‘Green’ Page

How ‘green’ is life in Cuthbert?

Solar Panels - eco-friendly living in a camper van

Cuthbert’s solar panels

One of the considerations for many people in modern life is your impact on the environment. We wanted to make sure that whilst we were travelling, we would not have a high environmental impact. So how is eco-friendly living in a camper van ?  We chose a vehicle with supporting systems that we believed would be as efficient as possible.

But Cuthbert is a 5.9 ton truck…” we hear you cry! “… and you are driving two or three thousand miles a month on diesel fuel….worse still, it is African 500ppm diesel…. how can you claim to be ‘green’?”.

So can we reasonably be accused of destroying the environment and living a ‘non-sustainable’ lifestyle? Before we set off for Africa, we decided to find out just how ‘green’ life in Cuthbert would be.

The lifestyle ‘Carbon Footprint’

The commonly recognised gauge of your impact on the globe seems to be your ‘Carbon Footprint’. Fortunately for us, we have a good friend Dr. Deborah Andrews of London South Bank University’s Materials and Sustainability Research Group, who is a guru in these things.

Deborah very kindly assessed our carbon footprint for life in Cuthbert and analysed it against our previous lifestyles. The three ‘comparator lifestyles’ are us (i.e. two adults) living:

a) in a semi-detached house in England;

b) in a villa in Qatar; and

c) in Cuthbert, on the road in Africa.

Considering each of our lifestyles (a) – (c) Deborah did a thorough assessment, taking all aspects of our lifestyles into account, including things such as:-

  • the fuel used in our houses and vehicles;
  • methods of heating/cooling;
  • our cooking;
  • means/types of holiday travel;
  • the food we consume (local or not);
  • recycling activity;
  • leisure activities; and
  • the energy used to build our accommodation (i.e. house/truck)!

As you can imagine, this resulted in a long and technically quite detailed report. We are therefore only quoting a summary of the results here and have added Dr Andrews’ academic footnote at the end of this page:

                                 Lifestyle                                     Estimated CO2 equivalent tonnes per annum

(a)   Semi-detached house in UK                                                       49.71 CO2e tonnes pa

(b)   Villa in Qatar                                                                                 63.72 CO2e tonnes pa

(c)   Travelling in Cuthbert (an Iveco Daily 4×4 truck)                    18.33 CO2e tonnes pa
around Africa, up to 50,000 km per year*

(* In fact we are actually averaging less than 40,000 km per year so far, so we are even greener than provided for in the above estimation!)

Perhaps not surprisingly, living in Cuthbert generates a significantly ‘greener footprint’ than the ‘high energy’ lifestyle under constant air-conditioning in Qatar. However we were pleasantly surprised by the result that life in Cuthbert is ‘greener’ than our lifestyle in a conventional house in UK!

So what makes Cuthbert so ‘green’?

The three main factors in Cuthbert’s ‘green credentials’ are:

  1. Use of solar energy for most of our electrical needs
  2. A very high level of insulation in the construction of the shell, requiring little energy for heating or cooling; and
  3. The latest Euro 5 EEV vehicle.

Looking at each of these in turn:

1. Solar energy: As I type this, we are sitting in Cuthbert parked-up near a water-hole in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, waiting for the elephants to arrive for their late-afternoon drink. My laptop is being charged by the solar panels, which has also powered the kettle to boil the water, and powered the fridge for the fresh milk, to make my cup of tea!

The solar is also recharging the leisure battery that supplied all our electrical needs overnight, powered the water-pumps for the shower and powered Julie’s hair dryer after she washed her hair!

Whilst we are driving, the surplus solar energy from the panels is not wasted; the solar panels supply power to the main battery as well as to the leisure battery. The solar energy therefore reduces the amount of electricity that the engine alternator is required to produce, which also saves fuel.

