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Going to the Gym is Good, But is it Green?
Blog...Going to the Gym is Good, But is it Green?

Going to the Gym is Good, But is it Green?

Green News
man on treadmill
In the United States, it’s nearly a tradition to join a new gym as the new year rolls around – but while it does your body good, is it doing something bad for the planet?
Green News
man on treadmill

Chatting "a la terrace" with some fellow Americans, as I notice the crisp breeze clearly making its way through the late September air in Paris – we started to do what all Americans in France do: reminisce on things we don’t miss about life in the U.S., one of the many being the exorbitant monthly price tag for a simple gym membership. 

In the Washington D.C. area, I used to pay $100 a month for an extravagant – but also, perhaps not ironically, the most convenient one offered in my neighborhood. My friend who lived in New York City would pay the same, at minimummaking gym memberships more of an elite status than a symbol of good health in the United States.

👉 If you haven’t heard of them before, a chain of luxury gym facilities that go by the name of Lifetime or Equinox have taken the U.S. market by storm. Offering everything under one roof – from treadmills, yoga classes, spa facilities, and health-food-oriented cafes, these gyms have made their name by offering a one-stop-shop for all things fitness. 


During the Covid-19 pandemic, as gyms and the rest of the world shut down – I started to opt for runs outside and pilates videos on YouTube. Even as gyms opened back up, I realized that while I lost the social component of going to the gym – I was getting my workout the same as I was, at zero cost and reducing my carbon footprint at the same time. 

I was so thrilled by the extra one hundred dollars in my wallet every month, that I had never stopped to think about how bad gyms like Equinox and Lifetime must be for the environment.

Think of televisions turned on, pieces of equipment and machinery plugged in burning through electricity even if it isn’t in use, hundreds of sweaty towels to wash, and people driving just to get to the gym. 

It begs the question: how large of a carbon footprint do gyms leave behind?

In this article, we'll review the nature of gyms, their carbon footprint, and what you can do instead of going to the gym.

Are gyms bad for the environment?

While it isn’t air travel or fast fashion, gyms aren’t the greatest for the environment. Just like big department stores across the United States, gyms use massive amounts of energy and water to maintain their continuous availability of machines and other things like central air cooling inside their facilities. 

Gyms require an overwhelming amount of electricity to run. Similar to large grocery stores in the United States, gyms are always keeping the lights on, have machinery plugged in ready for use even if the treadmill or stair-climber remains idle, and need an exceptional amount of power to run machinery like an elliptical in the first place.
people on treadmills in workout class

There are other parts about the gym that you probably don’t even realize have a catastrophic impact on the environment. For example, the vending machines that await you when you forgot to bring your own water bottle from home – those machines are also always running in the background, taking up superfluous energy.

Gyms are always keeping it cold inside, to keep their customers comfortable while working out. While this makes sense, as working out often results in sweat that could deter someone from continuing to “push themselves” – we shouldn’t be walking into the gym feeling colder than it is outside in the middle of summer.

Air conditioning in particular releases ozone depleting substances that pollute the atmosphere and provoke global warming just as much as excessive electricity consumption.

On that note, when you walk into the gym – what’s probably in your hand? Your car keys. Unless you live in a big city, most people drive to the gym (I know I did back in my suburban Maryland days) – which only contributes to greenhouse gas emissions even more than going to the gym alone already does. 


👉 In addition to the extensive amount of electricity gyms use, they also use an alarming amount of water.

For instance, all of those gym towels you pick up before hitting the treadmill have to get washed – gyms must do several loads of laundry per day. Also, think of the many Americans who go to the gym before or after work – many of them are going to the gym, and then going somewhere else important afterwards where they can’t show up in their sweaty gym attire.

This results in many going to the gym and using the gym facilities showers, and since the gym goer isn’t the one paying the water bill: they often let themselves run a longer, hotter shower than usual – which also isn’t good for the environment. This isn’t good, especially in regions like the Great Salt Lake where water is already sparse and needs to be conserved more so than usual.

However, the worst kind of gym you could join if reducing your carbon footprint is important to you – is one of the luxury gyms I mentioned before. Luxury gyms emit even more greenhouse gasses than usual, with their constantly-running T.V.s and smart machines connected to the internet to play games, watch T.V., or listen to music while you work out. 
Shower head

What are some things that gyms can do to reduce their carbon footprint?

