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Some Green Decisions Make More Sense Than Others

(Image © Alex Slobodkin/ © Alex Slobodkin/ use motion sensors and the longest-lasting lightbulbs we can find. When we built our pool, we purchased the most energy-efficient water heating system available, and we're still exploring ways to consume less energy to heat the pool water, including covers and solar water heaters. We use spray bottles and hand towels on the workout floor for wiping down equipment, rather than disposable wipes.

Just please don't call us "green." We're really just trying to save money.

The beauty of green solutions is that, more often than not, they come with cost savings. The motion sensors prevent us from wasting money on electricity in our tanning and fitness assessment rooms. The long-lasting bulbs both save on electricity and ease the hassle of changing bulbs, some of which are difficult to reach. We'll do anything to save money on heating the pool water, and as much as we love disposable equipment wipes, it pains us to see one tossed into the garbage can every time someone uses a machine.

We are so energy efficient that a recent energy audit turned up nothing we could reasonably do to continue improving our energy consumption — and even still, we're exploring other options, including a wind generator. How cool would that be?

And yet, we don't tout our green-ness. One reason is that we don't want to get our heads handed to us for violating the most sacred pillar of the green movement: We don't recycle at our clubs. We know that's like kicking kittens or strapping old ladies to railroad tracks, and we did recycle for years. Then a few years ago, we just stopped, and we've saved ourselves what had become a real hassle. The cost for the biweekly pickups wasn't such a big deal, but storing the material was inconvenient and messy. Bottles would pile up, were often still filled with liquid, and would be intermixed with garbage if members didn't pay attention to what bin they were using. Managing the recycling process is not what we are in business to do.

We've had staff members become perturbed by our stance on recycling, and several have taken it upon themselves to manage it. They have emptied bins, consolidated everything, put everything out for pickup or taken it all to recycle centers, only to find that it was much more work than they had realized and, going forward, wished to do. So they stopped, too.

As a strictly business decision, not recycling has been the correct choice. It is one less operational thing to worry about, plus our clubs are tidier without the recycling bins, and there are no bags and bins full of recyclables sitting in the parking lot waiting for pickup. Members occasionally ask about it, but nobody seems offended and we can't imagine that anybody has quit over this.

Nor do we believe that anybody in our community would join our clubs specifically in response to us waving a green banner. Our prospects and new members are worried about fitting in, price, convenience and achieving results. They do not ask, nor do they seem to care, about our energy-saving efforts, whether or not we recycle, what we use to clean our bathrooms, or whether or not we buy recycled Post-it® Notes. (We don't — too expensive.)

Certainly, there may be health clubs for whom being not only green but greenest would help provide differentiation and a unique value proposition, helping to retain existing members while driving new memberships. In such a club, everything could be recycled (think how many paper towels are used in your locker rooms) and only recycled products could be used or permanently specified, such as flooring and mats. No bottled water would be sold, in favor of everyone carrying their own containers. Energy would be reclaimed from people exercising and from the environment, including from heat coming off the pool (another solution that we've explored). We can easily imagine a health club having a very small environmental footprint and marketing that in their community.

Would anyone care? Certainly, there are communities with residents who are extremely sensitive to environmental issues, and as long as there were a large enough potential membership base, then it might be a fine way to differentiate a health club. Heck, many clubs these days are differentiating themselves on a lot less than that, so it might make a great deal of sense for the right market.

For us, though, becoming as green as possible does not make business sense. We suspect that's the case for most club operators, even though it's easy to feel diminished as a human being if you or your business are not deeply, richly, vibrantly green. We promise not to yell at you — so please don't yell at us.

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