Kurt Broadhag, MS, CSCS, is a fitness professional with more than 15 years of experience in personal training and gym design. He is president of both K Allan Consulting, a firm specializing in health club design and management, and 23D Gym Design, which develops both two- and three-dimensional fitness center layouts. Kurt can be contacted at 310-601-7768 or via e-mail at kbroadhag@kallanconsulting.com.

The concept of sustainability seems like a logical fit for the fitness industry but has only recently begun to gain attention. Now it seems to be one of the newest trends in fitness center design. More health clubs are claiming to use green products within their gyms, often with little to no knowledge of the broader concept of sustainability. So what exactly is a green product, sustainable design or environmentally friendly products? In this Step by Step series titled “Environmentally Friendly Gym Design,” I will break down certain design components in an attempt to look beyond the simple catch phrases currently used so that the fitness industry can make the necessary changes to create a healthy workout environment.

One of the biggest design components in terms of cost and upkeep for the fitness center is the flooring. The idea of green fitness flooring is not necessarily new in the fitness industry. For years recycled rubber has been used for weight room floors. More recently, however, new products made from rapidly renewable resources, such as bamboo flooring, have entered the market. Others, such as the newer commercial-grade carpets, are made from recycled material and are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). So what does this all mean to your design? It really depends on variables unique to each facility but with two broad green concepts in mind. Products used should save resources through resource reuse, recycled materials, rapidly renewable materials, and/or regionally manufactured products, and these products should create a healthy environment for your members.

There are a whole host of topics involving flooring decisions in terms of saving natural resources that are specific to each environment. In theory, the best flooring you can use is one that is either already in place, such as pre-existing facility or one that has been previously used. This is known as resource reuse. Another choice may be to use recycled products, such as recycled carpets or rubber floor. The theory behind using these products is they extend the life cycle of the resource because they are made up mainly or entirely from previously used post-consumer material.

If recycled or reused products do not fit into the design, then new products made from rapidly renewable resources should be considered. These are products that take 10 years or less to grow and can be harvested in a sustainable fashion and include materials such as bamboo or cork. Another green concept to consider when deciding upon wood products is to buy from a certified source through the forest stewardship council, which places a seal of approval on companies that adopt environmentally responsible forestry practices.

With all green design choices, whether resources are reuse, recycled or new materials, it is important to consider the source of the product. Region products—those grown or manufactured close to your facility—are considered green because they do not have to be transported long distances and therefore cut down on gas costs and greenhouse gas production. It makes little sense to buy a wood floor made from rapidly renewable wood from Asia that must be shipped to another continent when there is another comparable green product produced closer to a facility.

In addition to saving resources, green flooring should have a positive impact on indoor air quality. There are a number of compounds in products that are harmful to people, many in small amounts. These compounds, VOCs, vaporize at normal room temperature and are released in the air. These can be found in flooring products such as carpet-pad adhesive, floor sealants, certain woods such as plywood, and many cleaners. Care should be taken to choose products that contain low-emitting materials that have little to no VOCs.

The impact of green floor decisions extends well beyond installation. The key concept of sustainability is to reduce, reuse and recycle. The primary way to do this is to extend the life cycle of our flooring. Proper care and maintenance using green products will allow years of use without replacement, creating a path towards a healthy environment.