Cover of Harvard researcher's paper on sustainability at RV parks.

Editor’s Note: A Harvard University researcher recently published a 44-page paper that focuses on various sustainability issues in the RV industry. The study has a section on RV holding tank chemicals. The author notes the many problems that these chemicals create for park operators and for the environment. The study also notes that these chemicals have been completely banned in Australia. The executive summary follows. Click here to read the entire report, titled “A Study of Sustainability at RV Parks.”

Executive Summary

The natural landscape that makes recreational vehicle (RV) travel so rewarding does not insulate the hospitality leg of the RV industry ‐‐ RV parks and campgrounds‐‐from issues of environmentally sustainability which similarly confront other travel sectors. Greenhouse gas accounting confirms that actual RV travel creates a lower carbon footprint than comparable air/drive/hotel vacations, research borne out across different continents. Yet despite this lower‐impact lifestyle, RV travel entails increasing energy demand from larger vehicle floor plans and novel, energy‐based comforts.

RV industry demographics forecast rising RV sales over the next decade due to a growing U.S. population and higher rates of RV ownership, factors which further compel sustainable approaches at RV guest facilities. Furthermore, the use of chemical‐based cleaners in RV holding tanks, often by non‐resident park guests indifferent to local campground health, leads to corrosion and costly clean‐up. RV park owners concur that taming energy consumption and eliminating sewage damage would strengthen both the economic and environmental management at their parks. Overcoming the challenges of both issues will have to commit RV travelers, manufacturers, state and federal legislators, and product suppliers to share responsibility with RV park management for environmental sustainability.

This paper examines the underlying challenges to achieve this objective on‐site at parks. National and park‐specific initiatives to introduce campground managers to sustainable practice provide a state‐of‐the‐industry framework. Snapshot comparisons of energy use, installed renewable systems, and costs by region provide insight into long‐term, cost/benefit decisions facing park management. Brief summary conclusions precede my own recommendations for greater RV park sustainability. These include some unconventional proposals for rethinking energy use based on realistic pricing mechanisms that reflect true electricity draw. Deleterious dumping into RV septic systems demands a legislative ban on chemical holding tank products. The green‐friendly RV park sustainability program for set forth by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds can be made more robust and attractive to its membership through higher visibility recognition and marketing incentives. Sustainable park designation also should be streamlined on the model of Australia’s green park certification through owner‐initiated proof of action, thereby drawing in more member parks. Leadership shown by corporate RV park networks and franchises will help position sustainability in the mainstream campground industry through the replication of green practices. The combination of initiatives can return sustainability to the core of RV culture, thus realigning it with the industry’s best asset, the land.