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Sustainability Drives Healthy Results at Longfellow Sports Clubs


The Longfellow Clubs (LFC) is a cluster of five multi-purpose health and recreation facilities located in Sudbury, Wayland and Natick, Massachusetts. LFC is the fourth-largest health and recreation club in New England with 125 full-time and 300 part-time employees. This mid-sized, highly successful company has actively implemented sustainability-based business practices across all of its facilities, significantly enhancing its financial performance and developing a reputation as the greenest health club in America.

Laury Hammel, co-founder and CEO, says he has been committed to environmental issues since his childhood. “I participated in the first Earth Day in 1970. I think my childhood really crystallized and catalyzed my sustainability efforts.”

Hammel founded LFC in 1972 as a tennis instruction business. Rapid growth drove him and business partner Myke Farricker to find larger facilities. They purchased an existing facility in 1980. Since that initial acquisition, they have been acquiring, upgrading and enhancing athletic facilities across the greater Boston area to better meet community and customer demands for health and fitness programs. Facilities improvements include water conservation, energy efficiency and earth-friendly facilities that encapsulate a holistic approach to health for people and planet.

One of LFC’s missions as a locally-owned and independent business is a commitment to the health and wellbeing of the communities in which it operations. Other LFC missions are to provide extraordinary fitness, recreational and educational programs for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

The result of implementing environmentally-friendly business practices is that LFC has prospered for over 33 years, successfully established a positive reputation with the communities in which it operates, a strong competitive position and fiscal resiliency in its market.

LFC’s sustainability journey started at the core of the business. Health and recreation facilities are capital intensive due to the physical infrastructure requirements. They can also be highly toxic environments with harsh chemicals for cleaning and sanitizing the facilities and equipment as well as for the pool. Additionally, recreation facilities demand high energy and water usage. Hammel and Farricker took a hard look at these operational imperatives and determined there was a better, healthier way to run a health club. The starting point for sustainability, however, was basic recycling.

Health and recreation facilities generate a significant amount of recyclable waste. Hammel started LFC’s sustainability initiatives by addressing recyclable paper, cardboard and containers across all of its facilities. This initial step now diverts approximately 4,098 pounds of waste from the company’s landfill-destined waste stream each month. The recycling initiative engages everyone who visits the facilities including staff, members and visiting patrons.

In 1989 LFC created a checklist to use as a reference for sustainability measures to pursue. The company embarked on a series of capital expenditures aimed at decreasing its environmental footprint beginning in the early 2000s. It continues on this path today, continually seeking new ways to improve its facilities and delight its patrons while concurrently reducing its environmental impacts.

In 2004, solar hot water heaters were installed. Ongoing growth of the business drove continuous expansion of the solar hot water systems; and in 2009 the firm was recognized as having one of the largest solar hot water systems in New England. At just one of the LFC facilities, the use of solar hot water heaters saves the company approximately $10,000 annually in energy costs.

In mid-2007, waterless urinals were installed. These urinals eliminated 80 percent of all flushes in the men’s locker rooms. Each urinal reduces water usage by 45,000 gallons annually.

A few months later, a co-generation unit was installed. This unit heats the pool and shower water using the waste heat generated from the natural gas electric system. The co-generation system has reduced LFC’s water heating costs by about 7.4 percent annually. In early 2009, LFC replaced all of the 3.5 to 4 gallons-per-minute shower heads with low-flow, 2 gallons-per-minute alternatives. This modification saves the company hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each year.

LFC installed an industry-leading saltwater purification system for the clubs’ pools earlier that year. The rock salt system, Board of Health approved, allowed LFC to eliminate 99 percent of the chlorine it used for cleaning the pools’ water.

When chlorine combines with water and things such as hairspray, makeup, sweat and sunscreen, it creates volatile chemicals. These chemicals are in the water and get into the air through vigorous churning of the water. Called disinfectant byproducts in the industry, these chemicals make up the smell one notices in a pool environment. These byproducts have also been linked to many health issues. By eliminating chlorine in its pools, LFC is providing a safer, healthier environment for everyone.

LFC’s sustainability initiatives are not limited to waste reduction, improved water usage efficiency and toxic chemical elimination. Look out for Part 2 in which we will describe the company's energy saving programs and how it has stimulated sustainability-based thinking in the communities in which it operates.

Image courtesy of the Longfellow Clubs

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Sustainability4SMEs: Graham Russell & Martha Young

Graham Russell brings 25 years of CEO experience in the environmental services industry to his current role as a sustainability professional. He currently teaches sustainable business in the University of Colorado, Denver MBA program and chair’s the School’s Managing for Sustainability Advisory Council. He provides sustainability and cleantech consulting services to SMEs through TrupointAdvisors and is on the board of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

Martha Young has been an industry analyst and writer for 20 years. Her expertise is in small and mid-sized businesses, information technology and energy. Young co-authored four books on virtual business processes (cloud computing), and project management for IT. She is on the board of two small Texas-based businesses, and acts in a technical advisory and business strategy capacity for an east coast venture capitalist.

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