Environmentality: Energy-producing workout equipment


Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett // Vanderbilt Hustler

Kailey Newcome

In my group of friends, I am known as the “fitness freak.” I’m frequently spotted at Commons’ gym running, biking or lifting weights. During one of my many endeavors there, I thought about how strange the concept of a gym is. We use energy to use machines that use our energy. I began wondering if there was a way that the energy expended at the gym could go toward a green initiative, such as creating electrical energy. After my workout, I researched “green gyms.” My idea had already been conceived and put into practice, and it was successful.

The most well known green gym is Green Microgym, owned by Adam Boesel in Portland, Oregon. Boesel invested in sets of custom-made exercise equipment that uses the energy released in workouts to power different aspects of the gym, such as the equipment, entertainment and lights. Besides utilizing the energy generated in workouts, Boesel also made several other green decisions, such as using tablets instead of TVs since they consume less energy, having member-controlled lights and fans that are turned on only when needed and only offering reusable and recyclable materials, such as refillable steel water bottles and recyclable paper towels.

The benefits of his decisions are numerous. Not only has the Green Microgym generated 20% of their own power, they have also reduced their carbon emissions by 60%. Further, the equipment they use dissipates the heat generated from working out straight into the building. This process eliminates the cooling down process for the gym, meaning that instead of using 100 watts to cool down every machine, those 100 watts are saved, making a 200 watts net improvement. So, the Green Microgym has been extremely successful at both creating and preserving energy, making it an environmentally responsible investment that more gyms around the country should try to model after.

A gym like this could easily be incorporated at Vanderbilt. Take the Rec, for instance. Nearing 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to cardio and weight lifting equipment alone, the facility would easily benefit from implementing energy-producing machines. According to Boesel, in just 30 minutes, any given person produces between 50 and 150 watts of power. For an idea of what this looks like in real life, that’s enough power to run a cell phone for an entire week. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people visit the Rec every day. If the energy expelled by those athletes were put towards a purpose instead of just dissipating into the air as heat, the Rec would have the potential to be self-sufficient, and possibly even power other surrounding parts of campus. Vanderbilt’s electricity bill would go down, along with its carbon footprint. Therefore, Vanderbilt should seriously consider investing in these environmentally responsible machines– if not for its environmental benefits, for its cost efficiency ones.

I don’t think my drive to workout will be ending any time soon. I do hope, however, that my time spent in the gym will become more worthwhile, not only for my own health, but for the health of the Earth as a whole. If gyms such as Vanderbilt’s Rec begin to invest in energy-producing equipment, this goal could be achieved in just a few years. Maybe one day, students will actually run Vanderbilt.