This website is brought to you by the National Caravan Council (NCC). We are the industry’s trade body with over 500 member companies which are in manufacturing, retailing, caravan park operations and providing specialist products and services to the trade and to caravanners.
There are about 500,000 touring caravans in use in the UK and recent UK production has been running at over 30,000 units per year. Holidays in caravans are one of the most popular paid for holidays for Britons.
It’s a great British industry, so it’s right to ask, how green is taking a holiday in a touring caravan? It has been estimated that 12% of the carbon footprint in the UK is related to recreation and leisure, clearly the area close to the caravanner’s heart. So our activities, and the choices that we make, have an impact on the world’s environment.
What is this website about?
Our aim is to allow people to make knowledgeable choices about caravan holidays. We want people to understand relative greenness by comparing the number of grams of carbon per kilometre per passenger over a whole return journey. We started by looking at holiday journeys made in touring caravans.
Where reliable data has not been available we’ve had to make some assumptions. The data that we used, its sources and the assumptions we made (where there is no data) are set out below.
A definition for sustainability
Any development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. One of the simpler ways to measure this is CO2 output. We use this measure to show information for a touring caravan journey compared with other forms of transport commonly used to get to a holiday destination.
Why is the NCC concerned with green caravanning?
The NCC signed the Trade Association Forum Good Practice Guide for Sustainable Consumption and Production and so we have a responsibility to act as a lead for our industry to achieve sustainable change. This can only be brought about with support from caravanners - much of the energy associated with the use of a touring caravan is going to be within the control of the caravanner rather than the producer. Energy use also extends across the whole lifetime of the touring caravan - from its initial production to its final recycling, which could be more than 15 years. So, it’s an important subject.
Do we believe in global warming and climate change?
There are strong indications that beyond short term and seasonal weather effects there are fundamental changes in climatic conditions that are beginning to have a noticeable effect on Earth. It is not our job to prove this but we do recognise that all of us could be contributing to this effect. Doing nothing is therefore not an option.
Why is CO2 important?
CO2 as a gas in the atmosphere acts as a blanket, preventing the re-radiation of infrared heat from the sun back into the outer atmosphere during the night. This tends to raise temperatures on land during both day and night. It is one of the so called ‘greenhouse gases’ which are believed to be responsible for global warming and the alteration of large scale temperature driven activities like wind and sea movements. Today, we are hearing a lot about the gradual warming of the earth and its immediate atmosphere. From this, it is also responsible for melting of ice caps and glaciers and the increase of moisture carried in the air which can fall as rain. Measuring CO2 output is an important means towards changing what we do, for the better of all.
We have calculated the CO2 outputs for four fairly typical holiday journeys in a touring caravan for a family of four. A variety of combinations of car and caravan have been used to demonstrate this, excluding those combinations that are not safe or legal. Comparisons are made with journeys by coach, train and plane to the same destination.
Towcars used in our examples
- Small car is a Ford Focus
- Medium car is a Vauxhall Vectra
- Large car is a Kia Sorento (4x4)
The towcar fuel used in our example journeys is diesel, which is the natural choice of caravanners. Consumption values (under tow) for the various combinations have been derived from practical test results available in the public domain.
Calculations for the distances travelled are:
- - for a touring caravan by road, we used a common route planning program.
- - rail journey lengths have been calculated, where feasible, using actual rail journey distances.
- - air travel distances are point to point with a 9% increase factor, as used in the Government’s ActonCO2 website.
The calculations for towcar/caravan combinations is a function that uses a constant, based on the relationship between the amount of carbon in a litre of fuel. This was calculated from data on the Vehicle Certification Agency’s (VCA) website on CO2 emissions vs. fuel consumption – a constant relationship as there is a given amount of carbon contained in each fuel type, typically 2.3kg and 2.6kg per litre of petrol and of diesel, respectively. The result is refined by dividing by the number of occupants to provide estimates of grams of CO2 per kilometre per passenger which can then be compared with other modes of transport.
