From growing concerns over global warming and “peak oil” to a deepening awareness of how human health is related to the health of the planet, we all carry our share of personal and collective motivations to do a better job of stewarding our planet’s natural resources.
For better or worse, though, the reason so many businesses have recently become more aggressive about embracing green building and operational practices comes down to one common factor: cold, hard cash. The rising price of oil has been a huge wake-up call for a great many corporations, including ours.
Fiscal motivations may not be the very best reason to seek out and embrace earth-friendly practices, but they proved a compelling catalyst for the business world to sit up and take notice. And, happily, they gave many business leaders the impetus we needed to activate plans we’d already had on the boards, and to reach out for new solutions we’d not yet made room to explore.
Here at Life Time Fitness, active efforts to begin assessing and reducing our environmental impact began about three years ago. We made some important changes in our chemical usage early on, and we reduced energy consumption where we could, employing increased day-lighting, air-to-air heat exchangers and other innovative strategies. But it wasn’t until last year that we started the work of optimizing our facility designs in earnest.
We began by assessing where we had the biggest areas of opportunity for improvement — sorting out both our loftiest goals and our lowest hanging fruit. We then assembled a team of architecture, building and environmental design professionals from all over the country and conducted a two-day green-building symposium with our staff. From there, we worked together to hash out priorities and a plan of attack.
This timing proved fortunate.
While our design team was clustered around the drawing board, our development team was busy getting approvals for a new facility in Austin, Texas. We discovered that this eco-aware community had some very specific standards and guidelines they wanted us to respect, both in terms of energy efficiency and environmental practices.
We ultimately agreed to work with Austin Energy (www.austinenergy.com) to design our South Austin facility in accordance with the two-star requirements of their Green Building Program. It turned out that many of the design features we’d been exploring matched well with the features Austin Energy was requesting — and that other key enhancements could be efficiently incorporated, not just into this particular center, but into the prototype designs on which many of our future buildings will be based.
Here are just a few examples of improvements we believe will help reduce both our ecological impact and our operating costs:
- Site- and climate-appropriate landscaping that decreases watering and chemical requirements, while reducing storm-water run-off.
- Light-fixture and bulb choices that reduce related electrical usage — without sacrificing light quality.
- Adjustments in roofing and parking-lot material color (from dark to light) to reduce heat absorption.
- Building materials and design features that substantially increase energy efficiency and reduce fossil-fuel usage.
- Strategic fresh-water conservation efforts, including the recycling of spa water for use in toilets.
There are many other eco-friendly changes currently afoot here at Life Time Fitness. You may notice, for example, that we’ve made a change to this magazine’s paper stock. It now contains a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, and it is processed (as before) chlorine-free. We’ve also begun offering more natural, organic and free-range options in our LifeCafes.
Clearly, we have more work to do. And all of us — individuals and companies — must find our own way forward in creating more sustainable modes of living and doing business. But I’m encouraged by the better direction in which things are moving. Because cleaner air, water and soil don’t just create a cleaner, more stable planet. They support healthier people and a healthier way of life. And that’s something that each and every one of us can get behind.
P.S. For more information on the Austin Energy Green Building Program and related resources, please visit www.austinenergy.com and click on “Green Building Program” in the Quick Links section.