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How Clubs Are Staying Ahead of the Sustainability Curve

As “green” initiatives—and even mandates—are becoming increasingly common, clubs are making moves to improve their carbon footprints, save energy, and more.

Green initiatives and operating sustainably are not new topics, but, driven by both the government and corporate sectors, their profiles have risen rapidly in just the past couple of years.

Government & Corporate Interests Align

“For example, governments around the globe are taking steps to lower their carbon footprints,” notes Ruben Mejia, executive vice president, Americas, at SportsArt. “The new administration in the U.S. immediately addressed the need to combat climate change by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and by announcing plans to replace the government’s fleet of vehicles with electric ones. California and the UK have implemented mandates that will ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and 2030, respectively.”

According to EPA estimates, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 8,887 grams of CO2. Those numbers alone highlight the potential positive impact that the California and UK mandates will have on the environment.

In 2015, when the United Nations’ 193 member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they agreed to two key goals. Goal 7 ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, while Goal 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.

On the corporate side, businesses are clearly seeing the bottom-line benefits that sustainability presents. Accenture’s recent The Green Behind the Cloud report, which covers cloud computing and sustainability, reveals that between 2013 and 2019, companies with consistently high environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance enjoyed nearly five times higher operating margins and lower volatility than low ESG performers over the same period.

Corporate America is clearly putting its green money where its mouth is. The U.S. SIF Foundation’s 2020 biennial Report on U.S. Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends, reveals that sustainable investing assets now total $17.1 trillion, or 33% of the $51.4 trillion in total U.S. assets under professional money management—a 42% jump from 2018.

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Forward-thinking Clubs Join the Fray

Looking at our industry in particular, many health clubs are buying into sustainability not just as a concept, but as a long-term objective.

“An overall goal of AC4 Fitness has been to implement strategies and showcase technologies, materials, and business practices that can be utilized to advance good stewardship of the environment—to be an example for other businesses,” asserts Tony Calhoun, owner of AC4 Fitness, which has locations in Santa Barbara and Goleta, California. “We strive to save electricity—which everyone can relate to—and reduce our consumption of products that end up in landfills or otherwise pollute the environment. And we emphasize the importance of recycling as the most basic action you can take.”

Altruism is one part of the equation, but most operators enjoy the clear bottom-line benefits.

In terms of cost-efficiency and benefits, AC4 notes that the SportsArt ECO-POWR equipment it uses provides a clear daily tracker that tallies the watt-hours members generate using it. Because the clubs have that data readily available, Calhoun has been able to set an annual goal of producing 300,000 watts per hour per club.

“In context,” he says, “the average home uses about 28 kWh per day. So we generate enough power for about 11 days on the grid. This is also roughly equivalent to the power produced by 22 gallons of gasoline, the elimination of 225,000 grams of CO2, or power enough for 60,000 hours of electric bulb usage.”

AC4 also strives for a 30% reduction in HVAC costs through the elimination of 36 ceiling fans in favor of a single extra-large and ultra-efficient ceiling fan that consumes 75% less energy.

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An Array of Sustainable Tactics

Club operators have put into play a great number of innovative sustainable strategies and methods.

Manon Gagné and Fred Hempstead, co-owners of Club 1 Studios Ltd., in Toronto, Canada, have outfitted their facility with high-efficiency fixtures, motion sensors, programmable thermostats, and LED lights throughout; are completely paperless; give their members a refillable bottle and offer water via a clean refillable bottle filler; and even offer a “living wall,” featuring herbs and spices that are available to members and also help to clean the air in their offices.

Often, climate dictates some of the green steps that can be taken.

“Because we have a tropical climate, we use high ceilings and ensure that we have good cross ventilation to provide constant oxygen exchange and keep the training areas cool without expending energy on air conditioning,” says David Mears, founder and executive president of MultiSpa in Costa Rica.

In addition, MultiSpa uses motion detectors to turn its lights on and off, and uses low-consumption lighting as well as water-saving faucets, shower heads, and toilets. The club also heats its pools and water with rooftop solar panels.

“We also have a supplier that produces fabric made partly from plastic collected from the beaches in Costa Rica,” he says. “We plan to use the fabric in our uniforms and MultiSpa shirts, which we will sell to help sustain the recycling operation.”

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Like Club 1, AC4 is a largely paperless gym and work environment, while also employing the use of recycled materials as much as possible, such as lockers produced from 100% post-recycled plastic. The clubs also use “green” cleaners whenever and wherever possible.

“We also provide members with bottled water-quality drinking water from in-club water dispensers,” Calhoun says. “With an estimated 22 billion water bottles still ending up in our landfills every year, we want to encourage members to use reusable water bottles whenever possible rather than single-use plastic water bottles. In the end, we strive to be a lean, green fitness machine—a business that our members can take pride in being a part of.”

Making Sustainability More Accessible

SportsArt pioneered sustainable machines with the 2007 introduction of its ECO-DRIVE treadmill motor, which was designed to use 32% less energy than standard versions. The company has its own objective.

“We have one sustainability goal: Be Better,” says Mejia. “Globally, SportsArt has been living sustainably long before it became mainstream. Our founder, Paul Kuo, has always had the mantra, ‘Be good to Mother Earth.’”

In fact, when the company’s factory was built in 2000 in Taiwan, Kuo included a 7,500-metric-ton rainwater collection system with the goal of utilizing the 82 inches of rain that falls in the country on average every year.

“As technology advanced and we started using more electricity, we upgraded our solar panel system so that it could produce half of the electricity that our 500,000 square-foot facility consumes in a year,” Mejia says. “By being a vertically integrated organization, we not only control our quality, but we can reduce our waste and consumption of resources because we can use similar parts in different machines.”

Because the company lives its sustainable philosophy, Mejia says, working with like-minded clients hasn’t been difficult.

“Fortunately for us, most of the clients looking at SportsArt from a sustainability lens already have a good idea on how to optimize sustainability and they see our ECO-POWR products as a complement to their operation,” he says. “Regardless of their experience in sustainability, I always advise our clients to live their mission and to not be afraid to announce their progress in a creative way. It’s easy to spot a business that is just doing things to ride a wave. But a business that regularly posts how much electricity has been generated by our ECO-POWR machines—or how many plastic water bottles were saved last month by their water fountain—will remind their customer base that sustainability is always top of mind.”

Recently, in working to broaden its footprint and make its ECO-POWR machines available to more clubs, SportsArt debuted its Elite line, featuring the G660 treadmill, G874 elliptical, G874U upright cycle, and the G874R recumbent. The equipment carries the same technology as the company’s upscale Status line, with a few features scaled down.

“While the Status line equipment has all the bells and whistles, anyone who buys our ECO-POWR Elite line will still have that same foundational technology,” Mejia says. “For example, users can run up to 15 mph on our higher-end G690 treadmill and up to 12 mph on the G660 treadmill but produce a maximum of 200 watt-hours of electricity on both. The Elite line gives us the opportunity to offer the same technology for organizations that have a tighter budget and keep pushing the boundaries of sustainability in the industry.”

To learn more about SportsArt and the Elite line, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to IHRSA.org.