Sustainable gyms

(STAN HONDA, AFP/Getty Images )
May 19, 2010|By Jordan Etten

This essay is selected from the work of Johns Hopkins University freshmen in the course "B'more Innovative: Studying Change Through Charm City." The course explored how ideas and innovations spread through society using case studies associated with Baltimore (e.g., Johns Hopkins Medicine, Project Love — Baltimore, The Afro Newspapers, B&O Railroad). The final assignment required students to propose an innovative project and describe how they would spread or "diffuse" it. These essays summarize key concepts from several proposals. Additional essays are at The student authors invite you to read and comment on their proposals. Michael Reese, the course instructor, is the associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Educational Resources and a doctoral student in sociology.

Self-sustaining gyms are an idea that could change Baltimore for the better in several ways. Such "green gyms" already exist in a few cities, including Portland, Ore., where one such facility uses human power to generate a small amount of its electricity. With improvement to allow this technology to realize its potential, it could help make Baltimore a better place to live.

In a self-sustaining gym, the energy people expend using treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes and weights could be transformed into electricity used to power the facility's lights, air conditioning units, music players, televisions and other electrical devices. With the help of local mechanical and electrical engineers, this could be made a reality by modifying currently available technology.

This project would address several goals. The first is to protect the environment and contribute to the greening of Baltimore by reducing the amount of electricity generated from nonrenewable fuel sources. Second, gyms adopting this innovation would notice a decrease in electricity costs and could pass their savings on to their members or introduce additional services.

Another goal is to motivate people to protect the environment in other ways by raising awareness. By using pollution-reducing innovations, people will be encouraged to adopt environmentally friendly lifestyles in their homes. Other green alternatives could also be introduced in the gym, such as installing energy-saving fluorescent lights and eliminating the sale of water in plastic bottles. The novelty of self-sustaining gyms might even encourage some people to work out more often, thus promoting better health.

Most importantly, this project could also be used to improve the lives of children in Baltimore. Energy cost savings could be used to offer free admission to the gyms during certain hours. An educational aspect could also be incorporated into this outreach initiative. Display units may be installed on each piece of exercise equipment detailing how much energy has been created. Posters could illustrate how much electricity, and how much time exercising, is needed to power certain devices. This would teach children (and adults) about the quantity of energy consumed by different devices. Young people would benefit from learning about healthy lifestyle choices.

Many organizations are looking for ways to protect the environment. This project would be a fairly easy way for gym patrons to do this, as it would require essentially no change in behavior.

Gyms interested in becoming self-sustaining would face some challenges. The technical obstacles might be overcome by using contests to challenge engineers or industrial design and engineering students to design more energy-efficient conversion technology. At the Green Microgym in Portland, only 4 percent of required electricity is currently produced by humans. To compensate for this, solar power or reversed meters would be used.

With enough support behind this project, the idea could quickly spread and not only make a difference in Baltimore but also give a new meaning to the concept of a "light" workout.

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