Sandpaper-colored bricks, plunging wells and fortified towers—The Castle Climbing Center, in London, earns its name. The lords, ladies and royalty of this fortress, however, don not robes and crowns but rubber shoes and multi-colored chalk bags. Moreover, the defining feature of the gym is not the juxtaposition of neon plastic and old stone, but the dedication of gym managers to sustainable practices.
“To reduce our energy consumption we must retrofit intelligently designed systems, including our award-winning Natural Ventilation System,” Beth Martin, the castle’s sustainability officer, told Gym Climber. “Despite these challenges, we aim to become carbon neutral by 2030. We already source all our energy from renewable energy sources and frack-free gas.”
The castle was built between 1852 and 1856 to serve as a water-pumping station for local Londoners. By 1971, the castle was largely unneeded, so after jumping through some hoops and modern legalities, activists helped get the castle listed as a historic building. Permission was granted in 1994 to redevelop the center into a climbing gym and The Castle Climbing Center opened to the public a year later.
The gym’s architecture is unique by any standard, but even more incredible are the gym’s ambitious sustainability goals. Its Sustainability Reports, which date back to 2012, show progress, with some goals, such as sending zero waste to landfill, already ticked off.
For energy, the castle uses Ecotricity, a UK energy supplier that provides electricity exclusively from renewable sources, such as wind turbines and solar parks. The castle’s 2018 Sustainability reported stated: “Since 2012, Ecotricity has supplied The Castle Climbing Centre with 100% green electricity and frack-free gas.”
The castle has a 1.2-acre garden to supply its cafe with fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. The plot is not large enough for a garden that can completely stock the cafe, but it supplies the bulk of the food that is prepped and sold and composts all food and garden waste.
Water-free urinals and compost toilets are a few savvy installations that reduce water usage. Two swales (depressions in the ground to hold water), from the kitchen and men’s changing room, along with 10,000 liters (2,623 gallons) of rain water, are used to hydrate the garden. The total result is big savings on the water bill and tons of recycled H20.
When it comes to garden, kitchen and everyday waste, the castle has a zero-waste-to-land policy, meaning everything is recycled through the castle’s partnership with First Mile Recycling. From food waste to plastic wrappers, waste is meticulously sorted and sent to have a second life elsewhere.
For employees, an “Eco-day scheme” allows workers extra paid vacation days to take a car or train rather than a faster, more environmentally destructive cheap flight. Qualified employees use the program to travel long distances with family and friends while having a smaller environmental impact.
Castle managers have won several awards throughout the years for their efforts, including the Green Thinking Award, Rushlight Energy Reduction Award and Sustainable City Awards. Still, several challenges remain. For one, the castle’s architecture and listing as a historic building, while a blessing, is limiting. Recycling greywater to non-potable sources within the castle, for example, is currently infeasible due to the building’s structure.
Another setback to sustainability goals is climbing holds, which are made from polyurethane, nasty stuff that simply can’t be recycled.
“This is one area where we don’t want to sacrifice quality- we need to have the best holds available and products that claim to be more ‘eco-friendly’ just haven’t really cut it for us,” said Duncan Howard, CEO of the castle, in an interview with the Climbing Business Journal.
Unfortunately not many outdoor brands consider their environmental impact, or at least not many will go to green-extremes like The Castle Climbing Center. “We believe it is our responsibility – as a business and as individuals – to reduce our demand on the planet’s resources,” states The Castle Climbing Center’s site. Climbers may rule the castle’s walls, but the ultimate monarch is mother nature.