• The Humber Foton, a new solar-powered boat on the market, takes four to five days of sunshine to get fully charged

    The Humber Foton, a new solar-powered boat on the market, takes four to five days of sunshine to get fully charged. (Photo: Courtesy of Humber Boats)

Housing and transport eat up the lion’s share of the debate around how to be more energy-conscious. We spend billions on our homes and on getting from A to B, so it pays — literally — to focus on these areas. But we also spend time and money seeking out activities that free us from the stress of the daily grind. What we may not realize, however, is that these recreational pursuits also have an energy footprint. Yet there are ways to make our downtime more efficient. Without ruining the fun, we take a look at the brilliant ideas, amazing technology and inspiring personalities that are helping shape the future of leisure activities.

Greening your workout

While gyms aren’t renowned for their approach to saving energy, some are making use of “green” fitness equipment (made by companies such as Seattle-based PlugOut) that harnesses your kinetic energy to feed electricity back into the grid. Others, such as the Steve Nash Fitness World & Sports Club chain in British Columbia, owned by the Canadian NBA star, follow LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards and use energy-efficient lighting and appliances. If you’re concerned about your gym’s carbon footprint, there are alternatives to doing push-ups in your basement. Try an outdoor boot-camp-style fitness class or use free GreenGym outdoor fitness equipment, which uses your own body weight for resistance and has been installed in 188 municipal parks and schools across Canada.

Power players

Recreation centres are getting in on the energy-efficiency act too. While moves on the indoor artificial-turf field at the purpose-built 9,290-square-metre Players Paradise Sports Complex in Stoney Creek, Ont., may be eye-catching, it’s the building itself that really impresses. Three of the walls surrounding the FIFA-approved field have huge double-paned insulated windows that allow natural light to flood in over the turf (constructed from recycled tires, of course), saving energy by reducing the need for artificial light. The complex is also in the process of getting approval to install rooftop solar panels that would generate an as-yetundetermined amount of electricity for the regional grid.

Pedalling a new perspective

Ideas don’t always develop into solutions, but they can change your outlook and, possibly, your behaviour. Just ask Olivier Trescases, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s department of electrical and computer engineering and the brains behind the Green Hart, a modified stationary bike that captures the energy created while exercising and sends it back to the grid. Riding the bike for one hour can power a laptop for two to four hours. “It produces some energy, but it’s not going to solve our energy problems,” says Trescases, adding that it would take about two years of pedalling to generate as much energy as is contained in a $100 barrel of oil. “Our valuation of energy has been completely thrown off by the availability of cheap oil. Getting on the bike puts things into perspective.”

The wheel deal

It’s hard to imagine a more energy-efficient, carbon-footprint- friendly activity than biking. But that hasn’t stopped some from trying to maximize the efficiency of the energy produced on a ride. Take the Copenhagen Wheel. Designed by SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the hybrid “e-bike” stores energy every time the rider brakes, returning that power to provide a boost when going uphill or to add a burst of speed when required. The wheel, which can be retrofitted to any bike, also includes sensors that connect with the rider’s smartphone to monitor speed, direction and distance travelled.

Round the world in 850 days If you think navigating traffic on your bike can be daunting, spare a thought for Sarah Outen. The British adventurer has spent much of the past 14 months cycling across Europe and Asia and still has to pedal her way across Canada — but not before rowing across the North Pacific. It’s all part of Outen’s 2 ½-year human-powered quest to cycle, kayak and row her way around the globe, a distance of about 32,000 kilometres. Following in the wake of Canadian adventurer Colin Angus, whose team successfully cycled, skied, canoed, hiked and rowed on the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe, Outen is due to complete her London2London: Via the World journey in the autumn of 2013.

Voltage vessels

Completing the first ever circumnavigation of the globe on a solar-powered catamaran — as the European-based PlanetSolar expedition is about to do as this issue goes to press — may be out of reach for most of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t seek out more efficient methods of boating. Opting for a craft that doesn’t use any polluting fuel is better for the environment, but not always practical. Sailing, canoeing and kayaking aren’t for everyone, after all. If you’re going to stick to a motorized boat, consider an electric outboard motor, like those made by Torqeedo, or shell out a bit more for a solar-powered boat such as the Humber Foton (see below).