Train occupancy and emissions data are derived from ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) information. We used this across the European rail network (as opposed to data based on a large proportion of electricity generated from nuclear sources, as is the case in France). We believe this is a more reasonable comparison – a more “level playing field” for the different types of transport.
Coach diesel consumption comes from vehicle manufacturers’ data.
Aircraft average emission data comes from the ActonCO2 website http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/index.html.
We have submitted our calculations to Transport & Travel Research Ltd - www.ttr-ltd.com - for an independent view. They are an established, medium-sized consultancy company specialising in the field of transport policy research. They focus on the role of transport in the wider contexts of sustainable development and social inclusion.
They have concluded that the data and the approach we have used are reasonable.
All on board? Occupancy is a critical factor
One of the problems with comparison is occupancy. If you were organising a group outing to the seaside, the most sustainable way to get there would be in a fleet of coaches, all fully occupied. But if you hired one coach and this was occupied by only one passenger, the CO2 output for this coach’s journey would be massive and clearly unsustainable. The message is clear – the more passengers you have (subject to the legal maximum) the greener the caravan journey.
All transport networks rely on very large infrastructures, such as airports, railway stations etc. All vehicles need some form of routine repair and maintenance. So the results for CO2 output which this website (and others) produces do not fully reflect all the background and economic activities and manufacturing processes that support the different modes of transport. We had to draw a line somewhere.
The results for the different types of transport are shown on the website graphically, reflecting the following CO2 outputs in tonnes:
|Car/caravan combination||Manchester-Newquay||East Midlands-Marseilles||London-Inverness||London-Malaga|
The touring caravan journeys appear to be relatively green in many instances, when the travel part of a holiday is viewed in isolation. There are greener alternatives as the data shows, particularly over long distances, but these are very different kinds of holiday journey, over which the traveller has perhaps less control over events and the CO2 output.
This page offers you the ability to calculate the CO2 output from your own touring caravan holiday travel route and compare it with other means of transport.
First of all, you can define your towcar/caravan combination, excluding those combinations which are unsafe or illegal.
Next you can select the fuel your towcar will use – mainly petrol or diesel (see below). You can refine your combination’s calculated fuel consumption to match your own experience. You will need to define the number of occupants of your towcar and the return journey distance to your chosen destination.
The result is compared to values for the same distance by train, coach and plane.
No allowance has been made for sea crossings. Carbon calculator data for this may be found at www.CO2balance.com but appears not to apply to enough crossings used typically by caravanners going to Europe and is not in our view comprehensive enough. Journeys which include sea crossings will have a lower CO2 output than is calculated by this website.
Towcar fuel consumption
The towcar/caravan combination calculated CO2 output values are based on average fuel consumption values published by VCA car fuel data for the combined cycle performance and thus involve a degree of stop/start driving. If your journey involves a large amount of motorway driving, your average fuel consumption may be lower, thus producing a lower CO2 output value. That is why we have included the option for you to set your own average value for your particular towcar.
Most people will tow their touring caravan from home to their holiday destination and back. For our calculation, this is defined as the entire journey. However, it is unlikely that the other mass transport systems used for comparison can offer this door to door approach for most people. So the other transport modes will underestimate to some degree the total CO2 output for their comparative journeys.
The calculations are based on the same assumptions that support the calculations for the four typical journeys shown earlier on the website. The CO2 output data used in these calculations are tabulated below.
|Mode of travel||Grams of CO2 per kilometre|
|Small Car/ Small caravan - petrol||305 per unit|
|Medium Car/ Small caravan - petrol||336 per unit|
|Medium Car/Medium caravan - petrol||373 per unit|
|Large Car/Small caravan - petrol||320 per unit|
|Large Car/Medium caravan - petrol||354 per unit|
|Large Car/Large caravan - petrol||396 per unit|
|Small Car/ Small caravan - diesel||241 per unit|
|Medium Car/ Small caravan - diesel||234 per unit|
|Medium Car/Medium caravan - diesel||268 per unit|
|Large Car/Small caravan - diesel||300 per unit|
|Large Car/Medium caravan - diesel||326 per unit|
|Large Car/Large caravan - diesel||357 per unit|
|Coach||58 per person|
|Train||61 per person|
|Aircraft||150 short haul/130 long haul/per person|
The data for towcar/caravan combinations is then divided by the number of occupants entered into the calculation to get a basis for comparison with the other modes of transport.
