“Responsible by design.”
This tagline appears on Airstream’s website and succinctly describes the company’s efforts to conserve resources in its manufacturing practices and promote sustainability efforts not only in the RV industry, but also
among its users.
Just looking through the Airstream website, this dedication to the environment is evident – with webpages explaining how the company pushes this mission “at the factory,” “on the road,” and “at the campsite.”
“The Airstream experience requires the natural world outdoors, which is why we feel it’s our responsibility to make efforts to reduce Airstream’s overall environmental impact,” Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler says, communicating with RV PRO via email in late February. “Airstreamers travel beyond the city, out into the quiet, the solitude and the majesty of the natural world. As a community, we must protect the world we live in and explore.”
Minimizing Its Environmental Impact
To support this mission, Airstream has embarked on a number of initiatives.
“To that end, we’ve made efforts to reduce Airstream’s overall environmental impact. In partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF), our Caravan to Carbon Neutral initiative continues to underwrite the planting of trees to help sequester the estimated carbon generated during the first year of use of new Airstream travel trailers and touring coaches purchased during a specific year. That figure also includes estimated carbon emitted during the manufacturing and transportation of Airstream from the Jackson Center, Ohio, production facility to dealerships nationwide during a specific year,” Wheeler says. “Owners can sequester additional carbon emissions by purchasing ‘Carbon Reduction Kits’ from the National Forest Foundation. Each Carbon Reduction Kit purchased is tax deductible, with 100% of the proceeds directly supporting the NFF’s tree planting program.
“The beauty of this effort is that we are both sequestering estimated carbon and enhancing our national forests, which are popular outdoor recreation destinations for all Americans.”
The company’s Ohio facilities are fully powered by renewable energy.
“Airstream is dedicated to leaving our natural world better than we found it and addressing the causes of climate change is central to that mission,” Wheeler says. “Transportation accounts for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., so this is an area where we, as an industry, have a responsibility and an opportunity to lead.
“The electricity at Airstream’s production facility in Jackson Center, Ohio, is powered by renewable energy credits purchased through Jackson Center Municipal Power’s EcoSmart Choice program. In addition, Airstream has established a future goal of zero-waste-to-landfill.
“The industry is getting better across the board, and we’re trying hard to lead the way on these types of efforts.”
Airstream also works to use durable materials during manufacturing and recycle any materials leftover. Airstream’s website shows in 2021, it has recycled:
- 13 tons of plastic
- 6 tons of Styrofoam
- 14 tons of copper
- 145 tons of steel
- 261 tons of cardboard
- 237 tons of pallets
- 1,326 tons of aluminum
At the Jackson Center facility, the company says it is “implementing smart technologies and equipment upgrades, including LED lighting and variable speed air compressors.”
In addition, Airstream recycles water used at its factory. The company sprays each Airstream with 10,000 gallons of water for 30 minutes in a testing bay, monitoring the interior for leaks. All of this water is processed through filters before reused for the next test, according to the website.
Designed for Efficiency and Longevity
Airstream says its RVs are “as green as it is silver.” The “aerodynamic, aluminum shell reduces drag on the highway, helping tow vehicles get better mileage.”
“With an eye toward the environment, Airstream endeavors to use sustainable materials when possible and create products that stand the test of time. One of the things we joke about is that Airstream travel trailers are built in such a way that they just don’t end up in landfills,” Wheeler says. “That’s the result of more than 90 years of innovation and design evolution – and it really started back when Wally Byam founded the company in 1931.
“He was always innovating, always looking for new techniques and materials that would push the industry ahead. He always said that he wanted these travel trailers to slip down the highway like a stream of air, and that design mentality is alive and well today. We’ve conducted wind tunnel testing on certain travel trailers that demonstrates how the curved shape results in reduced aerodynamic drag. That’s a big deal as we see more and more people towing with electric vehicles and wanting to tow with smaller internal combustion vehicles.
“But it’s not just about the exterior. Airstream is seeking to use sustainably produced materials inside our products whenever practicable. You see it in our new REI Co-op Basecamp travel trailer, where we’re using post-consumer recycled materials in a portion of the surfaces and upholstery. And we’re incorporating features like an optional composting toilet that saves water and power, and an on-demand water heater that results in less water going down the drain while you’re waiting for it to heat up.”
Airstream’s owners are like-minded when it comes to protecting the environment – the company says after speaking with thousands of users, they learned that 80% of them believe that spending time outside is important for their well-being – and the same number also believe in leaving the places where they’ve camped more beautiful than how they found it. Airstream’s “Leave it Beautiful” campaign helps owners make as little impact as possible on their environment while traveling, the company’s website says.
Through its Leave it Beautiful campaign, Airstream has sourced tips and supplies that help their users travel responsibly – including purchasing Carbon Reduction Kits, and clean-up gear such as reusable bags and gloves to collect trash. The Airstream Supply Company website has biogradeable plates for sale, reusable stainless steel cutlery, sustainably made mattresses and more.
A few tips Airstream offers its owners for traveling sustainably include:
- Park the Airstream in the shade
- Use open windows and onboard fans to create airflow
- Reduce use of gas-powered generators
- Use recycled and compostable
- Reduce single-use plastics
- Purchase sustainably manufactured plates, silverware and cups
(consider compostable items made of recycled materials)
- Limit the load on the Airstream’s onboard batteries by using rechargeable power sources
- Get to nearby attractions from your campsite using bicycles
- Find campgrounds and camping locations that use sustainable practices
- Buy local ingredients and cook in the Airstream or over a campfire
“From our headquarters to our nationwide dealer network, Airstream’s mission is to bring people together in the experience of exploration and adventure,” Wheeler says. “And we feel a responsibility to promote stewardship of the outdoor world through programs like our Caravan to Carbon Neutral, through the design and material choices we’re making, and the manufacturing processes we’ve established. We strive to uphold our promises to both our customers and the natural world in every aspect of the Airstream experience – at the factory, on the road and at the campsite.”
Those efforts have led to innovations with its parent company THOR Industries, including the Airstream eStream Concept Travel Trailer, which has high-voltage batteries, a solar rooftop and electronic systems for camping far from shore power. The eStream has a full powertrain integrated into the chassis, a drive axle with dual motors to extend towing range, and advanced sensors and stability controls that eliminate the need for a weight distribution hitch. In addition, rooftop features have been integrated inside the body to further reduce drag. The company says the eStream is “the most technologically advanced travel trailer ever produced by Airstream or its THOR partners.”
“As we look to the future, we’re always trying to innovate with an
eye toward sustainability. Concept designs like the eStream Concept Travel Trailer we built in partnership with
our parent company, THOR Industries,
are just one facet of how we’re exploring the future of sustainable design,” Wheeler says.
“As EV towing becomes more prevalent – and as consumers become more tuned into living and traveling sustainably – we want to be at the forefront of the conversation. Innovation and evolution are the way to do that, and our concept vehicles point the way toward achieving those goals.”