A Gym Powered By People: Exercising Goes Green

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, case study, green living

Gyms are the epitome of inefficiency. Lights blaze upwards of 18 hours a day. Most exercise machines, television sets, fans, and stereos are left on whether in use or not. The average treadmill uses around 1500 watts -- the equivalent of 15 incandescent light bulbs!  Stationary bikes use a mere 10% of their energy to run the machine and dissipate the rest as heat.  When people run, bike or elliptical to burn their own energy, they require incredible additional energy input to operate the machines.  So much energy going to waste!  What’s an eco-conscious exerciser to do during the cold months?


Don't despair--green gyms are starting to pop up all over the place.  The primary feature of these gyms is power generating exercise equipment that harnesses human energy to produce, rather than consume, electricity.  These machines contain generators activated by the movement of the pedals or treadmill. The energy the generators create is stored in batteries, which can be hooked up to converters to power various features of the gym. 

Hong Kong's California Fitness gym was the first sustainable gym with the idea to power the gym's lighting using only the human power of exercise. Inspired by the Hong Kong gym, The Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon decided to become the first human powered gym in the United States.

On its website, the Microgym offers a concise description of its culture:

“The most unique thing about our gym is that the actual energy of the members helps power the building. It makes pretty good sense. You don’t need energy-sucking machines to get a good workout. We are machines. You power your workout. The energy bar one member just ate powers the ceiling fan for the next three hours. Another member’s morning coffee is doing its part to keep the lights on. Every revolution on the elliptical is churning pure electricity back to the grid. Lowly calories are converted into precious watts. You power your gym.”

Human Dynamo, the company behind the energy generating exercise equipment at The Green Microgym, has also developed models that could be fed directly back into the grid and sold to electrical utilities. In 2010, using their technology, the Microgym generated 36% of their own electricity (combining human and solar power), and saved 37,000 Kilowatt-hours or 85% (compared to traditional gyms per square foot). Those 37,000 Kilowatt-hours saved equal:

- 74,000 pounds of carbon emissions
- 81,400 miles not driven
- 15 acres of trees planted

Electricity production aside, there are many things making this gym a couple shades greener than the originally conceived idea. Microgym has a culture of water and energy conservation, on top of ensuring that the energy they do use is sustainable and renewable.  It has treadmills with energy-efficient motors, energy-efficient fans, refurbished and used equipment, bamboo mountain bikes, on demand water heaters, dual-flush toilets and environmentally friendly cleaning products, proving sustainability is at the core of the entire facility.

For some gyms, going green is a way to save on their utility bill. For others, it's a way to attract eco-minded customers. For customers, it's a way to get fit while simultaneously doing something good for the environment.  For the Green Microgym, it is all three.  Regardless of the reasons, hopefully we’ll soon be seeing many more green gyms opening in cities and towns across the country!