- According to a study published in the journal Sustainability, there are many different interpretations of what being a “sustainable coworking space” means.
- Researchers identify four categories for sustainability ideals, which are focused on the environment, flexible work, community building, or business growth.
- Coworking center operators need to be clear on what sustainability means to their space when discussing or advertising sustainable practices.
When coworking centers are competing for members, touting sustainable practices can be an important value proposition. The trick is, the meaning of “sustainable” can be wide-ranging.
It can refer to sustainable environmental practices, such as recycling and using solar panels, or it can refer to a sustainable job schedule, such as one that accommodates raising children.
The coworking industry uses the word “sustainable” in various ways — and often, it is unclear which meaning is implied.
What does it mean for coworking centers to be sustainable?
According to research published in the academic journal Sustainability, there are four perspectives in the coworking industry that provide distinct answers to the question “What is a sustainable coworking space?”
This research surveyed coworking centers to identify practices related to each meaning of sustainability. Through statistical analysis, researchers defined the following four types of sustainability that exist in the coworking industry.
- New work: This perspective does not focus on the environment in terms of climate change, but instead implies having flexible access to coworking spaces through open office designs.
Researchers point out that the “new work” perspective doesn’t value implementing HVAC systems, composting strategies, and other “green” activities.
- Resourceful society: The “resourceful society” perspective is quite the opposite of the “new work” perspective. The single most important factor of sustainability in this definition is ensuring that sustainable energy sources are being implemented by the coworking center — for 100% of its energy usage.
The second priority is that coworking centers use buildings that already exist to construct their spaces. It places little value on economic factors.
- Incubator: This places emphasis on helping the coworking center community and businesses within it grow, and placing people over profit if necessary.
The incubator perspective differs from the previous two perspectives in that it cares very little about “green” and economic sustainability, and more about communal sustainability.
- Environmental: This is most closely related to the “resourceful society” perspective in that it cares most about climate change and the environment, but it differs slightly in how it cares.
Coworking centers that are governed by an environmental perspective place a higher emphasis on practices such as recycling, composting, minimizing plastic waste, and installing energy-efficient lighting systems — which are more local and less expensive than using 100% renewable energy sources.
Which perspective on sustainability in the coworking space industry is the best?
The study points out the differences in how coworking industry leaders and professionals use the word “sustainability” — and illuminates the overall lack of transparency in the industry’s environmental sustainability practices.
While one meaning of the term is not necessarily better than another, coworking centers do need to be clear on their meaning when using the word.
If a prospective member sees a center is “sustainable” and assumes that means it is environmentally focused, when really the focus is on sustaining overall community and business success, that’s a deep misunderstanding.
For a center to claim it is sustainable — and have that encompass all four possible implications of the term — it would need to be an environmentally friendly coworking space that runs on 100% clean energy, and is flexible and growth-oriented.