The way we think about our own health and the future of the planet will see planetary health at the heart of personal health for years to come.
There are four numbers we should consider; 50bn tonnes and zero (for climate change) 150 minutes and zero (for personal health).
Let me explain.
Climate scientists estimate that the world adds around 50bn tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year, while zero tonnes is the figure most climatologists believe we need to be aiming for.
After a year when the world came to a virtual halt, the same scientists estimate greenhouse gas emissions dropped by around 5bn tonnes to 45bn tonnes – so even if we give up flying and driving, it’s a long way to get to zero.
When it comes to people, exercise guidelines from almost every major health organisation across the world are for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week for adults aged 19-to-64-years-of-age, but despite the widely reported benefits of exercise, most adults do not meet these recommendations.
In the US, Harvard Health estimates 80 per cent of the population are not meeting the guidelines. In the UK, the NHS estimates around 36 per cent are doing zero activity. The Academy of Royal Colleges estimates over 40 per cent fail to do even 30 minutes a week.
There’s also a long way to go in most countries to make activity satisfying. In 2020 the World Health Organization(WHO) updated its physical activity guidelines for the first time in a decade and the biggest change worth noting is that all movement now counts. Fiit Insider says, ‘forget fitness – movement health is a trillion-dollar opportunity'.
Prioritising healthy, balanced movement has become the focus of both the largest companies in the world and countless start-ups hoping to emulate the success of Calm, the ‘Nike of the mind’ – with its US$2bn valuation – and Headspace, a corporate-focused meditation app that has had some 65 million downloads. Both are rapidly gaining acceptance as part of the thriving wellbeing economy.
Some companies are using their size and scale to make a difference to both planetary and personal health. Let’s start with the largest – Apple.
CEO, Tim Cook, who’s both a nature- and a fitness-obsessive, works on the 175-acre Apple Park campus where 85 per cent of the land is green space, planted with 7,000 trees. Apple has promised to become fully carbon neutral by 2030 and that includes the entire supply chain and lifecycle of its products.
Cook has said on a number of occasions that Apple’s greatest contribution will be in health and wellness. Since its debut, the Apple Watch has been positioned as a tool to help improve health and in 2020 had around 55 per cent of the global smartwatch market, according to Statista. The launch of Fitness+, powered by the Apple Watch has deepened the company’s commitment.
Since the WHO updated its guidelines, Amazon has announced Movement Health, a new feature for Halo, its wrist-worn health and fitness tracker. Combining expertise in artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning, Movement Health will produce a personalised programme of exercises to improve everyday movements, such as walking, that we all do without thinking. At the same time, Amazon has co-funded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to be 100 per cent renewable by 2030 and net-zero across all its businesses by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.
Google is interested in the US$3.5tr US healthcare market and has purchased Fitbit for around US$2bn and invested in over 60 health-related start-ups. Google is also aiming to be carbon-free by 2030 and be part of the solution to climate change. Microsoft plans to go a stage further and become carbon negative, removing more greenhouse gases than it emits, by 2030.
More people searched for ‘How to live a more sustainable lifestyle’ in 2020 than ever before and both large and small companies are realising that shareholder activism is on the rise. Environmental, Social and Governance interventions (ESG) are becoming the focus. The investment workforce is increasingly made up of millennials for whom ESG is seen as vital to both the planet and workforce health.
The Harvard Business Review found that companies are being held accountable by shareholders for ESG performance, with an ever-growing number of environmental and social shareholder resolutions being filed. Climate Action 100+, which includes more than 320 investors (representing US$32tr under investment), is lobbying the largest greenhouse gas emitters to address climate change and set targets to cut emissions. Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, is now the United Nations envoy for climate action and finance, tasked with persuading policymakers, CEOs, bankers and investors to focus on the environment. Developing standards and reliable systems to measure ESG performance will become more common as external reporting becomes accepted practice.
What’s happening in the sector?
The UK Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) Regulations came into force in April 2019 replacing the Carbon Reduction Commitment energy efficiency scheme and health and fitness operators are taking steps to improve their performance.
The only listed fitness company on the London Stock Exchange is The Gym Group. With over 180 sites, its ESG policies are important and explained in its annual report, along with a case study on its first low-carbon gym at Beverley in Yorkshire, where an air-sourced heat pump removes the need for a gas supply, while air conditioning, lighting and water are on sensors to improve efficiency.
