Close up of grass meadow showing tents in the distance

How Green Is A Campervan?

One question on all our minds at the moment is ‘How can I reduce my impact on the environment?’. The truth is that by owning a campervan, you may already be making a difference to your carbon footprint. 

This page looks at how Euro 6 diesel campervans outperform cars over a lifetime, when it comes to overall environmental impact.

Let’s begin with a straight head to head between a new VW T6 and a mid-sized family estate car. Based on fuel economy and emission alone, the family estate will win hands down. But that doesn’t take account of the long game.

It’s not all about MPG and CO2 emissions

A closer look at the data reveals a surprising truth about the comparison. The average age of a car in the UK is 7.7 years, while a typical camper or motorhome will last 20 years or more. So surely this makes the camper worse? More miles, more pollution? Well no, when it comes to car emissions it’s not all about mpg and CO2 emissions.

The process of building a car or camper also produces emissions, and in many cases more emissions than the vehicle will produce in a lifetime of driving. If the car is then scrapped after 8 years, the cycle starts all over again.

By contrast, a camper should have a lifespan two or three times longer as they are seen as high value investments, and will therefore be looked after for longer. This reduces the embodied energy cost per year.

My family car is a good example

It’s a 2007 VW Passat estate TDi, it’s done 260,000 miles, still gives 45 to the gallon, is regularly serviced and is as reliable as any 3 year old car.

At some point soon though, we will get a repair bill that’s more than its value of around £1500.

This is when I will probably buy something to replace it.

 

However, if I were making the same decision about a 12 year old T5, fully converted into my ‘pride and joy’ camper, with a market value of £15-20k, then I would be digging deep to keep it on the road and maintaining my investment.

So why does this really matter? Well, if we are talking about doing our bit to help save the planet or prevent Climate Change, then it matters a lot. There is no reason why, with some ongoing investment, your camper can’t last 20 years plus, become a future classic and beat my family estate hands down when it comes to environmental impact.

OK, let’s crunch some numbers

Here’s the maths… Building a mid-sized family estate puts an estimated 17 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere during production. Divide that by a life cycle of 8 years and you get 2.125 tons per year. Then add the average annual CO2 emissions for driving 12000 miles, 2.5 tons according to carbonfootprint.com, and you get a total of 4.625 tons of per year.

A VW T6 van is a bigger vehicle which needs to be converted, so an average camper might put 20 tons of CO2 out during its build. Spread this over 25 years and you get 0.8 tons per year, and with 3.48 tons for driving 12k miles, the total comes in at 4.28 tons. So pretty much the same figures…. But that’s only part of the story.

 

How bad is diesel vs electric?

Let’s consider all the energy used in building electric vehicles and the relatively environmentally unfriendly process of producing the batteries. When comparing an average car with a small electric vehicle, the lifecycle emissions can be reduced by up to 50%.

In the UK, with our mix of fossil fuel and renewable energy, comparing a like-for-like small, efficient diesel vehicle with a small EV, such as a Nissan Leaf, currently produces a saving of around a third.

Good and, importantly, only predicted to get better as renewables take over. And now that there are fully electric alternatives to the T6, there are viable alternatives to traditional vans.

There are also positives to be gained by converting a second-hand base vehicle because you are likely to extend its life on the road, therefore reducing its embodied energy cost per mile. Every year thereafter that you use this vehicle, its relative impact on the environment reduces due to its longevity.

Will I still be able to drive a petrol/diesel van
in 10 years?

Outside of city centres, probably yes. But the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have announced plans to take diesel cars and vans off their roads by 2025.

And, as of October 2021, central London’s ULEZ was extended to include most of Inner London, meaning that all drivers of vehicles made before 2005-06 now pay a daily £12.50 toxicity charge, on top of the existing £15 congestion charge.

 

The future of electric campervans

OK, so who do I think I’m kidding? 25 years for the life of a camper? Diesel and petrol will be banned long before that, but as we have seen in California and the UK, classic vehicles have a greater built in value and so are worth converting to electric. In fact look up “electric bay window camper” and you will find all sorts of companies and enthusiast around the world giving old campers a new lease of life. Not just because they love them, but because it makes financial sense. There’s even a solar-powered camper scene starting to build, there’s a great example here.

With the concerns about environmental damage caused by diesels, and the rise of electric vehicles, you might be asking yourself, is this really the right time to be buying a diesel or petrol campervan?

Well, historically there hasn’t been much choice out there if you want a camper with limited alternatives to petrol or diesel, but the good news is that this is beginning to change with the advent of several electric vans suitable to conversion to a camper, and we are converting them from the spring of 2022.

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Head over to our new guide to Electric Campervans for more information on what’s available now and the future of converting a diesel camper to electric.

What makes a Cambee campervan greener?

At Cambee, we are committed to making our conversions as environmentally positive as possible. By building from sustainable materials wherever possible, and by designing our conversions and building them to withstand many years of enjoyment, we help ensure that the shell of the vehicle gets as long a life as possible. In this way we feel that we are helping to reduce the vehicle’s environmental build impact.

We only use fully sustainable, European sourced timber and plywood for our campervan furniture, and the Formica used to finish our cabinets is compressed paper and resin. Our interiors are designed to be easily repairable for years to come, and we avoid plastic catches and fittings where ever possible. We use DCW, a Zero To Landfill recycling waste service for our waste and our workshop is powered by 100% renewable energy from ecotricity.

To find out what else we’re doing to lessen our environmental impact, head over to our Sustainability page.

Conclusion

The complexity of this issue is clear. It’s difficult to argue that digging 2 tons of raw materials out of the ground, processing them, sending them round the world and converting them into a brand new campervan is environmentally friendly.

But depending on how long the camper lasts, and a with few simple decisions, a campervan could actually have the least impact on our environment, if you are planning to run a vehicle.

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