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Green Family Summer: On the Eco-Friendly Road

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When the Wilson family’s need to travel butted heads with high-gas prices and climate change, they feared the worst:  that their annual summer travels would finally have to come to an end.  After all, who can justify the CO2 emissions, let alone the expense, from hitting the American Road towing a camper the way we did in the good old days?

“The problem seemed intractable,” said Jeff Wilson, father of two, “but we didn’t want to give up this rewarding family experience outright.”  If they stopped traveling, how could Jeff and Sherri Wilson teach their young daughters, Winter and Sylvie, how to admire and respect nature if they couldn’t actually visit wild places?  More than that, how will America produce the next generation of conservationists if the only woods a child sees are on TV?  And just where will we learn to be tolerant of other cultures and ways of living if we don’t leave our backyards once in awhile?  Story after story in the media painted a gloomy picture of the future of family travel.

The Wilsons already minimize their environmental impact at home.  Having chosen a 1000 sq ft home in a small, walkable/bikeable community in the midwest, their simpler version of the American dream produces a relatively small footprint.  Having gone the extra mile in maximizing the home’s energy efficiency, purchasing green power from their utility, and eating locally produced foods, they had made an even larger (or, you might say, smaller) impact.  Still, travel is a sticky problem from an environmental standpoint.

“Instead of being overwhelmed by the problem, we decided to attack each aspect of our travel to find the best solutions,” they said.  Instead of trying to create the perfect green solution, the Wilson’s simply started by trying to improve on what they had.  Their old mode of travel employed a full-sized pickup (the most efficient in its class) and a small, 14’-long, high-profile travel trailer.  This set-up got them 11 mpg – dismal from an unencumbered car standpoint, but respectable for typical RV travel, which averages around 8mpg.  The next, logical step would be to change the vehicle to a hybrid SUV and the camper to a lighter, low-profile version.

Since they travel for a full three months in the summer, and rely on an HD video camera and laptop to make their living, they used a solar panel and a wind generator on the camper to provide power when parked.  This avoided the necessity of using a gasoline-powered generator, saving even more gas and CO2 emissions.  “Still,” said Sherri, “we couldn’t avoid producing some CO2, so we decided to balance out that with third-party audited carbon offsets from TerraPass.”  Until a zero-emission vehicle is available, carbon offsets will work like a self-imposed carbon tax, helping to fund wind-farms and solar fields to charge the electric cars of the future.

Once devised, they realized that the plan they had hatched made a great story.  Friends and co-workers encouraged them to tell their story to a wider audience, so they started the web-site www.greenfamilysummer.com.  As a host on HGTV and the diy network, Jeff had learned video production over his work in hundreds of episodes for those channels.  Since Sherri was a published photographer, they saw the transition to video as the easiest part of the challenge.  “When we started telling people our idea, they really got excited.  They wanted a way to keep up with us as we traveled, and to find out if the solutions we had found would really work,” Jeff said.  They shot HD video and still photos along the way, producing a blog and high-quality web-video series of their travel adventures.

In the end, the technology really made a difference.  “The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and the Aliner Ease camper got us nearly 19mpg,” remarked Sherri, “that surprised us – a 70% increase in our mileage over last year.”  Jeff adds, “I was skeptical, but it really worked.”  They saved $1500 in fuel costs over their 10,000 mile journey just this summer, and saw a reduction in CO2 emissions of over 40%, the rest of which they balanced out with the offsets.

Their journey took them to many national parks and wilderness areas across the country, with a more active approach to travel than the average American family.  They took the opportunity their blog afforded to visit three Nature Conservancy preserves along the way, highlighting the good work being done by that organization to preserve habitat.  “We hope to introduce more people to the Nature Conservancy,” Sherri said, “and show that there are good people doing good work out there who need our support.”

The Wilsons are optimistic.  “This is just the beginning,” Jeff observed, “If we can support these emerging technologies, it will help spur the demand for better, cleaner vehicles.”  And the benefits aren’t just in the form of saving money on gasoline and reducing emissions – the Wilson’s believe that utilizing the new technologies spurs job creation in clean energy and also reduces our dependence on foreign sources of oil, positively impacting our national security.  “It’s a win-win-win solution,” Sherri offered, “and our family grows closer on these trips – it’s not something we want to lose.”

View Episode One of Green Family Summer

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmxCi1pqCLM 325 255]

Green Family Summer is a project of the Wilson Family – Jeff, Sherri, Winter, & Sylvie.  You can follow their story on-line at www.greenfamilysummer.com.  When the Wilson’s aren’t traveling, they live simply in a little blue house in a small college town in Ohio.

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Comments

  1. ashley  November 17, 2008

    Interesting article – great to see a family being innovative! The New York Times recently posted an article featuring 3 ‘Environmental Pioneers’ in the RV industry – check out the featured ‘Green RV’ at http://www.wonderexplorebelieve.net