25 Sep 2022 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2021 issue 10

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Leisure Management - Sustainability

Everyone’s talking about


Climate change, like COVID-19, presents challenges that won’t go away and demands both our immediate attention and collective efforts. Kath Hudson reports

Leisure centres and gyms are big energy consumers photo: wavebreakmedia/shutterstock

As I write, Greenpeace activists have shut down Downing Street in London with an oil soaked statue of the British Prime Minister, following his support for climate-destroying oil field projects.

The recent oil price crisis has shown us how vulnerable our dependency on fossil fuels makes us and this summer we saw the devastating reality of the climate crisis with forest fires and floods across Europe.

Experts have said there must be no new fossil fuel projects if we’re going to stay below the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees.

While many of the world’s governments failed to act in accordance with the Paris Agreement and commitments made at COP25, the planet is moving past the tipping point and our ability to stay below two degrees – the absolute minimum required by the Paris Agreement to avoid natural catastrophe – is now in doubt. This really is everyone’s problem.

So how is the UK health and fitness industry stepping up? We ask the experts.

David Melhuish
The Gym Group
photo: the gym group

The most immediate and urgent challenge facing us all has to be the climate crisis caused by global warming. If we don’t all address this challenge with the urgency it requires then the cost, both social and economic, will be unthinkable.

Time is not on our side and there’s no environmental rabbit to be pulled out of the scientists’ hat. I don’t underestimate the difficulty of the world achieving net zero in a meaningful and substantive way within the economic system and competitive environment we all operate in, so it will take local and national leadership to step up and create the right environment for it to happen.

At The Gym Group we’ve been focused on reducing our carbon emissions for a number of years and are establishing our pathway to net zero based on the Science Based Targets Initiative (www.sciencebasedtargets.org). Any sustainability plan must be built on a solid understanding of how the business performs, so we’ve carried out a detailed carbon audit to inform our net zero strategy and build a pathway for the next 10-15 years.

We purchase all our electricity from renewable sources and publish official renewable energy certificates. With our power supplies being zero carbon at source, we only generate carbon emissions from the use of gas-fired boilers for heating water. Working closely with our supply partners, we’ve been testing and evaluating heat pump systems for a number of years and now have a standard solution for our smaller sites. With gas still being the cheapest energy utility available, we currently incur a cost for operating heat pumps but consider this worthwhile, as the environmental cost would be higher in the long term.

Our Beverley gym opened in December 2019 and was designed from the outset with energy efficiency and environmental impact in mind. Hot water is generated through a high efficiency heat pump system, so no gas is used in the gym, and with power supplied from renewable sources there’s effectively zero carbon produced in gym operation. This doesn’t mean we don’t consider how much power we consume, however, and efficiency is achieved through careful design of the main power consuming services.

All lighting is LED and we have time controls and daylight linking to minimise its operation. The primary consumers of energy are the air conditioning and ventilation systems, with weather and occupancy being the main drivers of consumption. The weather we can’t control, and we like our gyms to be busy and exciting places, so we aim to run them as efficiently as possible. Operating 24/7 also comes with its challenges, so we control the space temperature depending on the presence of people in the specific areas of the gym: the air conditioning automatically adjusts the temperature up by a few degrees if there’s no one in that particular area, reducing the energy required. Our ventilation system is also super-efficient, with low energy fans providing the air circulation and heating or cooling energy being transferred from the outgoing air to the fresh incoming air by use of a heat exchanger. Reducing water consumption is an ongoing objective. Alongside low water volume showers and self-closing taps we have a system that recovers condensate water from the air conditioning systems and uses it to flush the toilets.

For energy efficiency, it’s invaluable to understand exactly what energy is being consumed and where.

• David Melhuish is chief development and sustainability officer at The Gym Group

We’re establishing our pathway to net zero based on the Science Based Targets Initiative
Tim Mayer
MDL Fitness
photo: MDL

We aim to be the UK’s most sustainable marina and fitness operator, developing a culture of environmental awareness and care among our customers and teams.

Our first gym – opened in September – uses the SportsArt Eco-Powr range of energy-generating gym equipment to offset energy consumption and reduce its carbon footprint. The flooring is made from recycled tyres, the ventilation system has heat recovery, making it more energy efficient and the gym furniture comes from a sustainable source.

We’re also investing in green energy through the rollout of solar cells, looking at the management of waste streams and the separation of recyclables. We’re currently researching and developing a range of solutions for habitat improvement and creation in disused or unusable areas of our marinas, such as the installation of artificial reefs to prevent coastal erosion and improve biodiversity in the area.