Where the company controls the electricity supply, it has a green contract for all sites.
GLL, the largest charitable social enterprise in the UK, with over 58 million visitors across 270 leisure centres, employs 13,000 staff who are helping people improve their personal health. GLL achieved zero waste to landfill in 2019 and uses renewable energy from 51 sources, including 46 solar installations, 4 biomass boilers and an Air Source Heat Pump.
Mini miracles of climate change are happening all over the UK. The Scottish Parliament, for example, passed the Community Empowerment Act, obliging local authorities to develop food-growing strategies, including identifying land that can be used by the community for growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers.
A Bee Line – a green corridor of flowers planted to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies – will extend 26km from Rutherglen in South Lanarkshire to Cathkin Braes Country Park, Glasgow, in time for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC Centre Glasgow 31 October – 12 November 2021. It’s one of many community projects developed by Grow 73, a charity working to increase biodiversity and help combat climate change at a local level.
BBC TV’s Countryfile has launched an ambitious two-year project called Plant Britain galvanizing everyone to get planting and help combat climate change, with the added benefits to our wellbeing and wildlife. Plantings to date total just over one million and caring for the environment could be seen as an altruistic way to burn calories. As further proof of the burgeoning interest in this area, it’s worth noting that three million new gardens were created during lockdown in the UK.
The potential for design to promote environmental and social change is the theme of the London Biennale which has temporarily rewilded the courtyard at Somerset House in London with 423 mature trees, to draw attention to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are part of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Also driving the agenda is Prince Charles, who’s a champion of the natural world, promoting environmental awareness and encouraging businesses to take action on climate change.
Now he’s urging the world’s insurers to rise to the challenge and his Sustainable Markets Initiative Insurance Task Force at Lloyd’s of London is leading the industry towards greener goals.
Like father, like son, Prince William and TV naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, have launched Earthshot which aims to find solutions to repair the planet by 2030. Five prizes will be awarded each year for the next ten years to provide at least 50 solutions to some of the world’s environmental problems. The five goals are: to protect and restore nature; to clean our air; to revive our oceans; to build a waste-free world and to fix our climate.
These five goals and more will be on the agenda at COP26 in Glasgow, which could be the showcase for Britain’s nascent zero-emissions sports and fitness industry.
Change driven by the young
The UK Sport Think Tank recently revealed that 69 per cent of sports fans aged 16-24 support action against climate change. Young people also believe sport should do more to act sustainably and help the community, according to new research from audience targeting company, Global Web Index.
Perhaps the current popularity and growth of outdoor activities, gyms, functional training and sustainable exercise is partly young people sending a powerful message about their attitudes. It’s worth noting that the number of outdoor walks logged on Strava and Apple Health trebled in 2020.
New sustainable and eco fitness operators are emerging. For example, MDL Fitness, which launches in the UK in September 2021, is an eco gym start-up that grew out of the MDL Marina company – operators of marinas in Spain and the UK.
MDL already has green credentials, having installed solar panels generating 150,000kWh from April 2020 to February 2021 – the equivalent of planting 1,500 trees per year. Its new chain of green gyms will be powered by solar panels and will offer fitness equipment from SportsArt that converts human kinetic energy into electricity.
[Go to www.HCMmag.com/signup and be among the first to read our profile interview with MDL Marinas in the next edition.]
SportsArt’s equipment is also installed at SO51 Fitness, Romsey. The club was the silver winner of the Futureproofing and Innovation Award 2020 and 74 per cent of the energy created by members during their workout is converted into utility-grade electricity.
Members at the SO51 gym in Romsey UK can watch on screen as their workouts are turned into watts and uploaded to the grid. They can also monitor their position on a ‘Green Member’ leaderboard. Three levels of ‘green’ memberships are available - indoor, outdoor and online - putting personal health at the heart of planetary health.
In July 2020 Rainer Schaller’s RSG Group was the winning bidder in a court-approved auction to acquire the Gold’s Gym brand.
The new campus for the brand, developed by RSG in Berlin, Germany, at 55,000sq ft is the flagship site with a focus on sustainability. The cardio area has 10 metre high trees that filter pollutants, training floors made from recycled car tyres and wall tiles made from recycled computer monitors, while electricity is generated by 150 bicycle ergometers. A solar ‘flower’ saves solar energy and the heat and power plant runs on biogas. It’s quite possibly the greenest gym in the world and is CO2- and climate-neutral (see www.HCMmag.com/RSG).
