Do Your Members Care If Your Gym is Sustainable?

There’s been a fundamental shift towards sustainability as a collective responsibility.   Individuals, businesses, organisations, and governments have all been charged...

There’s been a fundamental shift towards sustainability as a collective responsibility.  

Individuals, businesses, organisations, and governments have all been charged with minimising their environmental impact.  

Results have been mixed. 


These examples suggest how challenging sustainability can be at a policy, business, and personal level. They also highlight how common it can be to fall short of expectations and marketing claims.  

And yet, we know that sustainability is important to many people, consumers included. But what about your client base? Do your members care if your gym is sustainable?  


Why Sustainability is Important to People 

One study found that 75% of Millennials considered sustainability when purchasing. Another reported that just over 80% of UK consumers would pay at least 10% more for sustainable products. Several others have also concluded that younger generations are more likely to spend money with brands that align with their social values, even if that means paying more per item. 

There’s also a tangible link between health and sustainability. Climate change has been linked to several health-related issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular disease. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, traffic-related pollution is strongly associated with the development of asthma in school-aged children. Higher temperatures are linked with premature births in Australia, and a third of heat-related deaths are now associated with climate change. In the UK, a study published in the Journal for Climatic Change reported that rising global temperatures have increased the frequency of hot weather, drought, and flooding. 

We know that extreme weather threatens human life and health. We’re beginning to see it here in the UK, too.  

In the summer of 2022, the UK registered record-breaking temperatures of 40.3 degrees, which is believed to have contributed to 2,800 additional deaths. Climate change is something that many of us have long assumed happens many hundreds or thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.   

COVID-19 helped the sustainability agenda too. PwC’s June 2021 report found that, since the pandemic, ‘half of all global consumers surveyed say they’ve become even more eco-friendly.’ 

Gyms are in a strong position to take advantage of this growing awareness around environmental sustainability and health. Many people now consider fitness as a crucial component in wellness and self-care. Fitness can help prevent the development or slow the onset of chronic and life-limiting conditions. According to Ideafit, this ‘expands interest in the environment and their communities’.   

Mental health professionals have also reported a rise in the number of people suffering from eco-anxiety.  

Eco-anxiety is when concern about climate change develops into a form of mental distress, affecting a person’s daily life. It shares many traits with anxiety: shortness of breath, racing heart, intrusive thoughts, overwhelm, etc.  

Mental health professionals have noted a rise in eco-anxiety for some time, but the condition made headlines in 2023 when smoke from Canadian wildfires spread into the United States, reaching as far as New York City and affecting air quality.  

Videos on news channels and social media accounts showed a thick, reddish, smog-like smoke that shrouded the city in a dystopian haze. It looked like something from a disaster movie. During this period, mental health professionals reported a rise in the number of clients seeking treatment for anxiety, in which climate change was discussed. Many people felt this was a prelude to what could become a more common event in future.  

Eco-anxiety is likely to become more prevalent in the UK, too. According to the Office of National Statistics, 74% of people reported feeling either somewhat or very worried about climate change.  


Do Gym Members Care About Sustainability? 

As we’ve suggested in the introduction, more people are now concerned about climate change. More of us are also trying to make more sustainable decisions. So yes, many of your members will care about sustainability. Some will be more proactive in their beliefs than others. Others may not give it much thought at all. The type of gym you own and its demographic may influence this. Much of the research on consumer trends is based on customers and businesses. Gyms may have a membership-based model but the same consumers discussed in the studies also represent many of your members.  

Around 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on sustainable brands. For many, sustainability is a lifestyle beyond just shopping and travelling habits. Of course, not everyone will be ride-or-die for the environment. Some members will have zero interest, but you’ll probably find that most will be receptive to sustainability initiatives. Those that aren’t will often come along for the ride so long as your sustainability choices don’t directly impact them detrimentally. For example, someone who doesn’t consider themselves sustainable is unlikely to complain about water-saving devices in changing rooms or non-toxic cleaning products (unless you’ve done something to make a situation worse). 

Sustainability isn’t just about ‘saving the planet’, either. It often means efficiency: energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource efficiency. And efficient businesses often save money in the long term. It can give you an advantage over your local competitors.  Deloitte completed a study and found that 37% of people had chosen brands with ethical practices or values. Interestingly, 34% of people admitted that they’d stopped purchasing certain brands or products if they had ethical concerns about the brand or business. This is consumer activism. It’s when someone buys from a brand or supports a business that they feel aligns with their values and boycotts those that don’t. Yale released a study that showed in the US, people were more likely to ‘engage in consumer activism than political activism to combat global warming’.  So, aligning your business with the values of current and potential future gym members will make you a more attractive prospect for anyone interested in the environmental impact of their fitness routine.  

But gym owners shouldn’t think that sustainability is all-or-nothing or something that must happen all at once. Eco-gyms are explicitly designed for carbon neutrality with sustainable flooring, walling, self-generating or electricity-generating equipment, biophilic décor, and plastic-free, locally or ethically sourced food and drink products. This is great for the environment. But it might not fit your business model (at least not yet). It’s often more realistic for non-eco gyms to adopt sustainable practices and processes over time.  

When asking if members care about sustainability, it’s worth looking at what some of the big players in the industry are doing. Often this filters down to smaller and independent operators.  

