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Tiffany Traynum’s Blog

Eco-Fitness: Maintaining Your Body and the Planet

Tiffany Traynum

Posted October 25, 2012

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I work in one of the most gorgeous buildings in San Francisco; a stunning 22-story111 Sutter ceiling.jpg high-rise built in 1926 with a French Romanesque design. It’s not unusual to see me dodging at least a dozen tourists, staring in awe at the elaborate hand-painted ceiling (pictured right), as I try to make my way into the elevator.

Even more beautiful are NRDC’s San Francisco offices. In 1998, NRDC began renovations on the two floors we inhabit, with the goal of putting our environmental principals into practice. In the San Francisco office, everything from the location to the design ensures that the office space is naturally lit. The recycled and sustainable material used to construct and furnish our work space was also considered. As I continue to acclimate myself to this (new and exciting to) world of environmentalism, I have begun to examine my own carbon footprint and evaluate the establishments I frequent on a regular basis. And there’s one place—besides this lovely “green” office—that I spend the majority of my time; the gym.

Today, many real estate companies & developers are taking significant steps to build and renovate their spaces, not only to support environmentally-friendly attitudes, but also to save on energy costs. Even professional sports teams are greening arenas and venues to help the environment by utilizing resources more effectively. Unfortunately, we generally don’t think about the environment when we lace up our sneakers to work out. But in this age of sustainability, advanced technology and creativity, we should be! To be honest, I believe most gyms are way behind on this eco-trend, including mine. The mats are foam (non bio-degradable); there are paper towel dispensers everywhere, and manual faucets that are often left running when no one’s even around. I was pleasantly surprised when my gym announced they were becoming green focused, switching from membership cards to electronic finger-print scanned check-ins to reduce plastic and paper waste. That’s absolutely a step in the right direction, but there’s room for improvement across the fitness spectrum.

Green Fitness Studio, located in Brooklyn New York, is the first fully eco-friendly fitness center. This gym is designed with sustainable bamboo floors, recycled rubber flooring in the work-out areas, refurbished and self-powered—not plugged into electrical outlets—gym equipment, heat-mirrored glass to reduce the energy required to heat or cool the space, infrared saunas, and a green rooftop to conserve rain water and reduce storm water runoff. Last but not least, their juice bar, Beyond Organic, not only uses organic fruits, but also supports local produce farmers. I was so excited when I discovered this place that for two seconds, I actually contemplated moving!

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Thank goodness Green Fitness Studio isn’t the only gym that cares about the environment. In 2009, the owner of Alberta’s Green Microgym turned his custom-made exercise bikes into clean energy-producing machines, by harnessing the energy created by pedaling. Most of his gym users generate 50 to 150 watts while working out—the same amount of energy it takes to power your iPhone for a few days of marathon texting.

AC4 Fitness, located in Santa Barbara, CA, is another eco-conscious gym built around two basic ideals: providing the most enjoyable experience for patrons, and doing so with the smallest possible environmental impact. They use the most energy-efficient equipment available on the market and their 12-foot ceiling fan is LEED-certified.

I am not environmentally conscious 100% of the time. I am human afterall. What I am is a creature of habit. I find a place I like and I go there every day. I get in the habit of doing things like reusing bags and composting, and suddenly it becomes second nature. It would be nice if I lived near one of these green gyms because I would use it every day and not have to worry about my carbon footprint. Similar to where I work, I could spend my time there feeling a little bit better about the future of the environment, and what will be left for the next generation of gym goers. Until there are enough of these eco-friendly fitness gyms to go around, there are some things that all of us can do to lessen our sweaty carbon-footprints:

1. Use a reusable bottle for workouts - I use a Polar Insulated bottle that’s BPA and Phthalate-Free. There are great BPAfree bottle brands from Klean Kanteen and Green Bottle as well.

2. Use eco-friendly towels - I never use the towels from the gym. I bring my own towel and look for towels made from organic cotton and hemp, which are made from sustainable fibers and without pesticides.

3. Don’t just throw your old sneakers in the trash can - Before you head out to the Nike store for new running shoes, make sure it’s a Nike Reuse-A-Shoe location and bring your old ones along. Nike will shred your old shoes into Nike Grind – a raw material that can be used to make new sneakers, zippers for cool hoodies, and could even be in your local running track.

4. Shower at the gym? No need for plastic bags.  Use a reusable bag for sweaty wet gear, after workouts - An eco-friendly tote helps me keep my clean clothing dry. The Sweat Mate is a nice choice and so is the WetBagIt collection from Gone Eco.

5. Shop! For eco-friendly workout clothes - Again, Nike makes great workout wear from 100% organic cotton. New Balance also makes affordable workout tops from natural Cocona fabric (made from Coconut shells). Gaiam is another fashionable line that prides itself on its eco-friendly fabrics.

6. Shake things up - Don’t just rely on the gym for your workouts! Remember – running or biking outdoors has ZERO impact on the environment and keeps workouts interesting (I’ve been known to use park benches for all kinds of exercises). 

I know that San Francisco is dedicated to promoting a sustainable future and businesses are recognizing the public demand for eco design more and more.  Not just to save money and resources, but to compete in a city where patrons are environmentally-conscious. We don’t expect to see a gorgeous hand-painted ceiling in every entryway, but we do expect to see more green establishments and gyms that people from all neighborhoods can enjoy.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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