Before You Go - September 2014
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Healthy, Fit & Green

By David Mumpower


The title of greenest health club in the United States is one that few can claim. Laury Hammel, the founder of The Longfellow Clubs in Wayland and Natick, Mass., recognizes the passion for the environment that a business must demonstrate in order to be name-dropped in such a conversation. He is constantly seeking new methodologies for reducing his company's environmental footprint, as well as his expenses. In the process, he has discovered some strategies that other health clubs should consider if they too want to compete for the title of greenest health club or just save some money on the bottom line.

Hammel is not new to the idea of protecting the environment. The Salt Lake City native was raised against the backdrop of the majestic Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. In 1970, he joined a protest against the Kennecott Copper Mine. Their business practices during that era led to the creation of slag hills as an unhealthy by-product of rare element mining. Such unintended repercussions have driven Hammel as a businessman. When Hammel founded The Longfellow Clubs in 1980, one of the original tenets of his company was a focus on green-friendly policies. His aspiration was for his new organization to "make the world a better place where people experience love, happiness and satisfaction."

Health club owners are aware of the potential pitfalls from such ambitions. Maintaining environmentally friendly initiatives creates constant challenges for a business. And revenue drives decisions more often than not as the best of intentions sometimes fall by the wayside.

Hammel is aware of the struggles, yet he has a stunning track record of successes that reinforce his philosophy. He matter-of-factly noted that his renewal rates are "pretty dramatic." He credits The Longfellow Club's reputation within the community as a key reason for customer loyalty. Hammel believes that the familial nature of his business has also been a key facet in this regard. He relayed an anecdote about a client who is proud to have lost 40 pounds during his campaign to get in shape. What drives the customer to return to gym is something else, though. He fears that any day he skips a workout, he will "miss the conversation." The Longfellow Club has fostered a reputation in New England similar to that of Sam Malone's fictional bar, Cheers. It is a place where everybody knows your name.

Sentimentality aside, hard numbers justify the green initiatives of Hammel's businesses. His company has managed to reduce electric and water bills each of the past eight years. During that time frame, occupancy has increased, and, as he wryly noted, there is no better business model than one where revenues increase annually while expenses decline.

How has The Longfellow Clubs accomplished this financial coup? The key is that they operate as something of a research and development arm for green-friendly inventors. Consider the manner in which they have reduced their electricity expenses. Over the past few years, the clubs have experimented with new technologies, some of which were not quite ready for public consumption. The first step was to replace 1,000-watt bulbs with 600-watt induction fluorescent bulbs, thereby reducing energy usage by 40 percent. It sounded great in theory, but the early results were lackluster. The light output was unsatisfactory and the bulbs themselves were unattractive. After a year of tweaking plus the inclusion of a new fixture, a much better iteration was provided that provides ample light plus the added bonus of a vastly extended lifespan.

All health clubs share similar expenses. The air conditioning and heating requirements are significant. The Longfellow Clubs addressed these issues via insulation and technology. Clear bubble insulation solutions have been implemented, reducing heating costs by 50 percent. They are also environmentally friendly and chemically inert.

Meanwhile, air conditioners are now regulated by economizers. These devices adjust the indoor climate based on ambient temperature outside. Equally important is the addition of an overall energy monitoring system that is effectively a Nest unit for giant facilities. By focusing on climate control solutions, the company has reduced its footprint as well as its utility bill in one fell swoop.

Another universal concern for health clubs is water usage. As clean water grows more expensive, clever businesses should attempt to reduce their demand. The Longfellow Clubs has discovered a pair of water reduction methods. The first is a two-gallon-per-minute shower head. This device features innovative technology, combining air pressure with water to produce better water coverage. It creates the sensation of a powerful shower while using only half the water of a standard four-gallon-per-minute shower head. In this manner, guests receive relaxing showers while the business reduces water costs by up to 50 percent.

The biggest financial savings in terms of percentages stem from the addition of waterless urinals. These devices drain by gravity, reducing the number of flushes by an astounding 80 percent. Tens of thousands of gallons worth of clean water that would be wasted by regular flushes is saved, making waterless urinals the perfect combination of green and economical.

In terms of future goals, Hammel said that air conditioning and heating remain areas for improvement. Even at the current reduced costs, they still require too much financial outlay while negatively impacting the environment. Green-friendly solutions are a constant search for Hammel and The Longfellow Clubs. No company could reduce expenses for eight straight years if they were not constantly seeking new and original solutions to longstanding maintenance issues. As Hammel said, they do not want to be ceded the title of the greenest health club in the United States. It is his goal for dozens of other facilities to accept the challenge to add more environmentally friendly equipment to their facilities. The financial incentive to follow his lead is unmistakable.