The solar sailor

John Rowley can’t figure it out. He’s advertised, attended boat shows and even been featured on television, but he still hasn’t sold his solar-powered boat, the Humber Foton. “It’s the new wave,” says Rowley, president of Toronto-based Humber Boats. “But maybe I’m just a little too smart for my own good at the moment.” The craft is equipped with a 180-watt solar array that feeds into a battery bank, which in turn powers an electric outboard motor. It takes four to five hours for the batteries to recharge through a socket or four to five days of good sunshine through the solar array. Rowley says the Foton is ideal for smaller lakes and rivers and is more efficient than a polluting gasoline motor. The trade-off — and possible deterrent — is the price: a 14-foot boat with a six-horsepower motor costs $4,000 to $5,000, while the Foton is closer to $9,000.

Scoring clean-energy points

You may be doing your part by making your way to the stadium via public transport, walking or biking, but professional teams are getting into the green game too. Many organizations have retrofitted their stadiums to be more energy-efficient. Some of the most impressive work is being done in the United States. At Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, plans are in place to install more than 11,000 solar panels and 14 micro wind turbines that, together, will provide annually six times the power used during all Eagles home games. When the retrofit is completed in December, it will be the largest solar-power system in the NFL (and the Philadelphia area), with three megawatts of generating capacity.

He’s got green game

Boston Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference helped initiate the National Hockey League Players’ Association’s Carbon Neutral Challenge, a program that encourages players to purchase carbon-offset credits, and he often walks, cycles or takes public transit to work. After the Bruins won the championship in 2011, Ference took the Stanley Cup on a tour around Boston, towing it behind his bicycle.

Powderhounds switching to hitching

Since launching in 2010, the web-based, ridesharing service HitchWhistler has signed up just over 2,500 members. It’s so popular that sister sites for trips to Tofino, B.C., and the ski hills of Quebec and the Rockies have been created. Flo Devellennes started the site after picking up skiers who were hitching to Whistler, B.C., to avoid paying the bus fare (the average HitchWhistler trip costs $17; the average bus fare is $50). “Coming from Europe, where ride-sharing is more prevalent, I was also always amazed to see cars going up practically empty,” says Devellennes, adding that the best part of the service often goes unnoticed. “Unfortunately, people are more concerned with saving money than helping the environment, but at least this allows them to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Devellennes estimates that as of April 3, 2012, the rides shared through the four websites had saved nearly 24 tonnes of CO2 emissions, roughly equivalent to what two average American households emit in an entire year.

The great outdoors

Gone are the days of lugging around canisters of propane, butane or gas for the camp stove and batteries for the radio. In fact, forget the stove completely. Campers in the know now rely on more efficient gear: solarpowered chargers, hand-cranked radios and ingeniously simple cooking methods that use no fuel or batteries, such as the Kelly Kettle (its double-walled chimney construction makes water boil quickly, and it needs only twigs, leaves or paper for fuel). There are even solar backpacks that can charge your iPod, cellphone and digital camera.

Bionic boom

The PowerWalk M-Series bionic energy harvester is a 750- gram device that harnesses the energy created when walking, using the same principle as regenerative braking in hybrid cars. Wearing one on each leg, someone walking at a comfortable pace can generate an average of 12 watts of electricity; stroll a little longer than an hour and you can charge four cellphones. “With something like a handcranked flashlight, you have to dedicate effort to it. It costs extra effort to produce energy, but that problem is solved by creating something wearable,” says Max Donelan, a professor of biomedical physiology and kinesiology at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, who helped develop the harvester and received funding to do so from the Canadian Forces. Donelan notes that people who are away from the power grid for a long time — soldiers, explorers, hikers — would benefit most from the device but hopes that it can one day be used in the developing world, where access to reliable electricity is in short supply.

Five ways to play green

You don’t have to charge your smartphone via a stationary bike to make a difference. It’s the little things that count. Here are five simple ways you can help reduce your carbon footprint while at play.

Carpool Set up your own group for taking the kids to soccer or getting yourself to the weekly pickup hockey game; try websites such as PickupPal.com.

Buy eco-friendly gear Whether it’s a bamboo snowboard or a running jacket made from recycled plastic bottles, the choices you make count.

Get outside Skip the gym and get some fresh air on a walk, run or bike ride — you’ll save money and electricity and feel better for it.

Be bottle smart Get your own stainless steel or aluminum bottle instead of wasting money on the plastic landfill-fodder versions.

Encourage change Ask your gym what it’s doing to save energy, persuade your friends to take public transit to the game, or give a solar iPod charger as a gift.