Co-Working Spawns Sustainability

By Brock Sheridan

There is an office concept sweeping the nation and having a positive impact on our environment at the same time. And so inconspicuous are these office complexes, that you may have one near you and not even recognized it. You may have passed one having thought it a closed restaurant, historic resident or perhaps even a bicycle shop.

They are called co-working office environments and they take the office sharing concept and open it to promote collaboration, creativity and create sustainability. Interestingly, the green aspect of most co-working offices are usually by both default and design. The inconspicuous architecture and design are usually the same – products of both creativity and efficiency.

Co-working was a term first coined by Bernie DeKoven, currently the CEO of The Technography Center and publisher of CoWorking, where he published the term in 1999. By 2005 however, Brad Neuberg  organized a co-working site called the “Hat Factory” in San Francisco, spawning the creation of some 400 co-working areas that exist today throughout the United States and worldwide. By 2007, Kerry Miller labeled it  “Where the coffee shop meets the cubicle” in her article published in Bloomberg Business.

Where co-working separates itself from the competition of office sharing is in the open working environment and green synergy. Co-working offices encourage collaboration among clients, even though those clients may be working for different companies in separate industries.

“The difference is the atmosphere,” says Tim Bowen of Spoke6, a co-working office space in Tucson, Arizona. “We have wide open spaces with all natural lighting. The people are key as well. There’s a lot of energy among our clients because we don’t stick them in some cubicle farm.”

“With office sharing, you get your own little office and you share a receptionist,” Bowen continued. “With co-working, you are actually working at the same table as somebody else. Someone might share feedback on an on screen design with someone or assist someone with a computer application or program.”

Most co-working facilities are very open and feature an array of natural lighting making the savings in utility costs an obvious benefit. Energy efficient LED and CFL lighting is almost an industry standard where natural lighting may not be practical. However, the co-working culture also appears to promote sustainability and green lifestyles to a much higher level. Look at the website of nearly any co-working facility nationwide and you will find “sustainability” or “green” in the initial descriptions of the facility.

Although sustainability is an important part of Co-Habitat in Dallas, founder Blake Burris recognized a large opportunity. “We are currently located in a 100 year-old house near downtown,” Burris said, “but are taking steps to make that a sustainable reference case. In fact we recently concluded an entire efficiency audit. We have also had some of our geek talent contribute to different projects, whether it be new weather stripping or any other aspects of the project.”

For Spoke6, that includes paying a little bit more to the local power company to insure they are using energy generated by the company’s solar panel farm. Or it is something as small as offering an inexpensive energy measuring device on a grab and use basis. “We’ve used it on everything from our water heater to lap top computers versus, say, flat screens to determine the most efficient use of energy,” Bowen said.

For Citizen Space in San Francisco, green started in the design of the office space, a former carpentry shop. The green effort for them began literally from the bottom as they installed bamboo planks for the necessary flooring. Not only is bamboo inexpensive, but highly sustainable because of its rapid growth rate.

Chris Messina, who runs Citizen Agency with his partner Tara Hunt and opened up Citizen Space in November of 2006, told, “I guess I got involved in co-working originally because I was working out of cafes and wanted a more collaborative, productive environment to go to and work around other people. The green part sort of just came naturally.”

Co-working facilities also seem to generally promote a non-automotive culture. Many co-working facilities, like Spoke6 in Tucson, offer storage for bicycles and promote biking to work. Most co-working office spaces are also located near downtown or vibrant metropolitan areas within walking distance to businesses, restaurants and housing.  CoHabitat has been the official starting point for the Uptown Fun Runs with the Dallas Running Club and is conveniently located near the Katy Trail, a linear 3.5-mile long landscaped pedestrian, inline skating, and bicycle trail system that runs through the most densely developed section of the city.  While not all employees or clients are runners, Burris said he wanted to created in easy opportunity for others to take up the sport including showers.

Bowen mentions how the cycling culture around Spoke6 has been contagious. “[We had a client] developer, who had not ridden a bike for years when she came here. But she saw that opportunity, went out and bought a bike, and now she bikes in everyday. Sometimes just letting people know there’s that opportunity, gives them that extra push. They say “Oh wow! It’s nice to do things this way.’”

Differences certainly exist among co-working facilities around the world, but the collaborative, flexible and creative threads seem to weave through each. These are not office sharing facilities that offer isolation and communication through phones and fax machines, but rather a unique and innovative work environment for a specific segment of the workforce in the digital and paperless markets.

“It’s not for everyone,” says the website for Workhaus Co-Working Lodge in Dallas, Texas. “It’s for people who can conduct their business in a light, mobile, and paperless fashion. We have seen co-working work well for graphic and web designers, techies, writers, consultants, sales people, marketing gurus, and especially bootstrappers who are doing all they can to get a business idea off the ground.”

But co-working is also about sustainability in the workplace and taking that one step further like Tim Bowen in Tucson or Blake Burris in Dallas. Whether through promoting telecommuting, cycling, energy management, running, renovation or bamboo floors, co-working is as much cultural as it is convenient or efficient. There just appears to be in intangible variable in the formula in which co-working offices are increasing the efficiency of our resources – resources in both intelligence as well as gas and electricity.

But we’ll leave the geeks to figure that out.


3 Responses to “Co-Working Spawns Sustainability”
  1. Melissa says:

    Hi Brock,

    My name is Melissa and I work for a company called Launchpad Creatives. We are a small business that rents out offices and co-working spaces to creatives and small business owners.

    Your article piqued my interest in implementing some environmentally friendly practices within this company. Do you plan on writing any more articles on this specific topic? Do you have any suggestions as to how we can put our business on the map by implementing some inexpensive sustainability practices?

  2. David Thach says:

    There is a new Dallas coworking place off of 2727 Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway

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