Two Types of Energy Are Exerted Inside These Four Walls

Fitness Formula Club
Many clubs, such as this Fitness Formula Club in Chicago, use a lot of energy each day. Photo copyright by Jorge Gera.

When most people think of health clubs, the type of energy they probably think of is the energy that people exert as they run on the treadmills, play basketball or swim laps in the pool. However, fitness centers are not just places where people exert energy—fitness centers also are big consumers of energy.

That is why health club operators of all types are just like many other commercial business operators. They are increasingly interested in cutting energy costs, going green and even selling energy back into the grid.

Health club operators have a unique resource. Many of their members use machines that, if manufactured or retrofitted properly, can help operators power their facilities, saving on energy costs. (Full disclosure: My knowledge in this market stems from 10 years of covering the fitness business for Club Industry magazine, which goes to executives at fitness facilities. More details on most of the content in this editorial can be found on its website.)

The lighting and HVAC systems in health clubs are big energy zappers, as many health clubs are open long hours (if not 24 hours a day). Humans exerting energy (not to mention saunas, steam rooms and pools) can cause temperature and humidity increases, making temperature regulation difficult. In addition, group exercise rooms are often regulated with their own thermostat, as the room temperature for a Zumba class needs to be much cooler than the room temperature for the yoga class that preceded it in the same space.

However, perhaps even larger causes of energy consumption are the pieces of cardiovascular equipment, most of which require electricity to operate. A large, multipurpose club could have 30 or more treadmills, a similar number of cross trainers as well as stair climbers and steppers—all of which operate using electricity.

A 2012 Club Industry survey found that utilities make up 10.2 percent of the expenses for multipurpose club operators, only surpassed by payroll, rent, debt and facility maintenance. For that reason, many equipment vendors have looked at ways to make the equipment run more efficiently. That includes asset management systems that allow club operators to see from their desktop which pieces of equipment need maintenance (unmaintained equipment runs less efficiently) and whether equipment needs to be rotated.

However, in some clubs, the owners have gone a step further. They are actually using the energy of their members to power their facilities. And some are making a business off of a green brand.

Robert Kravitz, for example, opened the 4,500-square-foot GoGreen Fitness in Orange, CT, in November 2009, carrying the green brand all the way from the name to the type of equipment he uses inside. He has retrofitted some of his group exercise bikes with technology that allows him to power a portion of his facility's energy needs. The cost of the retrofits is high: $945 for each piece of equipment. For a group cycle room with 15 bikes, that equates to $14,000. However, those same bikes can help him save between $1,200 to $2,400 per year on electricity if the bikes are used for about 20 hours each week, according to Michael Curnyn, chief marketing officer for The Green Revolution, which makes the retrofit system that Kravitz uses.

However, for a commercial business, the benefits of going green are not always about saving on costs. Kravitz says that more people are interested in working with businesses that are focused on being more sustainable, so the good will that doing so provides can attract members.

That attraction is probably greatest for college students, so in many areas of university life have made being more energy efficient a priority. That is also true in university recreation centers. Pursuing LEED certification has become important, but also important is doing energy audits, often using energy service companies (ESCOs). West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, has found quite a return on its $30 million campus-wide ESCO project, which included its athletic facilities. The ESCO, Siemens, promised a $745,000 savings in the first phase of the project, but the university has already seen more than $1 million in savings, according to Clement Solomon, director of sustainability at the university.

Just as universities have found savings by being more energy efficient and harnessing energy from within, so have other commercial businesses. Share with us how you are using a process, system or byproduct to cut your energy costs.