Are Eco-Friendlier Gyms at a Disadvantage?

We’ve written a lot about the advantages of running a greener business, but it would be remiss of us not...

We’ve written a lot about the advantages of running a greener business, but it would be remiss of us not to highlight some of the potential challenges you may encounter along the way. Whether you’re looking to make bigger changes to your gym by installing electricity-generating indoor bikes or making smaller additions like switching to LEDs or sustainable flooring, you may be worried about putting yourself at a financial or competitive disadvantage. You may want to run a more environmentally friendly gym, but ultimately, you’re a business, not a philanthropic organisation.  


Are Eco-Friendly Gyms at a Disadvantage?  

Eco-friendly gyms may be at an initial disadvantage, and we’ll run through some of the reasons for this below. One word of caution, however. Don’t get too caught up chasing short-term goals or advantages. Short-termism often means sacrificing long-term compounded growth for interim gains. Sustainability may be best viewed as an investment as much as moving to larger premises, supporting employee wellness, or buying new equipment or software would be.  


Sustainability takes time 

As we’ve referenced above, sustainability isn’t about scoring a quick win. Often, eco-friendly measures take time to plan and implement. It may be harder and more time-consuming to source sustainable products or find service providers catering for greener customers. Some of these companies and products may be relatively new without the reviews and customer experience history you’d expect. Compare this to a gym setting up operations or expanding without the same constraints, able to choose from a range of lesser or non-sustainable options.  


Sustainability May Cost You More 

Sustainable products and services can be more expensive. This may give your competitors a short-term advantage. You may also have to pass some of this cost onto your members, increasing monthly and annual fees and making you less competitive within your area. There are ways to leverage sustainability to beat the competition, especially with brand positioning and marketing, but in the short term, you may face higher initial costs. You may also have to wait longer for a return on any investment.  

Any initial investment may be harder to secure, too, as you’ll have to justify higher costs for more sustainable items. What’s frustrating is that further down the line, sustainability can actually make your business more attractive to investors. One way to work around this is to have a solid business plan with clear calculations for any ROI. Help is also available for securing grant funding or loans so that businesses can become more sustainable.   


Greenwashing is Easy 

You can’t make claims that you can’t back up. Several well-known examples of companies have been caught exaggerating or fabricating their green credentials for marketing clout. In January 2023, the Competitions and Market Authority (CMA) opened an investigation into ASOS, Boohoo, and Asda George. Clothing marketed and sold as sustainable by the three companies allegedly falls short of what consumers might expect to qualify as sustainable products.

Greenwashing is when a company makes misleading claims about its sustainability.  It puts gym owners in a tricky position because sustainability can sometimes be difficult to convert into numbers and figures that translate into an attractive proposition for attracting and retaining clients. Greenwashing isn’t always deliberate and there’s a fine line between it and green marketing. Green marketing is a powerful and positive means of positioning a gym or brand as being more sustainable in all or certain aspects of the business. Greenwashing undermines trust in a brand and hurts the company’s reputation. You could be opening your gym up to trouble if you can’t prove that you’re eco-friendlier than the alternatives, which leads us to the next point.  


Sustainability is Complicated 

Sustainability is a simple word hiding hidden complexities. You’ll have to understand what makes your products or services sustainable because you may be held accountable for your claims or the money you spend pursuing them. This could mean calculating your carbon footprint. It could be researching suppliers or deep diving into new technologies or software, disappearing down eco-friendly rabbit holes at times when you could be working directly in your business. You may not always have sufficient time for this type of research or problem-solving. Many of us don’t find this type of thing interesting, either.  


