In my 17 years of full-time RVing I’ve concluded that most of us RVers are a responsible bunch, considerate of the environment, protective of plant and wildlife habitats, and conservative in the use of our natural resources.
But our lifestyle can sometimes leave us feeling guilty, with a nagging unease that driving a behemoth motorhome or lugging a six-wheeled fifth wheel down the highway falls short of a “green” activity? And maybe you have had a Prius driver or sweaty bicyclist glare at you accusingly, as if you are the sole source of global warming and of funding jihadist terrorists.
It would be convenient if we could compress all the other, responsible facets of our RV lifestyle down to a few words of response, a bumper sticker slogan such as “I’m an RVer—and I’m Green.” But likely that thought would go over the heads of our detractors. Unfortunately, our lifestyle needs more explaining.
Take natural resources, for instance. The average family uses 80 to 100 gallons of water each day per person, much of it to flush toilets and run down the drain from long showers and other water-wasting habits. We tend to be more wasteful in our stationary houses since we don’t have to be concerned with running out of water, and when is the last time you had to cut down on water usage at home because your holding tanks were almost full? It’s just too easy to turn the water on and let it flow.
At home, you don’t have to turn off the water between soaping and rinsing in the shower and you can let the rinse water flow when doing dishes and brushing your teeth. But follow some of these habits the next time you go boondocking with your 100-gallon-or-less fresh water tank, and before you finish the dinner dishes, your fresh water tank will be sucking air and the gray water backing up into your shower. When you don’t have a sewer, you learn to use less water very quickly.
In a stationary house, using electricity is also much too easy. Just flip a switch or push a button. We leave lights on and the radio or TV playing even when nobody is in the room—and our batteries never go dead. Try that for very long while dry camping and your batteries will be as flat as the world before Columbus.
How about heating and air conditioning? Consider the electricity and fuel it takes to heat and cool a single-family home compared with your motorhome or trailer. Also, how many of us use a refrigerator and freezer in our rigs the size of the energy-sucking one at home? Or an icemaker, electric blanket, humongous-screen TV, extra freezer in the garage, and thermostats that keep the inside an even temperature all day and night—whether we are there or not?
When dry-camping without an electrical hookup, we must conserve our use of electricity or we would quickly be reading by candlelight. So boondockers have discovered the value of alternative sources of producing electricity, like solar panels that produce pollution-free power—a big plus for the environment. And with no moving parts to wear out, solar panels are practically maintenance-free.
By the simple act of living in an RV—whether as weekenders or full-timers—RVers reduce their need for belongings and limit their purchases, and as a result put less into the trash can—and the landfill. Americans produce 4.54 lbs of waste per person per day. We generate so much waste we ship much of it to third world countries.
The slogan Reduce, Reuse, Recycle could have been thought up by RVers. We buy more bulk items than packaged, use cloth shopping bags rather than plastic, long-lasting florescent light bulbs that use one-quarter the electricity of incandescent, and refill our own water bottles rather than buy bottled water—all practices that produce less waste.
By switching to online banking and bill paying, full-time RVers eliminate all that paper—and keep statements from following them around the country. By putting our laptops to sleep when we’re not using them, we can save as much electricity as turning down our home thermostat by two degrees.
Even when looking directly at fuel mileage, RVing has an advantage. Compare the cost of fuel for us RVers, who usually just drive between campgrounds where we park for a few days, a week or longer. Then look at commuters who drive every day to a job somewhere miles away. Even though a passenger car will get higher mileage, a daily commuter drives many more miles and in the end uses more fossil fuel.
Boondocking—in fact all of RV camping—is far more environmentally friendly and much less wasteful than living in fixed housing with unlimited and too-easily obtained electricity, water, waste disposal and trash pick-up. When boondocking we are, by the very nature of the lifestyle, forced to conserve and use less.
However, that doesn’t release us from the responsibility of trying to be even more conservative, like driving 55 mph instead of 65 or over, driving fewer miles every day, taking shorter RV trips, and pulling a toad or bringing a bicycle to run our errands or explore. Because we live in a smaller space than a house, we have adapted to using less and wasting less, so that it is no longer an effort, but simply our new habits.
So, think up a bumper sticker that can explain all that, how all those other conservation practices more than offset the fuel used in our rigs, and put it on every RV. It might even encourage those who live in houses to practice the same green energy and resource saving measures we RVers do.
Bob Difley was a full-time RVer for 17 years and a regional general manager for a national RV rental and sales company. His articles and photos have appeared in numerous RV publications.
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.