Fitness & Sustainability – Are Our Gym Habits Hurting the Environment?

A huge realization hit me probably when I was in high school, when I realized that keeping myself healthy and keeping the earth healthy actually had quite a lot in common.

The health of our bodies and the health of the environment are undeniably intertwined.

Why should you care about the environment?

We all need to act on reversing climate change. Now.

I don’t believe I’m going to have to convince anyone here reading this, but if you need some refreshers, here are multiple studies outlining the extreme severity of the climate crisis (there are thousands of peer-reviewed studies coming out every year):

A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems

Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model

Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late 19th century

Find the top 10 most cited climate change/global warming peer-reviewed studies listed here:

Fitness industry’s impact on climate change

So now that we’ve stated the obvious, how does this relate to the fitness industry? Probably more so than you would think.

For starters: clothing brands.

Clothing production accounts for excessive water usage and pollution. One cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 liters of water. That’s the amount of water the average person drinks over 2.5 years.

Additionally, many textile manufacturing and fabric dye facilities generate hazardous waste, which is then dumped as wastewater into larger, natural bodies of water. This has a drastic effect on the biodiversity of the water-life, and also on the access to clean water for many countries. 

Here’s a shocking statement from Stephen Leahy of The Guardian:

“85 % of the daily needs in water of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country. 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water.”

Aside from water, the average American consumer is also incredibly wasteful with their clothing due to the sheer appeal of fast fashion.

An article from Environmental Health Perspectives provided by the National Institute from the Environmental Health Sciences points out that Americans each throw out 68+ pounds of wasted clothing and textiles per year (as of 2007), and this number is growing at an appalling rate (EPA Office of Solid Waste). 

I’m sure we all know a fitness influencer that posts about a new outfit/brand every week. But the truth is, we don’t need the next “look of the season.” We don’t need a new gym set every week. The focus and the pressure to buy every new fashion trend is proving detrimental to the environment. Not only are fast fashion trends changing every season, causing many people to throw away “last season’s” looks, it is also incredibly unsustainable simply due to the quality. 

The most sustainable shopping is less of it. Even when you’re buying from sustainable brands, it’s better to buy less and acquire less overall.

Let’s stop telling people that they will find workout motivation when they buy a new gym outfit. It’s just not true, and is doing more harm than they know!

I could go on and on about the extreme consequences of clothing production on the environment, but I’ll move on.

Next up: supplements

So many people take supplements. Some are useful and making a difference in the health and wellness of the individual, which is great.

Many, however, are not. I could list so many conversations with clients where I ask if they’re taking any supplements, and they ramble on about their extensive list. When I ask the simple question, “why?” they are unable to tell me their reasoning for taking each one.

So many supplements, cleanses, 30-day detoxes, vitamins, etc. are taken just due to advertisements and lack of knowledge. People don’t know that they can get most of these micronutrients through their diet.

Not only is this a waste of money for the client, they’re also buying/using an insanely excess amount of plastic.

Vitamins and supplements come in plastic containers, and people are often buying these on a monthly basis for continued daily use. Although these are recyclable, they aren’t always making it to the recycle bins. 

It takes plastic 10-100 years to degrade in landfills. By 2015, only 9% of plastic was recycled, according to National Geographic. 12% was incinerated, and the remaining 79% was discarded to the landfill or natural environments. 

There were 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced, and 9% recycled. That means 5.7 billion+ metric tons were left for the environment to deal with.

BTW, 1 metric ton = 1,000kg. Ya, I feel sick too.

Bottom line: even if us die-hard recyclers recycle all of our plastic, it clearly isn’t doing enough for the environment as we’re supporting an industry that inevitably hurts the environment. The majority of the problem and the source of it comes from the production and over-consumption of plastic products. 

This is only scratching the surface.

It’s hard for me to not point out every way the fitness industry is hurting the environment (don’t be fooled, I’m also a part of the problem! I’m not perfect).

But I hope that these few facts have convinced you that there is a problem, and we need to work on fixing it. Like, yesterday (or 20 years ago).

Action items – what you can do TODAY 

I know, it’s effing depressing. That’s why we need to act! And there are so many easy ways, and I mean super easy ways, to make your health and fitness routine more sustainable.

  1. Go to a local gym

Why? Because if it’s local and close by, you can BIKE or WALK there! Come on people, it’s not crazy talk.

The whole point is to be more active, right?! Make the switch and create a sustainable outing to the gym by reducing your carbon footprint and reducing gas/oil usage. It’s SO refreshing getting outside and getting hyped up for the gym on your way there! Sip your pre-workout and get warmed up all on your way there.

Also, don’t complain to me about weather lol. I now live in CALGARY where it is minus freakin 20 some days and I still walk to the gym. I’m basically a superhero, I know. But if I can do it, you can too (cue superhero duo theme music).

Heck, you can even forego the gym some days and do a workout at home. Even just reducing your gym-usage (especially if you’re driving) can make a difference. I have a pretty sweet 8-week home workout guide using minimal equipment, message me and refer to this article to get it FOR FREE! Happy to help you on your health journey and also your journey to a more sustainable life. 

  1. Refill your *required* supplements 

First, find out what supplements you actually need, then find a place to refill them near you. Or, find a zero waste company to buy them from that accepts the return of their packaging for reuse (or even better – compostable packaging!). This website provides an incredible list of almost zero waste companies that sell vegan protein powders.

I’d also suggest learning how to get the nutrients from the supplements you’re taking through your diet instead, as that will likely save you money and plastic usage!

