Fitness Facilities Go Green

by Cathie Ericson on Jul 24, 2014

Fitness facilities are in the business of making members healthier, and for some that commitment extends to the environment. The shades of green vary widely. For example, some facilities have done a complete retrofit to include solar water systems and ellipticals that return power to the grid, while others have made more modest changes, such as using nontoxic cleaners and switching to paperless communication with members. Large and small, each step makes a difference in the overall footprint.

Finding numbers that pinpoint how much waste health clubs generate is not easy, but one gym has completed its own calculations. Adam Boesel, owner of The Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon, estimates that his clubs use about 85% less electricity than average, and that their carbon footprint is about one-tenth that of a traditionally run gym, per square foot. He says this translates into a Green Microgym member saving about one-quarter ton of carbon compared with someone who belongs to a traditional fitness facility with no green measures in place. Boesel derived these numbers by calling several other fitness facilities to obtain their energy usage stats.

For most gyms, there appears to be room for improvement. It’s educational to turn the spotlight onto “model” facilities, profiled below. Let these case studies and best practices serve as inspiration for taking your first step down the green road.

A Sustainability Pioneer

The Longfellow Clubs, a company comprising sports facilities and children's centers that serve more than 20,000 people in Massachusetts, has pioneered a number of sustainable business practices. For president Laury Hammel, who also founded the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston, the environmental commitment runs deep.

Among the most striking features at his various clubs are a cogenerational unit that heats swimming pools and showers by burning natural gas and creating electricity; waterless urinals that have eliminated over 80% of all flushes in the men's room and saved over 45,000 gallons of water per urinal each year; and a salt-water purification system in swimming pools.

Although these are the kinds of features that attract attention, Hammel is most proud of his creative work with ThinkLite, which led to the invention of the ThinkLite HammeLite. All of his locations use the HammeLite, which replaces standard 1,000-watt bulbs with 500- to 700-watt induction fluorescent bulbs. The upgrade has decreased energy use by 35%–40%.

In February 2014, Hammel replaced fluorescent bulbs on indoor tennis courts with ThinkLite Tube LEDs, which have reduced energy usage by 55%. “Not only do they save energy, but they are brighter than the other lights we had and they will last for over 20 years, with no measurable reduction in light. We are the first ones using these lights, and I believe they will transform the industry and reduce carbon emissions in the process."

He urges facility owners to consider rebates they might receive from utilities. “The Massachusetts government has required utilities to be more energy efficient, so over 50% of the cost of our lights was covered by the utility.” He estimates he will see a return on investment for all energy-efficient features in his facilities within about 3 years, in many instances much sooner.

“We strive to be an educational center, a showcase for sustainability where others can learn..”

AdVENTures in Green

Previously affiliated with Gold’s Gym, VENT Fitness® opened four facilities in upstate New York in January 2013 with a commitment to be as sustainable as possible. The changes are evident from the parking lot, which offers free access to public electric-vehicle charging stations at several of its locations. “Recharge your car’s battery while you’re recharging yours!” says Bill Lia Jr., president of VENT Fitness. His workout equipment includes ReRev™ retrofitted ellipticals that offset the clubs’ power usage by returning energy to the grid. “Members love that they are actually using their physical energy to create energy,” Lia says.

Instead of standard bottle refill stations, VENT Fitness provides Vyykn water, a subscription-based water system that takes tap water through an eight-step filtration process and then gives members a choice of pure, oxygenated or ionized water.

As with most green initiatives, Lia says, upfront costs were higher than they would have been for traditional materials, but he expects a payback in energy savings. He acknowledges that for ReRev ellipticals in particular, payback takes a long time—about 14 years. While that’s not the best investment from a financial standpoint, Lia says, the educational qualities are well worth the cost. The changes have caught on: Memberships are up 25% year over year.

Greening the Gym—A Professional Perspective

These cutting-edge case studies are aspirational, but we also asked experts in the field how any fitness facility could head in the green direction. Gary Wagner, CEO of Green Distribution in Boca Raton, Florida, says that the top three issues a gym has to consider are energy efficiency, water usage and hygiene. Among the energy-saving upgrades he suggests are the following:

  • LED lighting, which can reduce energy by 85%–90% compared with conventional lighting
  • Energy Star–rated appliances and computers
  • ecofriendly cleaning products
  • tankless hot-water heaters, which reduce electric usage and water compared with traditional hot-water heaters

For more ideas on greening your fitness facility, including an inexpensive first step, please see “ Green Fitness Facilities: Healthy Bodies, Healthy World” in the online IDEA Library (see the July 2014 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal) or in the July–August print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Cathie Ericson IDEA Author/Presenter