Green gyms aren’t like leprechauns – they’re real and can become more of a reality. Just like us in our everyday lives, there are a lot of things that gyms could do to reduce their environmental impact – and once those changes are made, they’ll remain efficacious in the long run.

For instance, one of the biggest things that gym facilities should seek to implement is purchasing energy efficient equipment. While this may initially seem more daunting and expensive at the beginning, over time – gym facilities will save massive amounts of money on their monthly electricity bills. You can’t buy energy efficient vending machines or T.V.’s – but you can buy energy efficient gym equipment. 

If a gym isn’t in the financial place to do that, the next best thing that they could do is unplug idle machines – especially on a day where business may be slow, like on a holiday such as Christmas. At that point, gyms are keeping machines ready-for-use and on for display – which isn’t an admirable trait in anyone or anything. 

The next best thing gyms could do to become green is to lower the air conditioning. Gyms don’t need to have it off entirely, but it doesn’t need to feel like walking into a refrigerator. The next tip is one that will be contingent on the efforts of the gym goers as well, but could be effective: gyms should put up signs limiting one towel per person. This way, gyms can reduce the amount of laundry they must do on a daily basis, and ultimately – reduce their water consumption.

👉 Lastly, gyms could start to offer members the option to contribute to carbon offsetting projects or purchase carbon credits. This way, those who go to the gym can feel better about the individual carbon footprint they create whilst working out. 

In fact, if gyms take various measures to reduce their carbon footprint – it’ll not only help to reduce emissions, but reduce the costs for the gym facility itself and potentially allow them to offer a lower monthly price for those seeking a gym membership – or allow the gym facility to make a larger profit. This is because they won’t be paying for as many loads of laundry or using as much electricity every month. 

Laundry machines

Should you stop going to the gym?

The environmental impact of gyms is prevalent and inescapable. If you go to the gym, you’re inevitably creating a carbon footprint.

Reducing our individual impact on carbon emissions and altering our daily routines to comply with the new realities due to climate change, but that isn’t to say that the things we enjoy in life should be taken away.

For instance, I love to travel the world – but commercial air travel is awful for the environment. Am I supposed to wait until electric planes take the market by storm to visit India or South Africa?

The line between not caring about the environment and striving for what you can isn’t as fine as you think it is, even if it may seem difficult to compromise in situations like these. However, there is almost always a solution – in circumstances like these, to alter the activities you do prior or after the activity that leaves a massive carbon footprint. 

For example, if you’re going to the gym – try to walk, bike, or use public transportation instead of taking your car. Avoid wearing fast fashion to the gym, bring your own reusable water bottle to avoid buying a plastic one, don’t take more towels than you need, and try to take a shorter shower after working out to conserve water.

Balloons float

However, the best idea of all is to speak directly to the manager of the gym facility!

👉 Evidently, they want to keep your business – so bringing up some ideas will ultimately benefit you, them, and the planet in the long run.

If you can’t reason with the manager of your gym, try finding one that will appreciate your voice for environmental concerns. After all, businesses will have to pertain to environmental legislation at some point, just like all other businesses will as stronger governmental incentives are on the rise in the midst of incessant global warming. 

At the end of the day, if you really can’t stomach the carbon footprint left behind by gyms – you can always do what I did... quit!

A person running in the park

In the U.S., there is already an unhealthy notion about gym goers – and that you can only be deemed as “fit” or “healthy” if you have a gym membership, but this couldn’t be further from the case.

Especially following the Covid-19 pandemic, there are a wide-variety of online fitness programs you can join – many completely free of charge and effective, like blogilates or just searching for the type of workout you want on YouTube.

If you live in a city, look up and see if there are any group outdoor fitness classes going on! Many certified yoga instructors will hold free classes in the park just for the sake of socialization.

My personal favorite is, if you live near a big park – there’s really no reason to pay for a gym membership if you want to do something as simple as go for a run.

Long story short is, whether you keep your gym membership or not – there is something you can do about your individual carbon footprint. Tackling climate change is a team effort. Maybe you can’t change the world, but you sure can start with your gym.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about how gyms could become more sustainable has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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