Back in the UK a precision-engineering tech-focused start-up in Birmingham, with a passion for fitness, powered the lights on Gymshark’s carbon-free Christmas Tree just for fun.
On a more serious note, in my home gym, my Energym exercise bike is harnessing my energy, converting it into electrical power, and storing it in a portable rechargeable battery (known as the OHM) which then powers my home office. So my MacBook Air, ipad, phone, smartwatch, printer (and in December, the Christmas tree) are all powered by clean electricity.
When I’m training, the OHM turns into a personal power meter displaying my Functional Threshold Power (FTP), using a five-colour display to show how well I’m doing. No wonder they call Energym the Tesla of fitness.
If all 10.4 million fitness members in the UK used Energym power, that would generate 200 watts of clean energy per person per workout which would power an estimated 250,000 homes each day.
‘Stay at home’, ‘Protect the NHS’, ‘Save Lives’ was the UK government’s message during lockdowns and the slogan worked and changed public behaviour.
In normal times the NHS is there to protect us, but during the lockdowns, the message was that we had to protect it as well as ourselves. The impact of this reversal could help kickstart the self-care generation, inspiring them to take personal responsibility for improving their own health, but for this change to be achievable and sustainable, it needs a catalyst.
Climate change has driven a growing global movement led by young people such as Greta Thunberg. Greta first staged a protest in August 2018 outside the Swedish Parliament holding a sign ‘School strike for the Climate’. More than a million people regularly demonstrate in their thousands in ‘strikes for climate’ events in over 100 countries on Fridays as a result and her influence on the world stage has been described by The Guardian newspaper as the ‘Greta effect’, leading to her winning many awards and accolades, including three consecutive nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize 2019-2021.
Climate change has so many other official and unofficial envoys that have an impact, including people such as Al Gore and David Attenborough, special US presidential envoy, John Kerry, the UN Race to Zero campaign and the Global Earth Challenge (the world’s largest environmental movement), where total actions in support of the environment at the time of writing are up to 2,688,645,733.
Climate change is a concern for everyone and rightly so, but although – as we have seen – there is huge concern to drive the agenda for planetary health, there is no comparative level of concern for improving the health of individuals and by default, the health of nations.
The World Health Organization and every medical organisation in the world says we should move more but there is a huge gap between what is recommended and what actually happens.
There’s no social movement driving change to inspire people to commit to engaging in healthy balanced movement on a regular basis.
Yet social movements can and do make an impact. It’s 52 years since the Stonewall riots in New York, an event recognised as the start of the modern gay liberation movement. Fast forward to Euro 2020 and England captain Harry Kane and Germany’s Manuel Neuer wore rainbow armbands to mark the end of Pride month and the teams’ allyship with LBGT+ communities.
The nascent ‘social movement’ to get people moving more needs to adopt its own symbol that the vast majority of the population can relate to and emulate over time. Movement needs a broader perspective than just returning to previous direct debit and health club membership club numbers. A society rebounding from COVID-19 should not mean a return to the status quo – the same spirit of tenacity and creativity we saw in the face of extreme uncertainty during the pandemic lockdowns needs to be relit.
Individuals know that simply doing more exercise is just like a marriage vow, it’s an expression of commitment but not a guarantee of success. The relationship between the exercise dose and improving health is confusing and needs more research and then more education. Doctors and academics agree that physical activity affects health span and morbidity, more than life span and mortality. Simply put, an unhealthy lifestyle affects morbidity twice as much as mortality.
Announcing a new event
Given the urgent need to reduce demand for energy across the economy, the leisure and activity sector needs a decarbonisation plan with a deadline. Currently, we have no pledges to deliver this.
As a result, we’re launching a new conference called Evolve to create a platform for debate.
Evolve will be the Y Combinator for health, putting planetary health at the heart of personal health.
Join me, international best-seller Daniel Lieberman and business psychologist Robert Kovach for in-depth discussions to connect thinkers, disrupters and leaders in order to educate and evolve.
The event will take place on 22 September 2021 from 2.00pm to 3.30pm GMT.
• You can sign up for the Evolve conference free at www.HCMmag.com/evolve