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Greening Up Your Gym: Energy Use and Your Facility

Limiting carbon footprints and becoming more energy efficient has predominated the business scape for a while now. Gyms are no different. Becoming more eco-conscious is something that fitness facilities and their clientele are now taking very seriously.

It makes sense, really. After all, the fitness industry is dedicated to health and vitality. Gyms are perfectly positioned by their model to add “environmental well-being” to their list of healthy customers.

The benefits for the clientele of a fitness facility can be huge to an operator, too. According to the EPA, indoor air pollution ranks in the top five for environmental risks to health. Being green sends the message that a facility is looking out for every aspect of their exercisers’ health.

However, it ain’t easy being green. This may have been true for Kermit, but it doesn’t need to be as tough to transform a fitness facility into a greener spot. Take a look at some of these initiatives that are being used in fitness facilities around the country.

Energy-generating Fitness Equipment

Go Green Fitness out of Orange, Connecticut not only boasts being in a commercial green building (Connecticut’s first!), but its spin studio generates enough energy from 25 stationary bikes to power up 75 homes!

The bikes are connected to their own individual generators, and through resistance settings, the riders can control the amount of renewable and clean energy they create.

Picture of the Green Micro Gym in Portland ORThe Green Microgym in Portland and Belmont, Oregon boasts something similar. Along with solar panels, its exercise equipment (stationary bikes and ellipticals, specifically) convert enough sweat-burning cardio to generate enough energy to power 40% of its own fitness facilities’ internal power!

Additionally, Green Microgym’s treadmills save 30% more energy than other treadmills and even power down when not in use. A percent saved is a percent earned.

Living Roofs

This is not a new phenomenon. Living roofs have been around for quite some time in Europe. But the Green Fitness Studio in Brooklyn, New York has used this old philosophy of keeping it green and converted a 2,000 sq. ft. rooftop into a sod-covered, living and energy-reducing rooftop that naturally helps to conserve energy in cooling the building.

It also provides actual green, outdoor spaces for classes on nice days. And the well-sunned exerciser can then relax in infrared saunas and feel great about the 50% reduction in energy.

Water Heating and Recycling

Longfellow Clubs in Natick and Wayland, Massachusetts have instituted some hefty sustainability efforts that target recycling and conservation by using natural gas to heat both the pool and the showers. They also have a state-of-the-art purification system that relies on salt water instead of chlorine to clean the pool, and an intricate solar power operation to heat the pool.

These are all great examples of how gyms and fitness facilities have stepped up their environmentally conscious game, but what other measures can be explored in going green?

Flooring Materials

Bamboo has become an extremely popular resource for fitness facilities. Especially in the flooring department. It is a fast-growing, rapidly-recyclable and abundant source of building material. Cork is another sustainable material useful when going green in a gym.

Recycled rubber, although perhaps not as renewable, is another material that is being readily incorporated into gym floors. Rubber floors are durable (meaning they will not need to be replaced as frequently, thereby adding to waste), eco-friendly and help to improve overall indoor air quality.

Water Conservation

Water conservation poster This is a biggy, too. If you have sweaty folks, chances are you’ll need somewhere to have them clean up and off before they head out. That means hot water—and a serious amount of it.

As we noted above, some facilities are taking water conservation seriously.

There are some other means of accomplishing some reduction and reuse available though.

  • Grey water (think of it as “gently used” water) is a great way to recycle water. It can be used to clean the bathroom facilities in a gym and even help reduce water usage for laundry.
  • Low-flow toilets (also known as low-flush toilets) are a great way to conserve water. Using less water to dispose of waste adds up at the end of every year. Dual flush toilets (with adjustable flow rates for different types of waste) also aid conservation efforts.
  • Water saving shower heads reduce the flow per minute in each shower, which can add up to tens of thousands of gallons of water conserved every year.

The alliance for water efficiency put out an eye-opening blog about water usage and potential means of conserving it that includes, amongst other things, a look at the number of urinal flushes per year at a fitness facility and what that equates to in water usage.

Energizing Equipment

The use of electricity to power cardiovascular machines can also be a significant source of energy use. And cost. Especially when those machines stay on regardless of whether they are in use.

Member controlled light and TVs are a handy and interactive means of lowering both energy use and heightening conservation. Machines that shut down when not in use are another feature of exercise equipment that can be introduced to cut energy use.

Replacing light bulbs with energy efficient options, installing motion sensors in rooms that have sporadic traffic, and regularly maintaining HVAC are all other great ways of staying efficient and eco-conscious.

Electrifying Cardio

The principle of using a piece of cardio equipment to capture energy is a one that has been around for a while. Exercise machines generate heat through resistance. This heat is usually dissipated through resistorsPrecor's Rider-powered Assault AirBike. But by removing the resistors and attaching a machine to a generator, this heat can be converted to DC power. An inverter then changes that DC into AC, which is then transferred to a power grid for use inside the facility.

There are some fantastic people-powered machines too, like the Precor Assault AirBike. This fan-driven, Assault Fitness-designed bike uses wind resistance to fuel the workout. It combines pedal and push-pull handlebars for a total body workout—all user-based, sans the use of electricity.

Companies like SportsArt manufacture grid-ready fitness equipment that sends AC power from a workout straight to the facility’s power grid. From here it can be reused for the space’s power needs.

The Output and Input Costs

Ultimately, however, it is widely accepted that the amount of energy generated will not be sufficient. To make a significant dent in the overall power needs for any fitness facility or home gym other, alternative energy-generating apparatus (like solar) are extremely helpful.

In fact, this livestrong.com article suggests that the average user generates only 100 watts/hr at a clip. This is enough to “power a laptop for two hours, an iron for up to six minutes and a 15-watt fluorescent bulb for six hours and 40 minutes.” And with the average cost of electricity being 10c/kwh, the gym is saving roughly 30c/month.

So making the leap to either energy-generating equipment or retrofitting with generators can be a costly affair where the ROI might not seem as attractive.

However, a study shows that it is the collateral benefits for the exercisers and clients where the juice lies. The study suggested that the overall environmental consciousness and desire to help reduce global warming were increased along with their healthy habits.

Additionally, being able to hang the “green energy” shingle, more environmentally conscious exercisers are likely to use the gym—enhancing the feel-good factor that naturally-released endorphins offer.

Get Everyone Onboard

Something as simple as consistent messaging to your clients about being energy wise can have a marked impact on how and where energy is used. Encouraging members to turn off lights or conserve water in the showers can reinforce the reuse, recycle, renew message you are promoting.

Operators can take it a step further by inquiring what eco-friendly or eco-conscious steps their suppliers are employing. Parts for equipment, sources of materials, shipping and other facets of their business models that might be “green.”

Great strides have been made by fitness equipment manufacturers, facility operators and those involved in creating new fitness spaces, bridging the gap between green-conscious users and the products that they seek.

The fitness industry has always been on the cutting edge of advancements to suit users’ needs and exercising appetites. So as the movement towards eco-consciousness speeds up, the likelihood that exercise equipment and exercise facilities will, too.

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