But what does that mean?
KZ Recreational Vehicles just introduced the Sonic X, described as “the industry’s first self-sustainable lightweight RV." Now, when I am not writing for TreeHugger, I am teaching sustainable design at the Ryerson School of Interior Design in Toronto, and one question I put on every final exam is “What is sustainable design?” I keep hoping that some day someone will give me an answer that makes sense – and I have no idea what “self-sustainable” means.
Bill McDonough has a standard joke about the word sustainable, once telling Andrew Michler at Inhabitat:
I think it’s a nice word because so many people can use it. But, nobody knows how to define it. That’s part of the issue, and that’s why we never use it. For example, if I say what’s your relationship to your wife? Do you say just say sustainable? Don’t you want more than that? Don’t you want creativity and fun and all these things? If we just sustain what we are doing now, then we’re all dead.
That is the root of the problem with this Sonic X. If we keep towing three-ton trailers behind giant pickups, we are all dead. Is this "sustainable" at all?
But they are trying. Making it out of carbon fibre is theoretically a plus; it will be much lighter and take less fuel in the pickup to tow it. The unit has “the same durability and lighter weight of some of the world’s fastest and most luxurious supercars. The lightness of the carbon fiber allows for greater versatility, as it can more easily navigate the confinements of a city as well as the great outdoors.”
But they left it in its original carbon black, which is not going to be comfortable in the sun. And the material itself is actually carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, layers of carbon fibre laid up in a plastic resin. Mark Harris of the Guardian calls it "the wonder material with a dirty secret." The fibre and the plastic cannot be separated and the material cannot be recycled. It may not even be legal to make luxurious supercars out of it in Europe soon, because of EU rules that state that 85% of a car must be reusable or recyclable. That’s not sustainable.
There are a thousand watts of solar panels on the top, and nine batteries of unspecified capacity that are said to provide “endless solar power.” There is also a "Secondary Infinite Water System (S.I.W.S) with a heavy-duty water pump, 25-foot hose and water filtration, which can be connected to fresh water sources such as a stream, river or lake and can store up to 100 gallons of water."
But judging from C.C. Weiss's photos at New Atlas, there is a standard RV toilet and blackwater tank which is not infinite, and has to be pumped out.
KZ president Aram Koltookian says "the design is made to be mindful of the environment by using lightweight materials and clean, renewable energy sources to operate the RV." But there are two tanks of propane running the fridge and stove and probably hot water heater, meaning more fossil fuels.
So is it "self-sustainable"? Not if it needs propane and pump-outs. These could be beat with composting toilets, solar hot water heating and alcohol or induction stoves, but that might be a step too far. But it is a small step in the right direction.