March 19, 2012
Filed under RV & Trailer Reviews
Like so many other manufacturing concerns in recent years, the RV industry found itself trending toward more environmentally conscious practices. These practices range from the types of construction materials used in building their products, to the manufacturing processes, to simple acts such as recycling programs. These green acts can help a manufacturer save money, meet environmental standards, create better products and attract new customers. Some companies have long been green, while others have just caught on. But how can the consumer be sure which companies are engaged in these activities and to what extent? And how can RV manufacturers know if the materials and components they need are as green as their suppliers claim?
Green RV Certification
TRA-Certification, Inc., is an independent internationally accredited third-party green certifier established in 1967 and has arguably become the RV industry standard. This third-party certification can help potential buyers decide if an RV is green enough for them. The TRA rates the energy-efficiency and environmental-friendliness claims made for various materials and components that go into building RVs. It utilizes voluntary consensus standards to evaluate and certify RV manufacturers and their suppliers for environmental friendliness.
Other standards organizations include Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is an environment-friendly program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) also has developed an environmentally friendly building program and provides training on how to work with standards for eco-friendly, sustainable design, construction and operation.
We spoke with Mandy Leazenby, Green Program Manager for TRA Certification, Inc. She told us that TRA has been certifying domestic RV manufacturers for about two years, and that they are now also working on certifying manufacturers overseas as well.
“There are a lot of resources that are running out and we need to make sure that materials and production methods are sustainable,” said Leazenby. “In the short term, I think that we will see more manufacturers jumping onboard the green certification programs. In the long term, I think that consumers will increasingly demand that RV products have third-party green certification.”
After a thorough site inspection, the TRA certifies that a manufacturer is green capable and is using its processes, materials and components to make a product that is truly “green.” There are four levels of TRA green ratings for RV manufacturers; from lowest to highest: bronze, silver, gold and emerald, respectively. So when you see a Certified Green by TRA Certification label, it tells you a third party has examined the coach, manufacturing facility and suppliers and has found them to be qualified as green. The four levels of green ratings are graded on the following categories: energy conservation, water conservation, the use of organic and recyclable products, operations and maintenance standards in manufacturing.
To qualify as green manufacturing requires the use of sustainable materials, environmentally friendly production methods, efficient components, reduction of waste and recycling. It also calls for a reduction in the harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in components such as carpeting, wood and adhesives.
TRA looks for manufacturers to utilize new practices that increase the green content and simultaneously improve product performance. This includes installing more efficient appliances and fixtures, using energy-efficient designs and construction, and utilizing renewable, clean energy. Improved furnaces, air conditioners, dish washers and water heaters can save energy and cut pollution. High-tech materials that reduce weight and fuel consumption should be used. Wood and wood byproducts are being phased out of RV interiors in favor of lighter, stronger thermoplastics, composites and hybrid structural materials. Double-pane and tinted windows are also used to save energy. Another area of improvement is reduced wind resistance, accomplished with aerodynamic design innovations such as reshaping the exteriors and mounting air conditioners away from the windblast on the roof. Some are mounted in dedicated compartments, or flush with the exterior roof surface.
Water efficiency measures in the coach include the installation of water-saving appliances and low-flow faucets, showers and other fixtures. Certification also requires water efficiency in manufacturing processes. Resource efficiency calls for the use of innovative new products made from recycled materials. Waste reduction includes the re-use of scraps and other materials in the manufacturing process, and recycling as much industrial waste as possible. Ways to optimize the proper use of an RV’s green features, operation and maintenance categories include owner education, including operating manuals and instructions.
One of the major categories of environment-degrading products is known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Major sources of VOCs found in RV materials are carpets, hard flooring, cabinets, insulation and solvents, which are commonly used in adhesives, paints, glues and other coatings. Typical solvents containing VOCs are aliphatic hydrocarbons, ethyl acetate, glycol ethers and acetone.
However, the paint and coating industries are increasingly shifting towards aqueous (water-borne) solvents. For example, Dicor, Inc., which makes a large number of products and chemicals for RV construction, is replacing the environmentally harmful adhesives and coatings with non-toxic adhesives and coatings. Dicor is now one of the largest RV suppliers developing, manufacturing and marketing products that are environmentally safer.
We talked with Greg Fore, president of Dicor, about the Green RV movement. He told us, “Any effort put forth to make our designs more environmentally friendly is worthwhile. I think these voluntary guidelines are of a benefit to the industry.” Fore added, “When RVers are on the road and they leave their home idle and use, for instance, a 320-square-foot RV instead, they’re using less energy. And fuel economy on tow vehicles and motorhomes is steadily improving, which helps even more.”
Jayco’s president, Derald Bontrager, proudly reported that Jayco was honored to be the first major manufacturer to receive 100 percent green certification of all its towable and motorhome products. Bontrager also said that Jayco’s recycling program has been in effect since the early 1980s.
“Being green-minded is not a new concept at Jayco. A recent report of our efforts in 2009 shows that our recycling and other conservation programs helped us save more than 28,000 trees. We saved enough energy to power more than 600 family homes for an entire year, and saved more than 14,000 cubic yards of landfill space.”
Jay Mohamed, vice president of sales and marketing at Cruiser RV, told us, “Cruiser RV was green certified at a gold level in 2010. At that time we became more in tune to our procedures and processes along with the savings and efficiencies that came along with the certification. We installed a rain booth in our PDI bay and test our units as they come offline. The water that is used in the testing of the units is then recycled. We use Energy Star-rated electronics and other products on our trailers. With the majority of our trailers being shorter in length and width it helps reduce wind resistance and increase fuel economy.”
Mike Dolowy of Forest River’s R-pod and Surveyor division said, “The environment has been a hot topic over the past decade and we at R-pod and Surveyor are striving to do our part. We achieved a gold rating of green certification through TRA. Our gold rating is the result of a process using effective production techniques in combination with resources and materials that satisfy consumer needs with minimal environmental impact.”
David Hoefer Jr., vice president of sales, marketing and product development for Earthbound RV said, “We’ve virtually eliminated products containing formaldehyde and have designed our trailers for lighter weight and better aerodynamics, both to improve fuel economy.” Hoefer also said, “Yet we’ve improved durability by carefully choosing materials such as the special high-tech thermoplastic material on our roofs, instead of conventional EPDM rubber; it’s more expensive, but it’s much more durable and saves money for the customer in the long run.”
High-tech composite roofing, walls and floors are not only lighter and more robust, they’re resistant to mildew. And unlike materials such as luan paneling, they won’t swell or disintegrate if they get damp. Additionally, aluminum framework won’t dry rot like wood if some moisture gets in. At the end of the day, green RVs may cost a little more to manufacture, but they can often pay that back thanks to a longer service life and savings in reduced costs to heat, cool, provide hot water, electricity, and even towing them.
Green RV Manufacturers
The following list includes RV manufacturers that currently have some level of TRA certification: Airstream, Coachmen, Columbia Northwest, Cruiser RV, DRV Luxury Suites, Entegra Coach, Evergreen Recreational Vehicles, Forest River, Gulf Stream Coach, Jayco, Starcraft and Woodland Park. Expect the list to grow as more companies join the green revolution. For more information contact the TRA at 800-398-9282 or visit www.certifiedgreenrvs.com.