Low Carbon-Cost Leisure Activities

Leisure Time Is Essential

Leisure time is an essential part of healthy living. It has never been more important for people across all walks of life to break away from their busy working lives to take some time out for recreation and pure enjoyment. There are a wealth of leisure pursuits out there to suit all tastes and budgets. But which leisure activities harm the environment more than others? For the environmentally aware person it is equally important to consider the effects of our spare-time activities as it is of our working time activities.

Of course, anything that uses fuel is likely to be carbon costly. So taking a speedboat out for a spin around the lake or along the shore-line is definitely going to have an adverse impact. For example, a typical 5 metre cruiser will use about 25 litres of fuel per hour. Much less compared with motor vehicles but still a significant amount for what is, to many people, simply a bit of fun.

Off-road driving in a 4 x 4 vehicle is increasing in popularity. A recent survey has estimated that there are over 36 million off-road vehicles registered in the US alone. These All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) use massive amounts of fuel and, due to the nature of the terrain and the strain on the engines, these vehicles pump out huge amounts of pollutants. It has been estimated that the output from a single ATV can be equivalent to the output from 30 average cars, when driven for the same period of time.

Self-Powered Leisure

What about sports that don’t use powered vehicles? Ice skating is a popular family activity and is a very healthy way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon. However, ice rinks need a massive amount of energy to keep the water frozen. Generators and chillers have to run almost constantly so that we can be sure of a good surface to skate on. So, for a one hour session on the ice, what does this actually cost in environmental terms? Well, probably the same as taking your car out and driving around for five hours!

Some local councils have recognised that maintaining an ice rink can be costly in terms of environmental impact, so they are offsetting carbon costs with tree planting activities. It is a good idea to check with the operators of the ice rink to find out if they have eco-friendly systems in place, which can all contribute to lowering carbon emissions from the cooling equipment that is used.

In terms of benefit to health, what is equivalent to a one-hour session at the ice rink? An hour on a bicycle. Cycling in the countryside will generate the same increased heart-rate and burn the same amount of calories as skating, but with little adverse impact on the environment, especially if you cycle along tarred roads instead of mountain tracks.

Cycling, thanks to the recent success of our Olympic cycling team, has never been so popular. One recent cycling magazine carried a headline that said, ‘Cycling is the new black’! For the average person who is reasonably fit, a one-hour cycle ride at a pace of about 10 miles per hour, will burn 700 calories. It is not only a great family activity, but it is also a great way to really appreciate the countryside.


An often under-rated leisure activity that is within reach of the majority of people is gardening. Two hours spent digging over a patch of ground in the garden can be an excellent workout. In fact, it is even better for you than going out on the bike.

Gardening, providing that neither power tools nor pesticides are used is one of the best sustainable leisure activities around. It can also be one of the most satisfying, especially when the labours of our work can be enjoyed. Fresh vegetables, fruit or simply flowers to enjoy are some of the many rewards that a garden or allotment can offer. The National Society of Allotments has reported an increase in the popularity of this form of leisure activity.

Don’t forget the many cultural activities that can be enjoyed. Although art galleries and museums need large amounts of energy to maintain them, these places are highly sustainable. They are usually low cost to enter (many are free), they are generally close to home and they offer a wide range of things to enjoy.

Our leisure time is important, but so is the environment. Is it worth the adverse impact just so that we can have a thrill on a fast speedboat for an hour? Or can we have just as much fun, over a longer period of time, in the garden, at an exhibition or on the bicycle?