Green Audit Conference: Shaping the Future of Sustainability in the Fitness Industry

In a concerted effort to address the pressing environmental concerns facing the fitness industry, stakeholders gathered at the recent Green Audit Conference on 11 April 2024, at FIBO, Cologne, to delve into sustainability strategies and implementation.. Hosted by EuropeActive, the event provided a platform for insightful discussions and exchanges on this crucial topic.  

Maurits Groen sets the scene of the Green Audit Project 

Maurits Groen, sustainability entrepreneur and consultant, kicked off the conference by shedding light on the Green Audit project. Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme, the Green Audit project aims to address this challenge by providing support to sports and fitness clubs/centres, as well as industry stakeholders, who may find it difficult to navigate the European and international landscape of environmental sustainability and enhance the sustainability of their structures. In a humble attempt to support fitness and sport stakeholders to take the first steps in their sustainability journey, EuropeActive, together with the Green Audit project consortium, has been working together since June 2022 on two essential components of the project: 

  • The Green Audit Self-Assessments Tool which seeks to offer fitness and sport club/centre managers and owners a comprehensive overview and understanding of their club/centre’s current sustainability efforts, and to provide insights for further progress.​ The tool was officially launched in October 2023 and is available online
  • The Recommendations for greener sport and fitness sectors intended to offer a strategic approach and inspire the green transition within the fitness and sport sectors. 

Urgency in the Face of Climate Crisis 

Drawing attention to the 2015 Paris Agreement, Maurits emphasised the imperative to curb greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. The Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius underscores the critical need for immediate action. However, the reality paints a grim picture, with humanity consistently overshooting the Earth's sustainable limits, as evidenced by Earth Overshoot Day occurring earlier each year. As the fitness industry grapples with its environmental footprint, the urgency to adopt sustainable practices becomes increasingly apparent and necessary. Sustainability can no longer be considered a ‘nice-have’- it must become an essential requirement mandated within the sector. 

From Awareness to Action: Recommendations for the Sector 

The outcomes of the Green Audit self-assessment trial have been very telling: those who responded are not very far along their sustainability journey, yet respondents are most likely to be interested in it, suggesting potential progress within close reach. Key recommendations to advance sustainability in the sector include: 

  • Compiling a concise handbook with practical information, advice, and tips for the sector on topics such as waste prevention, energy and cost-saving measures. 
  • Entrusting the responsibility for the topic and its support materials (handbooks, leaflets, workshops, webinars) to National Associations, as they possess the best understanding of their country-specific challenges and opportunities for resources and financial support. 

EU Green Claims Directive 

Ineke Vlot, acting as the Green Audit project’s sustainability expert from Stichting Milieukeur, addressed the implications of the EU Green Claims Directive, which aims to combat the prevalence of misleading green claims and align with the circular economy objectives of the EU Green Deal. A recent commission study found that 40% of environmental claims are unsubstantiated, and 53.3% are vague, misleading, or unfounded. In response, the EU has taken steps to curb this practice, making it significantly harder for businesses to make unsubstantiated or false environmental claims, which could potentially damage their reputation. For businesses in the fitness sector, making business-to-consumer environmental claims requires substantiating them through scientific methods and verified 'ex ante' by a designated third-party conformity assessment body (or another Member State), and receiving a conformity certificate. While certification requirements are stringent, there is currently no label for the sustainability level of fitness clubs, prompting discussions about the need for standardized ecolabels at EU level. The adoption of EU Green Claims by the European Parliament on 12 March 2024 awaits approval by the Council of the EU post-June elections, with implementation expected within 24 to 36 months. 

Best practices from sector stakeholder 

A dynamic panel discussion showcased exemplary initiatives from industry leaders committed to sustainability. From reducing energy consumption and water usage to implementing renewable energy solutions, representatives from different sized organisations showcased their commitment to environmental stewardship.  

Ricardo Rosado Villaverde, Sustainability and Quality Manager at GO-fit, outlined strategies employed by the organization to reduce their carbon footprint by 59%, emphasising the importance of verified carbon footprint data and energy efficiency plans and highlighting the savings achieved through biomass energy creation and reduced water flow rates. Alan Bennet, Operations Manager at Sport Ireland Campus, underscored the need for data logging and staff education to drive energy-saving initiatives, stressing the significance of getting big club operators onboard with sustainability efforts. He also discussed the potential for reducing swimming pool consumption through temperature adjustments and innovative water cleaning systems, and further emphasised the importance and feasibility of implementing easy and holistic changes, such as installing covered bike sheds to keep bikes dry and offering infrastructure allowing wet cycling clothes to dry and changing rooms. Matthias H. Lehner, Bodystreet Founder & CEO, emphasised the integration of sustainability into brand identity and highlighted the role of franchises in promoting green practices. He shared strategies such as incentivising energy-saving behaviours among franchisees and focusing on social impact through initiatives like the 'Body kids' Foundation. He pointed out customer expectations and addressed general concerns about costs, noting that they are not as significant in reality. Finally, Hyke Van Der Heijden, Entrepreneur and Director at De Leyens, highlighted the shift towards sustainable choices, such as switching heating systems from gas to electricity and promoting cycling to the gym among clientele: through internal promotion, they achieved 55% of their clientele coming by bikes, which was remarkably easy to implement.  

These insights emphasised the feasibility and effectiveness of implementing easy-to-adopt sustainability measures, along with the importance of proactively embracing sustainability before it becomes mandatory, as evidenced by banks increasingly favouring loans for sustainable choices. 

Towards a Sustainable Future 

In its closing remarks, EuropeActive’s incoming CEO, Kai Troll, emphasised the need for tangible actions tailored to different operators within the fitness sector. He highlighted the role of EuropeActive in collecting best practices, translating EU policies into actionable strategies, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders. 

With concrete steps outlined and a collective determination to drive change, the fitness industry is poised to play a pivotal role in building a greener and more sustainable future. 


Green Audit Conference: Shaping the Future of Sustainability in the Fitness Industry
Gisella Guglielminotti 5 July 2024
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