RV, so no new energy used in its production, and with all the energy efficient appliances and the very small size, we use very little electricity.

  9. Jillian Maitlen
    January 20, 2009, 8:42 pm

    RVing and going green is the best. My husband and I are in our late 20’s and have been full time for 3 years. We are in the process of greening up our 40ft diesel. We started with getting the harsh chemical cleaners out of the coach. Being in an RV you are so much closer to everything and we have a little 3 1/2 lb sweet little chihuahua. I would hate for my little baby to lick up something toxic. I myself have bad allergies and having green cleaners has made all the difference. If you have any questions email me at jillybrit22@yahoo.com

  10. Rich Luhr
    November 30, 2008, 2:07 pm

    Quoting the article above:
    “motor homes often use far less water and energy than the average household, which could mean that staying in an RV while traveling is more eco-friendly than staying in a hotel.”
    Actually, that’s an understatement. An RV is almost always more eco-friendly than staying in a hotel. The overall impact of water use, sewage generation, electrical use, heating/cooling energy, and toxic chemical use (cleaning and washing chemicals in particular) is far less for an RV user than a hotel guest.
    Hotels use enormous amounts of those resources, and they are generally timid when it comes to limiting guest access to environmental resources. In the small and weight-conscious environment of most RVs, people learn to limit their impact out of sheer necessity. It would be a wake-up call indeed for America if everyone tried RV’ing full-time for a year. I bet we’d see a major change in the way we use resources at home, too.

  11. Soultravelers3
    November 28, 2008, 7:45 pm

    I have to agree with Rich Luhr and Doreen, there is often a misconception about RV travel. Small conventional RV’s can be VERY green and much of that depends on slow travel.
    We have been traveling as a family on 4 continents & 28 countries via a small RV for going on 3 years now. We have just arrived in Spain for the winter and will basically not use our RV, but only our feet ( & rare outings by mass transit) for the next 5 or 6 months.
    Europe is so dense that we often stay in one location for a month and use walking or mass transit. Even when we move, it is not very far and surprisingly we have not even driven that many miles totally yet. Until very recently, we had only taken one long flight!
    We live large on 25K a year for a family of 3 ( total costs) so find that we can live much cheaper traveling the world, than living at home. Much greener as well!
    Who knows, in this economy, slow travel by RV, might just become a fad. It is a great (& green) way to live!

  12. Megalead11
    November 24, 2008, 4:32 am

    Hats off to Sara and Matt Janssen,This blog has inspired me to follow their path. Driving a eco-friendly vehicle is a great way to keep the environment clean.

  13. Doreen Orion aka Queen of the Road
    November 20, 2008, 2:21 pm

    We “chucked it all” to travel the country in a converted bus for a year, found we liked it so much that we’re now planning to sell our house and full time. It may surprise you that even a less “green” RV is not necessarily less green than stationary living. RV appliances are made to be energy efficient. We don’t heat an entire house in the winter or cool it in the summer. We don’t commute in two separate cars to work every day. We use as much water in a day as the average couple uses in a week.
    While we do have solar panels on our roof and are looking into converting to biodiesel, even “regular” RVs are not necessarily the enviromonsters that some make them out to be.
    Doreen Orion

  14. ashley
    November 19, 2008, 10:06 pm

    There have a number of developments by manufacturers in the RV industry to move towards being more eco-friendly. The New York Times article featuring 3 ‘Environmental Pioneers’ RV owners each outfitted their Rig according to their needs and beliefs. You can visit http://www.wonderexplorebelieve.net for more information on The NY Times pictured RV.