A critical variable in all these calculations is occupancy levels. If a single driver travels in a large towcar and large caravan combination, this is a much less sustainable journey than when passengers accompany the driver. The aim of the CO2 calculator is to provide a caravanner with information to make knowledgeable choices about different kinds of journeys towing a touring caravan.
In the future, hybrid vehicle types may prove suitable as towing vehicles and would undoubtedly benefit the environment with lower CO2 output. Biofuels are already being more widely used in some countries. However, there is not sufficient consumption data yet available from the use of hybrid vehicles, biofuels or other low emissions producing fuels - such as CNG (compressed natural gas) or LPG. We will include these in the calculator as soon as there is sufficient consumption data available.
What about carbon offsetting?
Everything that we do involves the generation of CO2. It is absorbed by plant life and the oceans, but is also released by them. There are two ways to offset CO2 production, but these still need to be studied carefully to ensure that they are realistic.
The first is to increase the area of harvestable woodland within the world. When a tree grows it absorbs CO2 at a much greater rate than when mature so that it is important that it is cropped/harvested before maturity is reached. Simply buying trees as a means to offset your own carbon output is not always the right solution, unless the tree you buy is properly managed.
The second, more difficult, way is to endow the developing world with class leading energy efficiency and technology, so that these countries become low CO2 producers. The world population is still set to rise considerably within the developing world and this will cause a significant increase in CO2 output if not assisted by the recent technological benefits available in the developed world. This is shrouded in politics and beyond the scope of this website.
What can a caravanner do to make a real difference?
There’s a lot of things you could do when caravanning to lessen your fuel consumption and hence your CO2 output. Here are ten tips for you to consider:
- A perfect match - chose a towcar that is the right match for your caravan so you are not constantly changing gear. There are outfit matching programs used by caravan dealers to help you with this.
- Watch your speed - towing at 40mph, where appropriate, will use much less fuel than when towing at 50mph (or more).
- Lighten up - the more weight that you carry the more you have to accelerate and brake in speed changes.
- Be cycle savvy – cycling when on holiday is a virtually zero emission way of getting around. But irregular-shaped items, such as bicycles, on a roof rack increases wind drag. Rear-mounted carriers are more energy efficient. (Don’t be tempted to carry them on a rack on the front of the caravan as this might adversely affect noseweight and the balance of your caravan.)
- Box clever - the use of a profiled roofbox may enhance the aerodynamic properties of the towcar/caravan combination and reduce fuel consumption. Remove roof bars when not in use, otherwise solo consumption will be worsened.
- Be a considerate caravanner - try to travel at less busy times. If caught in a traffic jam or causing a tailback, try to leave the road and allow the flow to stabilise. The ability to pull up and take time out is one of the major advantages for a caravanner and a goodwill gesture to other road users!
- Turn off – switch off your engine if there is clearly no movement ahead – not just when towing.
- Stop starting - in a long tailback, try driving slowly forwards in a low gear, thus reducing the need to brake and avoiding stop/start motoring. It’ll reduce brake and clutch wear, too.
- Service station - ensure that your car and caravan are serviced regularly, so that both are in optimum condition.
- No pressure? Check tyre pressures regularly - correct tyre pressures on your car and caravan reduce fuel consumption and prevent adverse tyre wear and handling problems.
Enjoy your journey in a touring caravan, but don’t be complacent if you score the best result from your journey. All of us need to improve by reducing our current CO2 output levels, whatever way they are generated.