Old, cracked bathtubs, thrown-away toilets, empty plastic soda bottles from yesterday's lunch. Most people would consider these objects destined for the curb, but Chuck Richards, owner of Sunset Athletic Club in Portland, OR, doesn't think so. Through a massive redesign and expansion, Richards is learning that someone else's trash can make for a great, environmentally friendly club with great flooring to boot.

“People say it looks like you're building a healthier club for healthier members,” Richards says.

After researching “green buildings” — those that are better for people and the environment — Richards was hooked. During the past four years he has educated himself by attending seminars and reading books, and he's not afraid to try out new things, even if they might be more costly from the get-go.

Sunset Athletic Club isn't alone. Other fitness facilities are “going green” with their flooring, and many flooring manufacturers are heeding their call by developing more products that fit club owners' environment-friendly needs.

Take for example Richards' pop bottle carpet. Made from just that — recycled plastic soda bottles — this special form of carpet looks and feels like normal carpet, Richards says. In the facility's large flooring areas, he opted for an acid etch treatment. The concrete floor is stained the color of harvested rust on a battleship, and then based on the process of acid etching, each floor comes out with a unique pattern.

“You never know what you're going to get,” he says. “You get a surprise [pattern], and then you let it sit, clean it, seal it, and people love it. So far, so good.”

For its bathrooms the club chose porcelain tiles that were less expensive and were made from the remains of bathtubs and toilets dumped in landfills. The accent tiles in the club were a little pricier but were crafted from glass collected from curbside recycling programs. In the gyms and the free weight areas, Richards chose more commonly used flooring options such as recycled rubber and wood floors.

Besides focusing on rapidly renewable and recycled materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC) are another area of concern. Low VOC emissions improve indoor air quality, which is important for health clubs because of the high rate of oxygen consumption during workouts.

The Recreation Center of Highland Park in Illinois was built according to environmental guidelines, including low VOC emissions, set in place by the city of Highland Park, IL. The center features recycled rubber flooring, maple wood floors from certified forests, ceramic tiles that can be recycled after use, carpet made with recycled contents and linoleum made from linseed, a rapidly renewable source, says Frank Parisi, project architect on the recently completed facility.

Besides improving air quality, Parisi selected flooring materials that required little maintenance and were made to last, thereby reducing waste. For example, carpet tile was specified instead of a broad loom because it's cheaper, easier to install and better for the environment (damaged tiles can be removed one at a time rather than replacing the entire carpet). He also installed linoleum flooring because linoleum doesn't require waxing and has a life cycle of 50 years, he says.

Parisi also picked his flooring based on performance aspects. The center's rubber running track reduces joint impact when jogging, and its carpet assists in acoustic control of the corridors and kids' room. The synthetic nylon fiber flooring in the locker rooms has been approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health because of its hygienic and antimicrobal properities. The floor is also stain-resistant and aesthically pleasing, Parisi says.

“Always look at it as a whole. It's an integrated process,” he says. “You have to look at the maintenance of the facility, how you're going to clean and the durability and life cycle costs.”

Earning LEED Certification

The granddaddy of recognition for all green buildings is the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The LEED rating system sets a national standard for what constitutes a high-performance, energy-saving, sustainable building. While flooring is just one part of the design process, having the “right” floors can help you obtain LEED points, which can help earn a certification.

The various types of flooring — stained concrete, maple wood flooring and recycled rubber — at the Langston-Brown School and Community Center in Arlington helped it become Virginia's first silver-certified LEED building in September 2003. Steve Stricker, the school's project manager, weighed his options when it came to flooring.

“When you're doing LEED, you want to get the most bang for your buck,” he said. “If flooring is something you can't get past your maintenance department, decide to put your efforts somewhere else.”

Other problems also come up. Originally, Stricker had specified bamboo for the community center's dance room, but because of its limited availability and the supplier's location in China, transportation costs erradicated bamboo's environmental benefits. However, as LEED becomes more mainstream, Stricker says more resources and options become available for flooring.

But not everyone in the fitness industry has caught on to the green craze. One manufacturer says she receives few queries regarding a floor's recycled content, and most owners are only concerned with color, durability, cost and life cycle.

Even though Richards' pop bottle carpet is 20 percent more expensive than most carpet, he has hope for the future.

“It hasn't been fully embraced, but I think over time manufacturers will provide more [environmentally friendly] options, and the price will come down,” he says.

And it certainly doesn't hurt that his members are interested in his club's green expansion. He set up a display to help educate them about the changes going on at the facility.

“It's awesome stuff, and people are blown away by it,” Richards says. “It's definitely coming.”

Flooring Manufacturers
Aeson www.stagestep.com
American Mat & Rubber Products, Inc. www.americanmatrubber.com
Centaur Floor Systems www.centaurfloors.com
Covermaster www.covermaster.com
Dodge regupol www.regupol.com
Everlast Performance Flooring www.regupol.com/fitness/everlast.html
Fitness Flooring www.fitnessfloors.com/exerflex.htm
Gerflor www.gerflor.com
Gerstung www.gerstung.com
Dri-Dek www.dri-dek.com
Kiefer Specialty Flooring www.kieferfloors.com
Linear Rubber Products, Inc. www.rubbermats.com

For more information visit the Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro Buyer's Guide 2005 at www.fitnessbusinessprobuyersguide.com.