Are Gyms Bad for the Environment? How to Offset Your Impact

Gyms are great for the world on a micro-level.

They give people access to the resources they need to improve their health. They can get in shape and socialize with their peers in an inclusive environment, which is great!

But more and more people have reservations about joining the gym when it comes to pollution, waste, and other environmental concerns.

So let’s dig into it:

Are gyms bad for the environment? And what can you do about it?

In many ways, yes, gyms are bad for the environment. Similar to big box superstore likes Target or Walmart, gyms use massive amounts of energy and water while pumping air conditioning byproducts into the atmosphere.

Green gyms are growing in popularity, but are still hard to find. However, there are lots of ways you (and your local big chain gym) can work to offset your impact by making simple changes.

Let’s take a closer look!

Negative Environmental Impact of the Gym

Gyms — big box gyms, in particular — are often housed in giant, warehouse-like buildings that require a lot of electricity to run.

They’re similar to grocery stores or superstores like Target and Walmart, in that respect.

The powerful, fluorescent lights are almost always on, even if the gym itself is closed, which many never do!

Plus, there’s a ton of equipment from treadmills to ellipticals that rely on this power to function.

There are also all of the little things you probably don’t think about.

For example, vending machines require a ton of power to refrigerate drinks and food.

And that doesn’t even get into the effects of running the air conditioning and heating at the gym, especially on hot summer days. Not only does this use an absolutely massive amount of energy, but air conditioning, in particular, releases harmful gases into the outside air that contribute to climate change.

Then there are the environmental effects one probably doesn’t think about.

After all, hundreds of people could go to a big box gym in a single day. All of those individuals likely have to drive a car to get there, so that’s a lot of extra pollution into the local atmosphere that may not have been there otherwise.

Plus, gyms require incredible amounts of water.

Many people go to the gym to work out and then shower, and since they’re not the ones fronting the water bill, they may let it run to their heart’s content.

That can be particularly bad in areas prone to droughts, like California.

But it’s not just the environment outside of the gym to think about.

You also need to consider indoor factors, as well, such as indoor air quality.

A report from The New York Times showcased just how bad things can get inside a gym in terms of air quality:

“In general, the gyms showed high levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide. The concentrations of these substances generally exceeded most accepted standards for indoor air quality.”

Gyms can install air filters to prevent some of those airborne toxins from manifesting, but how many actually do that?

Sure, gyms aren’t exactly dumping barrels of toxic waste into the river (hopefully!), but they require a massive amount of energy and water to run.

So yes, gyms are bad for the environment, in many respects, but they’re no worse than Target, the grocery store, or a sit-down restaurant.

Still, if you’re looking to get in shape but don’t want to contribute to massive air pollution and energy waste, how can you offset your own impact?

Green Gyms Explained

As is the case with plenty of other industries, many gyms around the country have gone green.

That means they’ve implemented various methodologies to combat their impact on the environment. 

While many of the larger gym chains, like Planet Fitness, lag behind, smaller gyms have picked up the slack.

Just look at the quality work being done by the Green Micro Gym in Portland, Oregon.

This gym has adopted specialized equipment that actually generates electricity, rather than consuming it. They put out what they take in, resulting in a drastically reduced footprint. 

However, new equipment isn’t the only way gyms can make a difference.

Other gyms have turned to solar power to reduce their draw on the energy grid, or have implemented grey water-recycling technology to reduce sewage waste.

Low-flow toilets, showerheads, and faucets can also reduce water usage.

There are tons of ideas from The Global Health and Fitness Association here.

But if your local gyms are slacking in that department, you can take steps to personally lower your footprint. 

How to Have an Eco-Friendly Workout

There are many ways you can reduce your impact on the environment during your workouts, even if you do decide to join a gym.

Use a reusable water bottle

Plastic is one of the biggest contributors to environmental degradation.

You don’t even want to know how much plastic winds up in the ocean every year.

You can do your part to keep plastic out of the environment by investing in a water bottle you can use over and over again. 

Whether you work out on your own or at the gym, you should always bring your own reusable water bottle.

Most gyms have water fountains where you can refill easily and quickly.

In the event you absolutely must purchase a one-time plastic bottle, the least you can do is recycle it.

Many gyms have recycle containers around the facilities. If yours doesn’t, contact the manager about getting one installed. 

Wear durable clothing

Fast fashion is terrible for the planet.

This is clothing that’s designed be bought cheap and replaced in a matter of months because it falls apart quickly.

In the fitness industry, this is a huge problem.

Instead of the $5 bargain workout shorts, it may be better to invest in a more expensive pair that will last years.

(Learn more about the types of workout shorts, pants, shirts, and types of workout shoes to look for.)

Take shorter showers

It’s critical to shower after an intense workout.

While the hot water may feel good on your skin and promote recovery, you don’t want to use too much.

To conserve your water usage, you should consider implementing what’s known as a Navy shower.

This is when you get your body wet for about one minute. You then turn the shower off and spend some time scrubbing soap and shampoo across your body.

Once you’re all nice and sudsy, you turn the water back on to rinse off.

It significantly reduces how much water you implement in your regimen and keeps you smelling fresh. 

Use strength equipment

Not every workout regimen at the gym requires you to expend electricity.

While you may want to get in some cardio on a treadmill, there are other exercises you can perform where you’re not using any power. 

For starters, most of the strength equipment at the gym (both machines and free machines) are totally analog.

It doesn’t rely on electricity, so you’re not personally contributing to your gym’s energy usage. 

Again, it’s a small difference when there are already a dozen people on the treadmills next to you at the gym, but every little bit counts.

Work out outside of a gym

Of course, if you don’t want to contribute at all to your gym’s energy usage, the best thing you can do is exercise on  your own.

Instead of running on a treadmill, you can jog on a local path or through a park.

Not only do you avoid using power, but it may actually be better for your overall health.

It’s good to get outside and get exposed to natural sunlight. It’s an organic source of Vitamin D. Plus, you breathe easier in the great outdoors rather than being cooped up in a gym with questionable filtration systems. 

You can also purchase your own free weights or resistance machines that don’t depend on electricity.

There are numerous benefits to this. For starters, you don’t have to drive anywhere, and you can place them anywhere in your home because they don’t need to be close to an outlet. 

This list is just the beginning!

Think of all the ways gyms use energy, water, or promote pollution and you’ll come up with tons of ways to offset your impact.

Walk to the gym for an even better workout. Use a rag instead of a disposable paper towel to wipe down equipment.

Get creative!

Wrapping Up

Gyms require huge amounts of electricity and water, all the while contributing to air quality concerns and climate change.

If you’re really passionate, talk to the management at your gym and ask what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact. You can make suggestions like:

  • investing in some energy-generating equipment
  • upgrading to low-flow toilets and showerheads
  • or using LED lights instead of fluorescent bulbs.

Smaller gyms are leading the charge on eco-friendly practices, but the public needs to push harder so that the bigger names get on the right side of this issue, too. 

For more on gyms and how they work, check out:

Hope this helped!