OVERLAND PARK, KS — As a growing number of ellipticals, bikes and treadmills are being retrofitted to convert human energy into a usable form of renewable energy, some fitness facility operators may be asking whether the added cost for the technology is worth it, especially during a recession. However, green vendors and many of the operators who have invested in the green equipment say that the return on investment is only one element to consider.

Going green is good for business, says Michael Curnyn, chief marketing officer for The Green Revolution, a Ridgefield, CT, vendor of green technology that fits all major brands of group cycles. The technology allows the bikes to power the health club and then moves any unused power onto the electric grid.

The cost to add The Green Revolution's patent-pending technology is about $945 for each piece of equipment, which equals about $14,000 for 15 bikes, but 15 to 20 bikes fitted with the technology can save $1,200 to $2,400 a year on energy bills if those bikes are used an average of 20 classes per week, Curnyn says.

Beyond energy savings, fitness facility operators can generate new revenue of between $4,500 and $7,000 per year by holding special cycling classes for outside groups. For example, clubs could host a watt-a-thon to help student-athletes with pre-season conditioning while showing them how the technology is generating energy. Opening the cycling room to outside groups not only helps generate more energy and revenue but also can turn some participants into members, Curnyn says.

The possibility of increasing member numbers also comes from the media and marketing opportunities that exist, he says, noting that one club added more than 100 members after promoting its installation of The Green Revolution technology.

“The health club managers love how easy it is to install the technology and the positive press the technology creates,” Curnyn says.

Robert Kravitz opened GoGreen Fitness, Orange, CT, in November 2009 with The Green Revolution technology installed on his 25 spin bikes. Kravitz says his goal is to produce more energy than his 4,500-square-foot club consumes. By marketing his club as green, he's given new life to his building, which he owns, and even signed on new leases with new tenants. As with any emerging technology, however, he says the cost has been high, which might make the technology cost-prohibitive for some club operators during the recession.

“However, I believe in the effort to try and do something better and smarter, and we have to start somewhere,” he says.

ReRev, Clearwater, FL, also makes green technology that converts exercisers' energy into renewable and usable energy. The company's technology includes an inverter (which works for up to 15 pieces of equipment) and wiring harnesses for each piece of equipment. The cost for the technology and installation varies depending on how many pieces of equipment are connected and other factors, but it typically runs about $12,000 to $14,000 for 10 to 15 pieces of equipment, says Beth Bennion, marketing director for ReRev.

ReRev's technology lasts for more than 30 years, she says, so when health club operators invest in new cardio equipment, the club's maintenance staff can just transfer the technology to the new equipment. ReRev will do the transfer if requested.

Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers, Gainesville, FL, installed ReRev technology on 12 of its ellipticals for free when it agreed to be a test site for ReRev, says Debbie Lee, marketing director at Gainesville. The ellipticals now generate enough energy each month to power a small home. Even though the club has saved only minimally on energy costs, Lee says it has been a worthwhile investment because going green holds true to the company's brand of being committed to the well-being of its community.

“We feel a responsibility as a member of the community to be as green as we can, and this allows us to position our club in a positive way,” Lee says, adding that part of the community will always be drawn to green initiatives.

University rec centers also are latching on to the green equipment trend. A year and a half ago, ReRev was working with two universities. Now, the company is partnering with 19 universities.

One of those universities was the University of Kansas (KU), Lawrence, KS, which retrofitted 15 of its 100 pieces of equipment in July 2009. In addition to the inverter box cost, the university spent another $5,000 for electrical needs, says Jill Urkoski, associate director of the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center at KU. In 11 months, the university saved $228.33, which equates to about $20.75 per month.

Students like the idea of working out and doing something green at the same time, Urkoski says.

At least one club operator has taken green technology into his own hands. Adam Boesel, owner of The Green Microgym in Portland, OR, developed plugOutt technology, which allows any facility with a grounded three-prong outlet to convert exerciser-generated energy into renewable energy. He markets the technology through his Re:Source Fitness company.

It's difficult to pinpoint an exact return on investment for the technology, he says, but with minimal maintenance costs and the potential to generate clean electricity, investing in green technology is a win-win situation for club owners, he says.

“Overall, our members seem to be really happy to contribute to renewable energy,” says Boesel, who adds that his 3,000-square-foot gym uses about 85 percent less electricity than comparable sized clubs. “Everyone works together to create energy to power the gym.”