Editor’s Note: T.R. Arnold and Associates, veteran third-party certification business based in Elkhart, Ind., has entered the “green” certification industry with TRA Certification Inc. The following position paper was provided by the firm.

Green business has become good business. And that is especially true for the RV and park model industries, says Tom Arnold, president of TRA Certification Inc., a green certification company affiliated with T.R. Arnold and Associates Inc. and a long-time, internationally accredited certifier of quality management systems.

“RVers represent a customer-base that is particularly attuned to environmental concerns. That includes a growing awareness of the many ways in which we, and the products we buy, can impact our environment.”

What that means is that “green” is rapidly becoming a key factor in the public’s buying decisions. And what exactly is “green?”

Green defined

“A green RV incorporates environmental consideration and resource efficiency into every step of the development and manufacturing process,” says Arnold. “The design, construction and operation of a green RV focuses on energy and water efficiency, resource-efficient building design and materials, and the indoor air quality. A green assessment of a company and its product takes into account the entire impact of both processes and product on the environment — it is a holistic approach to the production process.”

In this environmentally friendly regard, the RV industry has been moving ahead in a number of ways, says Arnold. RVs are using more aerodynamic designs and lighter weight materials to reduce fuel consumption. Motor homes are using more fuel efficient engines. RV and park model suppliers have catered to the green demand with items such as low-flow fixtures and more efficient appliances. Other companies have committed themselves to internal sustainability practices such as reducing paper in favor of more electronic communication.

“There are many ways in which a company can tout its greenness,” says Arnold. “Often a company may not even realize what can be called green. Awnings, for example, not only provide campsite shade for RVers, but also for their RV, thereby reducing cooling loads.”

Saving money

But going green is not simply about pleasing customers, says Arnold. Cutting back on unnecessary waste and utilizing resource and energy efficient products also saves money. Stuart Hart, director of the University of Michigan’s Corporate Environmental Management Program, wrote in Northwest Environmental Journal that, “Wasteful and polluting throughput practices lead to inefficient use of material and human resources as well as occupational and public health risks.” Thinking green, in fact, is thinking bottom line in terms of more efficient, cost-saving practices — something on every company’s front burner these days.

Of course, product appeal is part of that bottom line, and RV and park model companies are eager to tap into the need for more environmentally friendly offerings. But how can companies effectively communicate the green virtues of their product and the company that stands behind it? That is one of the challenges RV manufacturers face, says Arnold. “There are a lot of companies making green claims right now,” he says. “Sometimes on a very flimsy basis. Customers find these claims often don’t match expectations. They don’t know who or what to trust.”

Green certified: what customers can trust

Gaining that trust, says Arnold, is where companies like TRA Certification come in. As an offshoot of T.R. Arnold and Associates, TRA has established itself in the modular and manufactured housing industry as a provider of a third party evaluation that companies can use to support their green claims. Now TRA seeks to do the same for the RV and park model industries and will certify a number of companies by the end of the year. However, for its work to be effective, “We recognized that there needed to be some industrywide consensus of what it means to be green,” says Mandy Leazenby, green program manager for TRA and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional. LEED is a green building program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Customers need to know exactly what we’re talking about when we say ‘green,’ explains Leazenby. ‘The better we define that, the more credible certification and company claims will be.”

Since no such standards currently exist for the RV industry. TRA turned to its expertise in the modular and manufactured housing industry, using the National Green Building Standard, a consensus standard for single-family dwellings established by the Amercian National Standards Institute, the Association of Home Builders and the International Code Council.

“We’re using this consensus standard as a platform to implement the parts that are applicable to the RV industry,” says Leazenby. “By using this well-regarded, existing consensus standard we provide a lot of credibility for any certification that a company or product is indeed environmentally friendly.”

Two-step evaluation

TRA’s process can be an educational evaluation for any company in terms of environmental best practices. The first step is to certify that the manufacturer is green capable, says Arnold. “We go to the factory and we look at what’s going on with their processes.” That includes examining recycling programs and manufacturing methods to ensure the company is able to produce RVs compliant with green standards.

The second step is to examine the materials and appliances that go into making an RV in order to certify that a specific model is green. In this and other ways, TRA can be helpful in determining exactly what is green and what isn’t. “Any supplier can claim to be green. However, company personnel may not have time to research these claims. We do that for them. And, as I’ve noted, companies may be doing things they don’t realize are green. In this case, we can give them some more talking points.”

The upshot is that TRA’s green certification gives RVers another reason to buy and ensures their experience will be as advertised, creating customer loyalty and great word of mouth advertising. “Our certification provides the recognition that a company’s efforts deserve. It’s also great marketing leverage,” says Arnold.

“With all the environmental concerns that have developed, we clearly need to do whatever we can to protect our earth and the surroundings that we know and enjoy,” says Arnold. “Building green is simply the right thing to do. But companies also need to look at it as a business opportunity. This is the direction in which the world is heading. Companies need green business strategies to make sure they are on the leading edge of this new movement. We’re here to help.”

For more information contact Mandy Leazenby, TRA’s Green Program manager at (800) 398-9282.