Can Green Design Boost Your Health Club Profits?

Being eco-friendly is a practice of making educated choices that result in less damage to the environment by using fewer resources. Going green seems like an obvious focus for any health club owner, especially since the business is all about being healthier. The sustainability movement can be incorporated in various parts of a club, including a club's design.

The formula is basic. Energy savings resulting from better building design (insulation, glass and materials), more efficient mechanical systems (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and water-saving plumbing fixtures) and lighting efficiency will reduce a club's operating costs. Often, more efficient design and mechanical systems cost more upfront, but those costs eventually will be recouped through savings in utility costs and operating expenses. Plus, a club's eco-friendly image can attract more members and increase sales.

Still, you'll have to pay for these higher costs upfront, which begs the question: Can the additional costs to become more eco-friendly be passed on to members in the form of higher dues? Some people are willing to pay more to be a member of a green club, but probably more than half of the marketplace is not willing to do so. If a club owner planning a major renovation surveyed members to see if they preferred that the renovation have a strong emphasis on going green, I think the majority of members would say yes. However, if the club owner asked whether members would be willing to pay $4 more per month to pay for such a club, I think you'd see a substantial drop in favorable responses. Generally, people are all for going green, but they expect someone else to pay for it — such as the club owner.

Regardless of how you pay for becoming more green, you first must decide whether to go this direction with your club's design. Doing so shouldn't be a quick decision. Facility operators must do some research and compare ways of operating, consider upfront expenses and calculate long-term savings before making a decision.

For any choice to be good for a business, it usually comes down to the old adage "no margin, no mission." Wanting to do good for the planet is a wonderful part of a business mission. However, no matter what the apparent positives are, if a choice does not eventually result in adequate profit margins, then a business will no longer exist, and any desire to do good goes down with the ship. Therefore, the cost of going green has to properly relate to profits — directly or indirectly — but should be able to be measured to some degree. That's especially important, since the projected savings sometimes do not amount to expectations and can delay a breakeven point.

The good news is that many inexpensive ways exist to be eco-friendly, and not all of them are more expensive than less environmentally friendly materials and products. Eco-friendly materials that are the most specified by designers are flooring, wall coverings, furniture, paint and lighting.

Once you decide to become more eco-friendly, make sure to solicit coverage from the media in your area. Evolve Fitness, a "green club" opening in Cambridge, MA, near Harvard University and MIT, has received extensive media coverage because of the steps the facility took to be eco-friendly.

Increased energy costs and a growing focus on living sustainably will force more businesses to go green. By working with a well-thought-out "eco-friendly" business plan, club owners can best take advantage of this movement. Since clubs are all about better health for individuals, it only makes sense they would also support improving the health of the planet.

Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.

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