 MDL Fitness is paperless, which is a quick and easy process to adopt. It doesn’t matter if you’re running an independent or 200 plus locations, technology allows all businesses to go either completely paper free or to minimise its use. We’re also replacing our existing petrol/diesel fleet with fully electric or hybrid vehicles and providing car charging facilities for our members.

I’d like to see all the big fitness operators start talking to the green brands, improving their carbon footprint and working with change makers, such as SportsArt. Each of us can begin to make that journey to zero carbon with forward thinking ideas that are flexible enough to be developed alongside changes in government policy and fitness related legislation.

• Tim Mayer is sales and marketing director at MDL Fitness

I’d like to see all the big fitness operators start talking to the green brands and working with change makers to improve their carbon footprint
Energy-generating gym equipment helps reduce the carbon footprint / photo: MDL fitness
Luca Fini
photo: sportsart

Sustainability has been at the heart of the SportsArt business since inception. Our Eco-Powr cardio products convert the human energy produced during exercise into clean usable electricity products, and we’re currently working on a strength line which will do the same.

Solar panels have been installed at our manufacturing facility to cover 50 per cent of the energy demand and an articulated rainwater collection system provides water for the manufacturing process. Specially tinted windows provide natural lighting throughout the factory, without letting in heat. Sixty to 70 per cent of post-consumer paper is used for cardboard packaging for equipment.

Although being sustainable isn’t always easy, especially in the early stages of transition, our advice is to start by dividing your green path into categories to properly analyse where improvements could be made – for example, energy savings, flooring, furniture and mobility – and systematically work through them.

While adding efficient heating and cooling systems might be a long-term project, there are quick wins to start upgrading every facility: providing secure bike storage and giving members travel incentives to reduce car use, offering water bottle refill stations and composting bins, switching to eco cleaning products and LED lights and using recycled materials for flooring and mats.

A key role in being sustainable is the education of the members about the green strategies in place and how they can minimise their own impact. To this end, offering concrete incentive programmes to encourage greener habits – for example discounts based on the energy generated during their workouts, or for travelling by public transport or bike – would be extremely beneficial. Sharing objectives with members and keeping them informed about the potential of their contribution to the green cause, can make a real difference. A conscious, motivated, interested and passionate customer will personally commit to making the sustainable project a success.

• Luci Fini is EMEA marketing manager at SportsArt

A key role in being sustainable is the education of the members about the green strategies in place and how they can minimise their own impact
James Foley
Alliance Leisure Services
photo: alliance leisure

Undoubtedly, more needs to be done at all levels to make the sector more sustainable, but change is happening and at pace.

We see it in our work every day – public sport and leisure providers want to play their part in tackling the climate emergency, they just need help to achieve their ambitions.

According to the new Securing the Future of Public Sport and Leisure Services report by the Local Government Association (LGA), the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association (CLOA), public sport and leisure facilities currently account for up to 40 per cent of councils’ carbon emission output (www.HCMmag.com/securing)

Ageing facilities are a huge energy drain, so investing in energy efficiency upgrades is critical to meeting net zero targets. To this end, our longstanding partner, Lancaster City Council, is building a solar farm on a disused landfill site to generate electricity for the adjacent Salt Ayre Leisure Centre.

Harrogate Borough Council has appointed Alliance Leisure to improve efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions with an ambitious targeted reduction of 50 per cent of CO2 produced each year. Repurposing Harrogate Hydro and replacing the tired Knaresborough Pool with a brand new facility are part of these works and a host of decarbonisation measures will contribute to the delivery of a BREEAM Excellent rating (www.breeam.com).

Hyndburn Borough Council is in the first phase of a consolidated investment strategy which will bring in a host of low/zero carbon technologies, including air source heat pumps, solar photovoltaics, pool air handling and pump motor upgrades to deliver a net change in greenhouse gas emissions of around 500 tonnes a year.

In addition to encouraging robust environmental protection strategies at all levels of our supply chain, we’re also implementing policies which promote energy efficiencies and reduce our carbon footprint in our own day to day business. For example, all company cars are energy efficient hybrid models and we’ve reduced electricity use and paper consumption.

We’re planting trees to offset the carbon emission we’re unable to influence and are on the journey to becoming a carbon literate organisation, along with achieving our Investors in the Environment Silver accreditation (​​www.iie.uk.com).

• James Foley is commercial director at Alliance Leisure Services

Public sport and leisure facilities currently account for up to 40% of councils’ carbon emission output
Salt Ayre Leisure Centre will be powered by a solar farm built on a landfill site / photo: alliance leisure

Originally published in Health Club Management 2021 issue 10

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