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Sustainability and Fitness Industry: From T-Shirts to Treadmills



Sustainability and Fitness Industry: From T-Shirts to Treadmills

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As sustainability comes back into focus in the new normal, fitness companies are exploring everything from eco-friendly machines to leggings made from recycled materials. How will this trend evolve?

Sustainability in fitness is resurging, as COVID-19 cases continue to decline throughout the United States. During the pandemic, consumers were focused more on their own health, but are now turning their attention back to the health of the planet. When it comes to sustainability, however, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Countless apparel brands tout leggings made from recycled materials like recycled plastic and nylon made from reclaimed fishing nets and other ocean waste. Consumers show off trendy water bottles at fitness studios, spurning single-use plastic. Equipment, however, has not gotten the same eco-conscious attention. While some small players have innovated with regenerative machine technology, many consumers do not think twice about the energy efficiency of their spin bikes or treadmills. So, what’s next for sustainability in fitness?

In sustainable activewear, materials are the main focus. Based on information from the American Textile Recycling Service, the recycling rate for all textiles was around 15% in 2018. With the consumer recycling rate continuing to lag, activewear brands are taking a holistic approach to sustainability. Patagonia, for example, sources organically-grown, recycled materials for many of its products. It also has one of the most generous replacement policies of any apparel company, guaranteeing a new product or repair on any item, and touts itself as making products last. Girlfriend Collective focuses on making clothes from recycled materials, like polyester, fishing nets, and water bottles. The brand uses other materials like cupro, a fiber made from waste the cotton industry leaves behind, for tees and tanks. It also offers the option to recycle consumers’ old Girlfriend Collective products for store credit. Lululemon has begun a similar effort but is reselling these donated clothes on their website for a second life. 

So, what does sustainability in activewear mean for the fitness industry? Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and wary of false sustainability advertising (“greenwashing”) due to media coverage. Websites like GoodonYou.eco rate brands on ethical and sustainable fashion. For companies to pass the consumer’s sustainability sniff test, they need to ensure eco-friendly material sourcing, recyclability, and long lifecycles.

How will fitness equipment evolve with the resurgence of sustainability? At home or in the gym, fitness machines are often left plugged in 24/7. In gyms, these machines are used throughout the day and can be major energy consumers. While most fitness enthusiasts have not yet demonstrated too much awareness about green equipment, some companies have begun to create eco-friendly alternatives.

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SportsArt’s Elite ECO-POWR line

SportsArt is a fitness company with a cardio line that captures human exertion and turns it into usable electricity. Their ECO-POWR technology is available in products like treadmills, cross trainers, and ellipticals.

Other companies are offering energy-generating attachments, like the UpCycle Ecocharger sold by The Green Micro Gym. It is a DIY-installed generator that fits on the rear tire of most bikes and can be translated into energy. Weight-adjustable offerings are also eco-friendly, eliminating the need for multiple sets of dumbbells.

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Julianne Hough Therabody investor and ambassador

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Portable strength training platform Arena

Smaller players like Arena have regenerative lithium-ion batteries that only requires charging every few weeks, reducing their footprint. Others use water as a source of resistance, eliminating the waste associated with synthetically-made equipment. Aqua Training Bag is a punching bag that is filled with water, creating a more forgiving but effective strength workout for boxers. WaterRower is a water-based rowing machine, which similarly touts natural sustainability, even in the sourcing of its wood. As consumers begin to show more concern about the footprint of their equipment, companies should be prepared to sell their sustainability stories.

While areas like apparel are further along on their sustainability journey, equipment should not be too far behind, as consumers ask more questions about their impact on the planet. It won’t be long before many consumers are saying to companies: go green–or go home.

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