// Eco gym - power your facility with burning calories

by Danny Morgan

One night many moons ago I was working at a gym in Sydney when I underwent something of an epiphany. It was a busy night on the gym fl oor, with lots of members running on treadmills and lifting weights. As I surveyed the facility, taking in the straining muscles, pumping limbs and puffing faces, I was struck by the thought that a huge amount of energy was being expended in that room and that it was all going to waste. I started to wonder whether there was some way to capture that energy, turn it into electricity and use it to power the gym. 

Fast forward to January 2006, when I decided upon my plan to open an eco-friendly fitness studio that would generate its own electricity from exercise bikes. It took about a year and a half to find someone who could build the system, but by October 2007 we had a working prototype. 

In January 2008 we fitted out the studio with fi ve indoor cycles, each one with a small generator connected to its front fly wheel. Pedalling the bike drives the generator, sending electricity back into the power grid and off setting the carbon emissions created by the facility. The equipment is Energy Australia-approved and doesn’t aff ect the performance of the bike. 

An average person pedalling at a moderate pace on one of the eco-bikes in our facility can generate between 50 and 100 watts of power. Wattage is a constant measurement, so if someone pedals 50 watts for an hour, they can power four energy-efficient light bulbs for an hour. Our gym has natural ventilation and energy-efficient appliances, so when all five bikes are being used they can easily generate enough electricity to power the whole facility. 

And it’s not just spin bikes either. A gym in Hong Kong is using similar technology to capture energy expended by members on steppers and ellipticals. Every time we move our bodies we expend energy, so it seems like common sense to adapt exercise equipment to be able to harness this energy and convert it into electricity that we can use. If you think about it in terms of deciding whether to burn coal or burn calories to create useful energy to power your gym, it seems like a no-brainer. 


At the time I first considered using members’ exertions to power a gym, I didn’t have much understanding of what climate change was. For the benefit of anyone not familiar with the concept, here is a brief definition; ‘Human-induced climate change is caused by the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere, mainly over the last 100 years due to the industrial revolution. These gases act like a blanket in the atmosphere, trapping heat the same way a greenhouse does. There is now clear scientific evidence that emissions from human activity are causing changes to the earth’s climate.’ 

The Economics of Climate Change, Sir Nicholas Stern 
Climate change threatens the basic elements of life for people around the world, from access to water, food and health to the use of land and the environment. By the middle of this century, 200 million people may become permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and more intense droughts. Although there is not a consensus among scientists, the overwhelming majority of them do say that we must reduce carbon emissions if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 


The fitness industry can reduce its impact on the environment in numerous ways, but here we will focus on reducing carbon emissions. 
When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, the fi rst and most important step for the fitness industry is to become energy efficient. This simply means having a look at how much power you use and finding ways to use less. Changing to energy efficient appliances and lighting, not leaving computers on standby and educating members about reducing the length of time they spend in the shower are examples of increased energy efficiency. Becoming energy efficient is the quickest and easiest way of reducing carbon emissions – and the beauty is that most of the things you can do to become energy efficient are common sense – plus they’ll save you money! 

The second step is to install renewable energy technology such as wind and solar and the technology that myself and a few other gyms in the world are pioneering at the moment. A perceived problem with renewable technology has long been cost-effectiveness, but as the cost of fossil fuel keeps increasing, renewable technology will become cost eff ective in the very near future. 


There is another significant market factor that makes investment in renewable energy for the fitness industry viable right now. There is no question that making changes and implementing renewable energy technology will cost money in the immediate-term, but not making these changes will cost the fitness industry a lot more in the long-term; here’s why:

In 2006 when I decided to open my studio I completed Certificate IV in Small Business Management. The marketing component of that course involved putting out a hundred questionnaires about the business that you wanted to open. A question I included on my survey was ‘would you rather go to a gym that was environmentally-friendly?’ I got back 100 ‘yes’ answers to that question! 

Over the last few years the environment has become a mainstream issue, and I believe it will be the defining issue of this century. Big business is spending billions of dollars to become environmentally friendly because its leaders understand that consumer demand is changing according to the principles of ecology and sustainability. The business that clings to the past on this issue will one day find that it has become part of it. 


As an industry, we are in the enviable and unique position of being able to generate our own renewable electricity from exercise! But there is also a deeper role that the fi tness industry can play in addressing this issue. 

We can’t have healthy bodies without a healthy planet and we can’t have a healthy planet without healthy bodies. I see a very strong correlation between the obesity epidemic and climate change. Speaking generally, we eat too much and don’t move enough anymore because technology has eliminated the need for us to be active, enabling us to become obese. We use too much fossil fuel to power all the ‘stuff’ we don’t really need, and consequently we have climate change. In their book Fighting Globesity fi tness industry stalwarts Philip Mills and Jackie Mills, of Les Mills International, write; ’Globesity is a term we use to describe the relationship that currently operates between personal fi tness, national health systems and global sustainability’. 

In the fitness industry we are in the business of education. So much of what we do involves educating people about health and fitness, so why not broaden our scope to include the health of the planet? It just makes good sense; after all, what’s the point of helping people have healthy bodies if our facilities are polluting and degrading the only planet we have? 

Our gyms can be an example of world best environmental practice that other industries and the public can draw on and learn from. My vision is of an environmentally friendly fitness industry, because we are an embodiment of the living, breathing earth we inhabit.


Danny Morgan
A retired professional boxer, Danny has worked in the fi tness industry since 2001 as a trainer, group fi tness instructor and course presenter. He owns and operates Surry Hills Boxing, Australia’s fi rst eco-friendly gym that generates its own electricity from exercise bikes, and also runs Slipstream, a consultancy that advises gyms on how to become environmentally friendly. For more information visit www.surryhillsboxing.com.au, e-mailinfo@surryhillsboxing.com.au or call 0411 715 770.

NETWORK • SUMMER 2008 • PP13-15