2. Insulation of the cabin structure: Cuthbert’s body-shell is constructed from panels of 50mm thick insulating foam, sandwiched between two layers of 2mm thick plastic. The insulation value of this innovative material is phenomenal. During our European ‘test-trip’ before departing for Africa, we took Cuthbert on a winter-tour around several Alpine ski-resorts. With an outside temperature of -4C overnight, we had the heating on inside Cuthbert, up to a toasty +20C. In the morning, despite us having maintained an internal 20C throughout the night, the outside retained a full coating of frost and ice. None of the internal heat had escaped through the walls to melt the layer of ice that had formed around the outer shell. Impressive huh?

So unlike living in a conventional house in UK, very little energy is required for heating. But what about the heat? Do we need to use energy to cool the cabin, as we did so voraciously in our villa in the 50C+ heat of Qatar?

Since we have been in the African heat, we have found that provided that we keep the sun from coming directly in through the windows, the heat of the sun does not penetrate the shell to heat-up the inside. Cuthbert stays bearably cool at around 25C, despite the heat outside soaring to well over 35C (Note: so far we have only experienced an African winter, we’ll see how this copes with a summer season, when temperatures are likely to rise well over 40C in places. We have however so far found that the combination of roof hatches and windows, provides very effective ventilation).

A final note on Cuthbert’s construction material: not only does it provide outstanding insulation value, but it is amazingly strong and rigid. On one of our factory visits mid-construction, the cabin shell had been assembled and the window/door holes cut into the sides, but none of the internal structure (e.g. bathroom walls) had yet been added for rigidity.  Marcus, together with four other large German chaps, walked around on the roof without a hint of any flexing of the roof panel or the side-walls.  Again… ‘Impressive, huh?’

3. The Euro 5 EEV Vehicle: Cuthbert has a Euro 5 engine which is also EEV (Enhanced Environmental Vehicle) compliant. This results in very low emissions and fuel consumption.  In fact, with an average fuel consumption of 14.1 L/100 km (20.1 mpg) in Europe and 15.1 L/100 km (18.7 mpg in Africa), this performance is better than many, much smaller, 4×4 vehicles and cars, even when they are loaded-up to a far lower weight than Cuthbert’s 5,900 kg.

Further, alternative vehicles in Africa are not available with a Euro 5 engine; they only meet Euro 3 standards at best, and are much more polluting. Touring in Cuthbert is therefore far ‘greener’ than hiring a local vehicle.

In addition to the above three key factors, a few other points allow us to maintain our ‘green’ credentials:

Water:  for our water usage we have an on-board water filtration system.  We therefore can, and do, fill our fresh water tank from almost any source (e.g. a tap, a river or a well) and convert it safely to drinking water.  As a result, we have not bought any bottled water and had no instances of… how shall we put this delicately?…… ‘tummy trouble’!

Food:   we are sourcing almost all of our food locally as we travel, which greatly reduces the air-miles our food has travelled to reach us (particularly when compared to Qatar, where 100% of the food supply is imported by air-freight).

Laundry: Cuthbert has many fabulous hi-tech features in his design, but a combined washer/drier is unfortunately not one of these!  We do all of our laundry by hand and then hang it out to dry on something called ‘a washing line’ (remember those???).   This rather ‘mid-20th century’ practice is a great way to reduce water and energy usage compared to our previous lifestyles of automatic washing machines and tumble-driers!    Oh, and shockingly, we no longer iron anything either!

[Academic footnote:  Please note that Carbon Footprints are a guide to environmental impact based on energy use and related ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions only; the emphasis of this type of study is therefore the ‘use’ phase of any product be it a mobile phone, kettle, vehicle or house. A full Life Cycle (Environmental Impact) Assessment includes many more inputs and outputs and is by default more comprehensive and accurate.

It is difficult to envisage CO2 by weight, so volume can be quite useful and there are some good examples in David MacKay’s book ‘Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air’ http://www.withouthotair.com/cI/page_332.shtml ]

You may also find our Emissions Control page interesting, click here for more details.