Maybe you’re a coffee drinker. So, instead of buying extra caffeine for pre-workout, use your coffee that you already have! OR, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, use some biodegradable loose leaf tea and forego the excessive plastic-bound pre-workout. Anyone tried matcha? That ish will F you up (aka give you hella pump for your workout).

One supplement brand making sustainability efforts is Herbaland. They’re vegan, all natural, low in sugar (unlike many gummy vitamins) and, most importantly to me, NSF and NSF sport certified (third party tested)! So you can be sure that what you see on the label is what you get. Use my link here (code teigan15 saves you money!).

For Calgary locals: The Apothecary carries a huge variety of Herbaland gummy vitamins that you can refill! Let alone tons of other options for making your home zero-waste. They are simply the best of the best (the staff, the products, everything!).

  1. Shop secondhand (or at the bare minimum, from sustainable brands!)

Shopping secondhand and recycling clothing can immensely reduce the amount of waste that is inevitably dumped on the poor environment. Not only do you salvage recycled clothes (that are still totally cute and in great quality, btw), you also are one less person supporting fast fashion. 

When we eventually grow to be the majority instead of the minority, we can put a stop to unethical and incredibly destructive clothing production patterns that have been the norm for more that 20 years. 

Shop on Marketplace or Poshmark for gently used workout clothes, or find a local & sustainable brand near you. Many companies claim their apparent dedication to sustainability while still allowing unfair working conditions, excess use of water and unnecessary textile waste. Do your research! This website is a good start to search your favorite brands (and they also have an app that rates ethical brands, some of which are sustainable). 

I really love the brand Onzie, which woman-owned and operated, and is dedicated to a sustainable business model. The set I’m wearing below is made from 82% recycled plastic bottles and 18% spandex. Their material is long-lasting and durable, which is important to me.

Another brand I’ve fallen in love with is Shop Site See. I have their Everywhere Jumpsuit in sage green and it is the most versatile piece of clothing I’ve ever had! And such incredible quality that I know it will last me a long time. It’s 70% modal (sustainable material) and ethically made in the US.

  1. Start composting

Ok, I used to think this was such a chore. I thought it was smelly, inconvenient, gross, difficult and only for the true hippies. But boy was I wrong. 

Keir’s dad gave us the final push we needed to start composting (thank you Scott!). We literally just have a small bucket in the kitchen, and all things food get dumped in there instead of the garbage can (that has a plastic bag in it).

Ultimately we use significantly less plastic bags, and we are also aiding in the diversity and stability of soil and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. We ALSO reduce landfill waste and incineration, and therefore emissions. Simply crushing it.

Also, it doesn’t smell. It’s so easy, there’s no odor, and so there’s really no reason not to compost.

If you’re unsure of what goes in the green bin, check your city’s local guide. The composting guidelines for Calgary can be found here, and I highly recommend reading about our composting facility that is the largest of it’s kind in Canada! Pretty cool.

  1. Eat your veggies! (plant-based and local diet, when you can!)

There’s no denying that veggie farming has less of a detrimental impact on the environment than meat and dairy farming. You don’t have to go vegan – but please be mindful of the foods you buy and how much of them (lets say goodbye to food waste)!

Sustainable farming is a farming technique that requires less land area and less energy, as well as less water. Let’s encourage more of this with our buying power and focusing on more fruits and veggies! The more you shop local too, the less of a footprint the product has (transportation, farming techniques, etc). 

Eating natural, whole foods is healthier most of the time than eating processed foods. Not coincidentally, the same goes for the environment.

Palm oil is a great example here. Palm oil is found in many processed foods, which we know are less healthy for our bodies than natural, whole foods that provide tons of micronutrients. The less processed foods we eat, and more natural (aka veggies!), the more we contribute to the combined effort to STOP palm oil production. Palms require rainforest climates and are therefore the leading cause of rainforest destruction of rainforests in multiple countries across the globe (read more here).

Your health directly relates to the health of the environment

Being more active by walking or biking to more destinations instead of driving – directly helps the environment.

Getting to know your body and what it needs (and not pumping it with excessive supplements) – directly helps the environment. 

Consuming less overall, and secondhand/sustainably when you need to – directly and greatly helps the environment.

Eating more whole foods and contributing to more compost and less landfill – directly helps the environment.

And shopping mostly for whole, natural and healthful fruits and veggies locally and sustainably farmed – DIRECTLY HELPS THE ENVIRONMENT.

Now this does sound quite flower-child of me, but your health is undeniably tied to the health of the earth. It’s what all of the science points to. When you make a choice to be a healthier you, you can also make a choice to ultimately create a healthier and more sustainable environment.

Alternatively, when you partake in harmful habits for yourself (extreme consuming, spending lots of money, eating junk all the time, participating in “cleanses”), you add to the harm on the environment.

Final thoughts: Fad diets are to unsustainable health, as fast fashion is to climate crisis.

Don’t be a jerk to your body and don’t be a jerk to your EARTH!

I really hope I helped you look at your fitness in a different light! We have so much power in our own hands to change the course of the climate crisis, and these options really are so easy.

If you need help, let me know!

What are your favorite ways in working towards a sustainable life in fitness?



3 responses to “Fitness & Sustainability – Are Our Gym Habits Hurting the Environment?”

  1. Gym habits hurt the environment if you are not careful. Thank you…


  2. A lot of good points,, especially supporting others to go plant-based and local, as it would help the planet no end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely important to bring attention to it! I do struggle with remembering that it’s not the consumer’s fault/responsibility, it’s the huge corporations creating the majority of the problems leading to the climate crisis. But everyday changes help me remember what the bigger goal is & how I can use my voice & vote to try and create change!


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