Going to the gym is all about improving your health. But what if your gym cares about the person but not the Earth?
A few health clubs are implementing eco-friendly and energy-efficient initiatives and systems that encourage gym rats to think about something more than their appearance.
“You’re part of the solution when you come here,” says Adam Boesel, owner of The Green Microgym in Portland, Ore. “That’s what they talk about and that’s what they think is cool about the gym.”
Clubs of all sizes can incorporate green measures, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, which represents more than 9,750 for-profit health and fitness facilities. The Boston-based organization says doing so can have a positive impact on recruitment and retention, and the bottom line.
Don’t be afraid to question what your health club -- or one you’re considering joining -- is doing to help the environment. Here are five questions to ask the owners or sales staff.
1. Do you recycle?
Bins for water bottles, newspapers, magazines, cans and other recyclable materials are prominently placed in VIDA Fitness’ three clubs in Washington. “Every place that we have a trash can, we have a recycle bin,” says Nathan Zapf, assistant general manager.
Also consider how much paper the gym wastes on paperwork, or if it is making an effort to be paperless.
The Green Microgym chose not to sell plastic water bottles, instead selling stainless steel reusable bottles. The IHRSA suggests that clubs give new members a reusable water bottle to encourage them to use tap water.
Gyms also might have programs in place to donate items such as tennis balls, equipment and towels to schools, shelters and charitable organizations.
2. How do you control your energy usage?
A gym can make several decisions related to its lighting, heating, air conditioning and energy-using amenities.
“If you go in during any slow time, are all the lights still on, are all the TVs still on? That will tell you that they don’t care,” Boesel says. “We give a little more responsibility and trust to our members to turn the TVs on and off. They’re not on when no one is watching.”
The IHRSA suggests adding motion detectors to control the lights.
Boesel’s gym focuses on eliminating power usage – and even generating electricity – with its equipment. Its Team Dynamo stationary bikes can collectively generate up to 350 watts continuously, helping to power the gym, and its Eco-Powr treadmills by SportsArt Fitness use 30 percent less electricity than others.
Some gyms are replacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lights. Zapf says VIDA Fitness found CFL bulbs that matched the quality of light produced by the traditional incandescent bulbs, which generate more heat and use more electricity. The club uses a plastic disk, called a fluorescent fixer, that diffuses the light so the glare is not as harsh.
3. Are your cleaning supplies environmentally friendly?
That can include everything from what’s used on the floors and sweaty mats to materials used to wipe down the machines.
“Really you could just look around at the place and get an idea about what their sort of philosophy is on how wasteful they are,” Boesel says. “If they have cloth towels to wipe things down as opposed to those wipes that are one use and they go in the garbage.”
VIDA Fitness’ staff uses reusable microfiber cloths to clean equipment two to three times a day (the wipes are still offered to members). The club also uses bottles with a low spray dispenser, reducing its chemical usage by a third, Zapf says.
The IHRSA recommends that gyms replace products used for cleaning or personal care with those made of nontoxic, plant-based compounds. The facilities can use paints and coatings with the Green Seal, carpets and rugs with the Green Label certification and formaldehyde-free composite wood materials.
4. Are you paying attention to the outdoors?
Gyms can trade maintaining the surroundings with pesticides for products such as organic, phosphorus-free fertilizer.
Pools also can be switched from being filtered with chlorine to saline, like VIDA Fitness has done. Three benefits for members, according to the IHRSA, include: no need for goggles, less chance of their swimsuits fading and their skin will be less dry.
5. Are the extras eco-friendly?
Toilet paper, soap, towels -- all those items could be composed of recycled, nontoxic and/or organic items, depending on how much the gym wants to spend. Some also are using eco-friendly flooring, Boesel says, made of materials such as cork and recycled rubber.
At some gyms, automatic faucets and hand dryers have been installed along with dispensers that ration the soap and paper towels. Low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets also save water.
The IHRSA also recommends that fitness centers offer a discount to members who use their own cups at the clubs’ café or juice bar and reward potential customers who show proof of membership in an eco-friendly group by waiving the initiation fee like Eco Fit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, does.
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