Eco-Friendly May Mean Taking Chances 

Lots of innovative companies are operating in the fitness technology space right now. If you’re looking to be an early adopter of clean fitness technology or sustainable systems and products, there’s the potential for massive reward but also risk. Traditional brands aren’t reinventing the wheel to manufacture tried and tested products, posing a relatively minimal risk to the end user’s experience and expectations. There’s huge potential for gyms in the clean-tech start-up and scale-up space, but the technology may not be as well-tested, especially in the early stages. Managing this can be difficult, but when it works, it can be the start of a special relationship. Energym was so grateful to work with Storm Cycle Studio in Berlin. They put their trust in us and helped shape the RE:GEN Studio into what it is today.  


Do Your Members Want to Be Sustainable?  

This largely depends on the demographic you’re attracting or whether you operate in a fitness niche that an eco-friendly approach could amplify. Recently, we wrote a post about whether gym members care about sustainability, and the consensus is that they probably do. This tracks with consumer trends for younger demographics (comprising the highest percentage of gym users), but this may depend on your membership base. Budget gyms may find that as receptive as members are to sustainable initiatives, they’re more receptive to lower membership fees.


White-washed brick wall with a plant in front


We all have a personal and professional responsibility to be more sustainable. Rising global temperatures mean we will experience extreme weather more frequently, even here in the UK. This may indirectly impact your business. Flooding or drought may also affect your suppliers. Heavy rain has closed factories in Asia for several weeks at a time, impacting manufacturing, which could include the bikes and treadmills you want to buy, their replacement parts, and even the microchips inside the software. This happened in Thailand in 2010 when extreme rainfall meant factories were forced to close, affecting both the auto and technology sectors and delaying key releases of new products. Your gym may not be as vulnerable as other industries, but the knock-on effects could impact your business.  

Sustainability isn’t a fad. It isn’t going away but looks set to intensify. Businesses that aren’t planning to minimise their environmental impact may find that, eventually, they’ll have no choice. This puts any early adopters at an advantage. Sustainability is also an opportunity for growth and increased resilience. Increased energy efficiency, for example, often saves money in the long term. This may be more palatable to stakeholders as it’s a more specific and business-centred approach.  

But we couldn’t end this post without briefly mentioning some of the advantages of sustainability, especially as some of the short-term disadvantages can likely be overcome over a longer period.  

Be More Resource Efficient  

Energy efficiency can save you money. An energy audit may reveal specific areas where savings can be made. Energy-efficient bulbs, electricity-generating indoor bikes, upgraded HVAC systems, and water reduction systems for showers, toilets, and urinals can lead to significant savings.  

Green Marketing 

There’s an opportunity here for good PR and marketing. People are receptive to sustainability when it’s genuine because it aligns with their social beliefs. Sustainable action can feel overwhelming when done individually, so encouraging members to participate in activities or to use eco-friendly equipment can help build a broader sense of community among members. The more connected to a community someone feels, the more likely they will be to maintain their membership or recommend it to others. We know consumers prefer to spend their money with brands and businesses that align with their social values, and there’s no reason to think this won’t apply to gyms. This may attract new members and help you retain existing ones, too.  

It Doesn’t Have to Happen Overnight 

The UK Government may have just made several substantial U-Turns on net-zero targets (September 2023), but this doesn't mean businesses are off the hook. Future legislation will likely mean that companies will have to act more sustainably. There may even be penalties for those that don’t. It makes sense to start making changes before hard compliance deadlines come into play. For example, The Gym Group aims to achieve carbon net zero by 2045. They’ve set a realistic timeframe, holding themselves accountable with smaller targets along the way. We mentioned earlier that money may be available to help your gym or business reduce its carbon emissions. It's worth looking to see what funding is available.  

Eco-Friendlier Gyms Are the Future 

More gyms are now taking sustainability more seriously, either by opening as eco-gyms or introducing eco-friendly elements into their existing offerings. We’ve already mentioned The Gym Group and Storm Cycle Studio in Berlin, but there are eco-gyms like Terra Hale, reflecting the growing awareness of the importance of minimising the environmental impact of doing business.  

Ready to capture and convert human power in your gym? Turn on human power with the RE:GEN.  


Group in gym wear standing next to the RE:GEN bike on a green lit platform 




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