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Unseen obstacles: unpacking wider energy issues in the leisure sector

The second of a 3-part series exploring stumbling blocks and sustainable solutions for leisure providers on the path to net zero.

Go back to Part 1  -  Skip forward to Part 3

The leisure industry must overcome various challenges to meet its financial and environmental goals. In the first part of this series, we explored the financial roadblocks at play. In this part we widen the lens to examine other pressures that are slowing –­ or even stalling – the progress to net zero.

Watch the below video to hear Aaron Parker, Principal Business Development Manager for Heat and Mechanical Energy Solutions at Centrica Business Solutions, discuss how cost pressures, ageing infrastructure and changing consumer behaviour are challenging the leisure sector's ability to get to net zero.

Challenge 1: Balancing cost vs. carbon

Tougher regulations and growing consumer expectations are pushing organisations to take more deliberate steps to net zero. But with leisure centres (particularly those with swimming pools) having such large carbon footprints, making decarbonisation a priority is one thing; taking action is another.

For many leisure providers, the ability to reduce carbon emissions is hampered by financial pressures. This is complicated further by the fact that many buildings in this sector have ageing infrastructure, making decarbonisation projects more complex – and costly.

When building the business case for any new energy efficiency measures, it’s important to focus on more than the upfront installation costs. Some leisure centres have installed Heat Pumps as a way to heat their facilities in a more environmentally friendly way. However, the ongoing running costs of a Heat Pump can be prohibitively expensive. To plan for the future successfully, leisure providers need to balance their competing cost and carbon priorities with a combination of technologies that meet their overall business needs.

Challenge 2: Ageing infrastructure

As covered in the first part of this blog series, leisure providers are under significant financial strain. But for publicly owned leisure facilities, these cost pressures are exacerbated by their ageing and energy inefficient estates. Research shows that over two-thirds of public swimming pools and sports halls need refurbishment (or replacing) and ageing assets contribute up to 40% of some councils’ direct carbon emissions.

So when funds do become available to help upgrade leisure centres, providers are in a tough spot. Often the first priority is on front-of-house improvements that enhance the customer experience, rather than infrastructure upgrades. Yet these important behind-the-scenes improvements are about more than net zero – in the long run ageing, inefficient and costly heating systems could impact customers just as much as what they see when they walk through the front door. To keep swimming pools warm and customers happy, leisure providers will need to balance risks and gains in the short and long-term. Otherwise they may face increased costs to maintain and fix their ageing assets. It also means energy is being wasted and – as increased energy consumption means increased energy bills – this adds to the financial strain. 

of public leisure facilities need refurbishment or replacement
of some councils’ direct carbon emissions come from ageing assets
priority is often front-of-house improvements, rather than infrastructure upgrades

Challenge 3: Changing consumer behaviour

Although ageing infrastructure is less of an issue for privately-owned leisure facilities, these organisations are facing an altogether different problem – changing consumer behaviour. High inflation and cost-of-living pressures mean many households have a lot less to spend on leisure activities. As a result, experts are seeing the rise of something called ‘insperience’, which is used to describe the new wave of consumers choosing to stay in for activities they used to go out for – including exercise. And when consumers do go out, they’re more focused than ever before on quality and value for money. 

This changing behaviour all adds up to fewer consumers and increased competition for private and publicly-run leisure facilities. Publicly-run facilities, which typically run on tight margins to ensure the leisure centre remains accessible for as many people as possible, are feeling the financial strain even more so.

Coming up next...

Every sector has its own unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to sustainability. For leisure providers it means balancing a wide range of different risks and financial pressures. So in the final part of our leisure sector series, we cover not one solution, but a combined approach to bring about the transition to net zero – and how to finance it.

Interested in finding out how our Combined Heat and Power (CHP) solution could help your leisure centre? Click the link below to find out more.

Go to the third blog in this series: a sustainability roadmap for leisure providers

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