You'd never leave your air conditioner, music, lights and television going all day, but this happens 12 to 24 hours a day at many workout facilities. And all that spinning, stair-stepping and treadmilling mostly ends up as waste heat.
According to Treadmills USA, most treadmills use about 1,500 watts of energy per hour, the equivalent of 15 75-watt lightbulbs - enough to run your fridge for three hours or keep your Christmas tree lit for six. There's currently no such thing as an Energy Star (the government-backed energy efficiency rating program) electric treadmill.
Inventive minds are already turning physical energy into the kind that powers the rest of the facility at some gyms in the U.S., Asia and Europe. The Green Microgym in Portland, Ore., for example, harnesses both human and solar power to run the TVs, lights and music, with the hope of someday tying this energy into the city's power grid. At the New York Sports Club, all of the televisions have been programmed to turn off when not in use, a simple move that saves a ton of energy.
It can be hard enough to get motivated to go to the gym without adding carbon-footprint guilt. Fortunately, there's no reason you can't sustain the planet and keep your body in shape at the same time. While true eco-gyms have yet to hit Madison, many are already trying to reduce their impact.
Energy-efficient lighting and recycling are some of the basic steps that gyms can take to head in a more environmental direction, a move most Madison gyms have already made. Lauren Birkel, owner of Orange Shoe Gym, has installed motion-sensing lights that turn on when people enter the rooms and off when they leave, and she encourages all of her clients to walk and bike. That's just common sense - combating obesity, taking care of our bodies, and protecting the earth at the same time.
When Erik Minton, owner of Capital Fitness, built his Butler Street club, he worked with Madison Gas and Electric to install an energy-saving heating and cooling system that loops into the residential units above his gym. He also uses energy-efficient lighting, as he has since 1994, when purchasing compact fluorescent bulbs meant a trip to a San Diego supplier.
"Going green up front may cost more at first but saves money in the long run," he says. Minton is currently working with Wisconsin's Focus on Energy and MGE on a new Capital Fitness gym, to be located at 425 W. Washington Ave., which will incorporate many eco-features in its design. The new gym will have a solar-heated pool and high-quality bike-storage facilities to further Minton's existing bike-to-work program for employees, and his bike-to-gym program for members. Minton believes that one of the keys to increasing bike commuting is to elevate the quality and ease of bike parking to something approaching that available to automobiles.
Another greener fitness spot in Madison is the Monkey Bar Gym. Owner Jon Hinds' fitness philosophy emphasizes natural, body-weight training over machine-based routines. All of the "machines" used at Monkey Bar are portable, use no electricity, can be used indoors and out, and bear a striking resemblance to playground or recess toys. They include jump ropes, kettlebells and Indian clubs for juggling.
"We opened with an eco-mindset and have only moved more green in our eight years of operation," says Hinds. "I don't know how can you care for yourself and not take care of the place we all live at the same time."
All of the food and clothing sold at the Monkey Bar Gym is organic. Glass is the drinking vessel material of choice, and as much as can be is recycled throughout the gym. Hinds is working to shift all of the gym's equipment to more environmentally friendly materials, so that, for example, any webbing used for handles or straps is made from hemp rather than a petroleum-based product. Hinds also offers yoga mats made out of jute and yoga blocks made from cork.
Hinds hopes to create a chain of eco-friendly gyms and is currently planning the first 100% green gym in the country, to be located in Minneapolis. This gym will derive all of its energy from solar and wind power, and the entire building will be green-built.
Another way Hinds hopes to spread his green fitness mantra is through his online gym membership. Currently more than 10,000 people get fitness routines, tips and advice from the online Monkey Bar Gym for use on their personal "jungle gyms" from Hinds' line of equipment. "It's convenient for different lifestyles, and also saves a potential car trip," says Hinds, who also encourages all of his members, virtual or real, to bike as much as possible.
You can push your fitness center to think greener. Ask at your gym if they have water-saving devices in the showers and pools. Do they use natural cleaning products? Recycle? Do the exercise machines and televisions shut off when not in use? Does the gym use energy-efficient lighting?
- There are things you can do, too.
- Bring your own reusable water bottle.
- Wear organic or recycled fiber clothing
- Bring your own towel.
- Turn off televisions and machines that aren't in use.
- Walk, bike or carpool to the gym or combine with other errand trips.
- Recycle your worn-out athletic shoes. Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe has collection points at Movin' Shoes, during Madison Mallards home games at Warner Park, and at the city of Madison Streets Division at 1501 W. Badger Rd.
- Shift your exercise outdoors a few days a week. Even in winter, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter walks are great ways to exercise and save energy.