How can we combine our fitness routine with respect for the environment?

Reaching your fitness goals and saving the planet doesn't have to be a compromise.
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Deux jeunes femmes pratiquant une session de yoga ©Cliff Booth

It’s impossible to turn on the TV news these days without seeing a report on global warming. For several years now, forest fires, floods, storms and other environmental disasters have been increasing and intensifying across the world. And for those who are worried about what’s happening to the planet — according to a French survey, that’s two out of three people—helping the environment has become a daily goal.

Gyms are no exception and are starting to do their bit. For example, in April 2021, the gym chain Life Time updated its five-year sustainability plan. The company, which has more than 150 locations across the United States and Canada, has set a nationwide goal to reduce its energy and water consumption and its plastic footprint.

Are you also looking to contribute more to respecting our beautiful blue planet as part of your fitness routine? Good news! Here are four tips to help you.

Buy eco-friendly clothes and equipment

In recent years, we’ve learned that “fast fashion“—fashionable clothes that are not usually designed to last— hinders sustainable development. As a result, we’re seeing the need for more environmentally friendly clothes that last for years. This also applies, of course, to sportswear. Let’s take the brand Gymbassador, for example, which focuses on four main principles: innovative technology, fair trade production, sustainable packaging and sustainable materials. Their new leggings and sports bras, for instance, are made from recycled textiles, according to Gymbassador founder and CEO Rico Hausmann. While globally less than 1% of used clothing is recycled into new clothing, the garments in Gymbassador’s Vision collection are made using 53% recycled textiles. In addition, this sports fashion company only manufactures its products responsibly, in compliance with stringent European labor and environmental laws. This means that fair compensation is guaranteed for all the employees of their production partners, as they earn at least 10% more than the legal minimum wage. Gymbassador also works exclusively with organic cotton (GOTS certified) from Turkey, where a family business harvests and processes it by hand. This method has several advantages, including reducing CO2 emissions by 46% and using 91% less water, or 243 liters instead of 2,700 liters to produce a T-shirt.

When it comes to kitting yourself out for home workouts, durability takes on a whole new dimension. Rather than buying new equipment, you could buy the same product second-hand, for example. After all, a dumbbell is still a dumbbell. The same goes for traction bars and cardio machines. However, we promise not to hold it against you if you want to buy a new yoga mat!

Behave in an eco-friendly way

We’ve all come across that person in the gym locker room who uses four towels and takes a 20-minute hot shower. Don’t be that person. When it comes to shared resources and some people taking a lot more than their fair share, that’s what is known as the tragedy of the commons. But rest assured that there are so many ways to bring positive change to the locker room—and these may even rub off on others in the process:

  • Only take the amount of towels, razors and shampoo that you really need. Make sure you have quick showers: a three-minute shower uses 45 liters of water, while a 10-minute shower uses 150 liters. After a week of shorter showers, you’ll have saved 735 liters of water.
  • Keep an eye on the number of wipes you use to clean equipment. You don’t need to take a new paper towel every time you move to a different machine.
  • Instead of always taking a new disposable cup or plastic water bottle, invest in a reusable one. Today there’s such a wide range of options available in so many eco-friendly materials, such as stainless steel, that you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Select your gym carefully

Eco-friendly gyms are not just good for the planet, but also good for your health. Stefanie Young, Vice President of Technical Solutions at U.S. Green Building Council explains that green gyms usually have better indoor air quality and use fewer toxic chemicals in their cleaning processes. “All of that affects how the user engages with the space, so it’s important not just from an environmental aspect, but when you add the covid pandemic aspect, it’s even more important,” she says.

So how do you find a new gym that checks all the boxes, or how do you encourage your current gym to go greener, if necessary? A real green gym will normally display its environmental policies on its website. Likewise, a company may claim to be “clean and green,” but a quick online search can tell you about the legitimacy—or otherwise—of the organizations it proudly lists at the bottom of its web page.

Also, if you’re currently looking for a new gym, you’re advised to visit it before signing up and find out the answers to some specific questions. For example, what does the exterior of your future workout venue look like? One of the clearest indicators of energy efficiency is also the easiest to spot: exterior walls and windows. If they are very thin and this is combined with a harsh climate in winter, there will be a lot of unnecessary and avoidable heat loss. They will also make it difficult to keep the space cool during the summer.

Finally, since heating and electricity are major contributors to a gym’s carbon footprint, one of the biggest advantages for a gym is to use green or clean energy. This last point is relatively easy to check by taking a look at signs and other stickers around the gym that will show whether it uses renewable energy or not. Have you already checked and your favorite gym doesn’t seem like it’s green? Get in touch with the owner and ask if there are any ways (via utilities) that the building can be connected to the green grid.

Every little action counts, including how you get there

As is often the case when it comes to the environment, every little action counts. Maybe it’s not possible to cycle, run or take public transport each time you visit the gym, but it’s worth trying to incorporate this habit into your routine at least once a week. Remember: you’re part of the equation, so use the above tips to define the actions you will take next.

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