Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development

Introducing the world’s most eco-friendly camper van

A white van among palm trees
The Vitruvian Van, created by Christopher Ives, MA SID’11, in Florida (photo courtesy of Christopher Ives)
A white van in front of snow-covered mountains
The Vitruvian Van, created by Christopher Ives, MA SID’11, in front of the Grand Teton mountains (photo courtesy of Christopher Ives)

When communications professional Christopher Ives, MA SID’11, decided to transition his career in art and photography, he knew it would mean a complete lifestyle change. He left his position at a nonprofit, formed an LLC and began producing freelance stories and art projects for organizations with an emphasis on social and environmental sustainability.

The work takes him deep into pristine wilderness areas, from the Black Hills of South Dakota to high-altitude plateaus in northern Arizona. To support his new on-the-road career, he needed to upgrade from his trusty—but cramped—Subaru, to a vehicle that could serve as both home and office. The idea of a big, high-tech RV didn’t appeal to him, so he decided to customize a van to meet his needs and bring his sustainability values to life.

Christopher Ives, MA SID’11, holding a beer in the back of his van with his dog
Christopher Ives, MA SID’11, with his dog in his van (photo courtesy of Christopher Ives)

“I thought, what if I try to make the most eco-friendly ‘vanlife’ van in the world?” he says. “I wanted to be in the wilderness, and create more evocative stories and art to help people fall in love with these places. It made sense to me to make a place to live and work that was cohesive and connected to that idea.”

Ives spent over 1,000 hours researching every component of his camper van, tracking down nontoxic paint, cushions and insulation, and even plywood made with soy-based adhesives. “Every time I needed to add something, I put graduate-level research into it. Is it good for the environment? Is it good for people? Is it crazy expensive, or could other people do this, too? It took a year and I learned so much about materials and how those materials affect people and the planet in the process,” he says.

The result is what he calls the Vitruvian Van. He’s created a detailed companion website,, which documents his building process and offers tips to those interested in doing something similar. With the pandemic continuing to curtail international travel, and movies like “Nomadland” inspiring people to take to the road, the RV industry has seen a huge boom. Ives hopes that the resources he provides will inspire some of those #vanlife travelers to adopt the sustainable practices he’s developed.

A table, padded seat, pillows, desk lamp inside a van
The interior of the Vitruvian Van (photo courtesy of Christopher Ives)
A laptop on a table inside of a van
Ives works for a variety of sustainability organizations from his van (photo courtesy of Christopher Ives)

Ives estimates that his van would qualify for LEED platinum-certification, were it a building. “I can tell you exactly how much water and gas I use. All my electricity is generated by driving. I’m bringing a natural, sustainable bubble out into the wilderness, and it feels really cohesive and integrated to the places I’m trying to document. If I’m doing a project about forest conservation, and I’m actually in the forest, the art – and the stories – are better.”

“Ten years ago, the Heller SID program helped educate me about intersectional systems of sustainability, and I’ve realized more and more, every day, how connected I am to that system—that ecosystem. Ecosystems aren’t just the environment; it’s about how we interact with the environment; how we act with our ‘ecos,’ our home.”

To learn more about Ives and his van, watch a video or follow his Instagram.