Dance away and help power the night club while you do it

By Kelli Kennedy

MIAMI – It’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday, and clubgoers dance their cares away to fluorescent lights and the pulse of techno music.

Most are blissfully unaware that their favorite night spot consumes 140 times the energy of an average household – ironic for a generation driving hybrid cars and crusading against global warming.

But a new trend is getting clubgoers involved in the latest green trend: environmentally friendly dance clubs.

From Miami to Chicago and beyond, eco-chic clubs offer everything from dance floors that generate electricity to stationary bikes that power the DJ booth. Others use recycled goods and energy efficient lighting.

Experts say it’s hard to tell how energy efficient green clubs really are.

“Without them providing an estimate of energy reduction or environmental impact it seems like hype to me,” said Glenn Hill, a Texas Tech University professor who specializes in sustainable architecture.

Not so, say the owners. Home and Guest House owner John B. has ruled Manhattan’s night life with over-the-top decor and Broadway-worthy special effects. But his latest club, Greenhouse, is all about conserving.

The venue, slated to open in late summer, is applying for LEED certification, a designation granted by the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The space will be made mostly from recycled materials and has the feeling of a glitzy nature preserve, with a huge waterfall and a ceiling made of live plants.

“I don’t necessarily think just because something is green or energy saving or recycled, means it isn’t going to be luxurious,” he said.

At Chicago’s Butterfly Social Club, employees pedal away on a bicycle to power the DJ booth and drink machines. The clubs also use solar panels and employees make most of the drinks, avoiding the excess waste of cans and cardboard boxes, owner Mark Klemen says.

He built the club, which opened in April, out of waste products like clay and straw, and says one of his mantras is not to recycle more, but to use less.

At his less eco-friendly sister club next door, “at the end of the night we have 19 trash cans full of bottles. Yeah, we recycle them, but where are they going?” Klemen said.

Beyond a handful of clubs, the green trend is catching on slowly. Most are taking baby steps, serving organic cocktails and banning smoking.

Stereo By the Shore on Long Island lures celebs like Scarlett Johansson and Wilmer Valderrama. The Southampton hip-hop hideaway is known for its lush, green, pesticide-free gardens.

Owner Michael Satsky lowers energy costs in the summer by raising the thermostat and openings windows. He also bans smoking on the grounds.

But the free helicopter service for VIPs commuting from Manhattan certainly doesn’t save gas.

The balance between opulence and conservation could be a sticking point as trendy clubs, often known for over-the-top indulgences, try to adopt the minimalist mantra of tree huggers.

There are few eco-friendly clubs in South Beach, though hot spots Mansion, Prive and SET are among hundreds of clubs in the country relying on light-emitting diodes (LED) to illuminate their dance floors. They give off nearly five times the light as an incandescent bulb for the same amount of energy, experts say.

In the Netherlands, busting a move could soon generate enough energy to help power a dance club, according to one Rotterdam company, Enviu. The company is working on a prototype floor that captures the vibration of dancers and transfers it to batteries.

“It’s a way to reach young people in a way they understand it. You’re forced to make it sexy and challenging to them,” said Stef van Dongen.

The floor won’t power an entire club, so the company also is using smart lighting and acoustics designed so music is played at half-volume. The floor isn’t cheap, at roughly $400,000 for a 10-foot by 10-foot space, but van Dongen says it’s cost effective in the end.

The goal is to prove clubs can make money and still be conscious of the environment.

Enviu plans to sell the dance floors to other venues and has already has requests from clubs in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Club managers say earth-friendly hot spots seem like a natural progression for the green movement.

“The new generation of clubgoer tends to be increasingly conscious of the environment,” says Vanessa Menkes, vice president of The Opium Group, which owns four of Miami’s most popular clubs. “I think the green trend is slowly and steadily penetrating all facets of business from the automobile industry to the food industry, and there is no reason why nightlife won’t be next.”