The Gym Group has over 8,000 members and 229 sites in the UK. It aims to become net zero by 2045, which means the carbon it omits will be no more than the amount the company is saving. Part of this plan means buying 100% renewable power from energy companies and replacing all lighting with LEDs. 

Similarly, Storm Cycle Studio in Berlin has recently installed electricity-generating bikes, meaning its sound, lighting and air-conditioning systems are all human-powered.   

Both gyms are making a clear commitment to energy efficiency, but there’s also a benefit for marketing and PR, especially for retaining current members and attracting new ones. This will depend, however, on whether a gym is genuine in its efforts or greenwashing.   

Greenwashing is when a brand or company makes misleading sustainability claims. We mentioned in the introduction that ASOS, Boohoo, and Asda George have been accused of this by the UK’s Competition and Market Authority. Greenwashing can happen by accident. A marketing team may have been a little overzealous with its claims or someone may have made a genuine miscalculation. Sometimes greenwashing is done deliberately and designed to mislead and dupe customers. Whatever the cause, greenwashing can do serious harm to a reputation.  

Often, sustainability's biggest obstacle lies in showing people that individual action can have a significant impact. Consumer activism is an excellent example of this. In Yale’s Study on sustainability and buying habits, researchers found that consumers often underestimate how much their actions influence how companies and brands operate. People will likely feel they’re making a bigger impact as part of a community or group. This puts gyms in a fortunate position. They already have a ready-made community of paying members. One article by the IHRSA states that ‘members can feel like they’re contributing to a more profound shared goal’. This then feeds back into the community, building a stronger sense of purpose that should, ideally, positively influence things like membership retention.   


What Can Gyms Do to Become More Sustainable?  

Sustainability can seem overwhelming, especially if your gym has been operating for some time. Challenging economic conditions can also make sustainability feel financially risky, but sustainability doesn’t have to happen overnight. Gyms can make changes over an extended period, as The Gym Group is doing. Sustainability and efficiency often go in hand, and the more energy or resource-efficient a building or business is, the less money and resources are wasted. Over time, switching to sustainability could represent a significant saving.  


Get an Energy Audit  

Completing an energy audit is a good first step. This is when a professional company investigates how energy-efficient your business is. At the end of the process, they’ll produce a report with recommendations for areas that could be improved within your company. Energy audits give you a clear picture of your energy-efficiency, providing a baseline against which you can measure any future progress.   

Be Energy Efficient 

Switching to LED energy-efficiency lighting, installing eco-friendly gym flooring, eliminating single-use plastic and making the building more water and waste-efficient will help. If you own the building you operate from or have an eco-friendly landlord, then solar panels may also be an option. Gyms that rent their premises may find this more difficult, but electricity-generating equipment like the RE:GEN Studio can help your gym run on human power.  

Turn Down the Temperature 

During the winter of 2022/23, many gyms and leisure centres turned down their pool temperatures while some facilities even switched Jacuzzis and saunas off completely to try and reduce costs. Gyms were reporting energy price increases of up to 150%. The goal of sustainability isn’t to reduce service or customer experience, but it can show that even small changes can have a compounding effect over time. 

Gyms can also encourage members to travel more sustainably. Some gyms provide bike racks for cyclists. Other ensure paths to local amenities, houses, and transport links are visible and signposted, so members can choose how to get there.  

Incorporating environmental and social issues into a brand strategy can also help. Celebrating relevant national days like World Health Day, National Tree Week, and International Day of Zero Waste. A good marketing strategy could align the gym with any number of these dates in conjunction with fitness challenges related to environmental events. Gyms could arrange sessions walking the length of the Amazon on a treadmill to raise awareness about deforestation or partner with a local environmental charity to raise awareness or money for local, national or international good causes. Research suggests that people who exercise in group classes are less likely to cancel their membership than those who exercise alone.  

You can push sustainability by selling and promoting local or sustainable products and merchandise. You might also ban single-use plastic and instead encourage members to bring reusable water bottles, etc.  

Cleaning products can be very bad for the environment so investing in eco-friendly products can not only help the environment but also improve air quality.  


Do Your Members Care If Your Gym is Sustainable?  

Your gym members likely do care about climate change. They’ll also probably respond positively to sustainability initiatives. While it’s unlikely that they’ll all be at the Greta Thunberg level of activism, studies show that more people are now engaging with environmental issues.   

We know that 18 to 34-year-olds attend the gym more than any other demographic. We also know that this age group is more likely to champion sustainable causes and participate in consumer activism, spending money with brands that reflect their social values. We can assume, therefore, that Generation Alpha (those born between 2010 and 2024) are also likely to become sustainability advocates, given that their generation will be the most affected by climate change in the UK.   

So, sustainability isn’t going away, but there is another factor worth mentioning: the cost of living.   

Many people are experiencing financial challenges or uncertainty, which may impact consumer activism and buying decisions, including whether someone decides to start, continue or cancel a monthly or annual gym membership. Articles like this may push for more sustainability in the industry, but this may not always be a priority to gyms facing rising operating costs and pinched margins. One critical thing to remember is that sustainability doesn’t have to be achieved in leaps and bounds overnight. When it comes to being more energy efficient, you may find that greater efficiency also equates to greater savings further down the line. And anyway, minimising our environmental impact is a responsibility that applies to everyone, whether we own a gym or not.   

Find out more about the electricity-generating RE:GEN Studio Bike 

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