- Education is the key to implementing sustainable practices and making changes.
- When it comes to the sustainability agenda, collective action, and community impact make the coworking model unique.
- The energy efficiency of buildings and workspace design is an important factor in improving sustainability, with a direct link made to improving well-being and keeping costs low.
In an era threatened by rising sea levels and unpredictably severe weather conditions, the need to take urgent action to safeguard the planet has never been more pressing.
The coworking industry appears to be making a conscious effort to implement sustainable practices for people and the planet, but what changes should individual shared workspaces adopt? We engaged with industry experts to reveal the five best sustainable practices for coworking spaces — plus the top four simple actions you can start doing right now.
1.Educate your coworking community
Having lived across the U.S. before moving to Texas and co-founding Good Coworking in Dallas, Amy King was struck by the fact that recycling wasn’t top of the agenda for Texas residents.
King organized a community tour of their local recycling consortium to learn about waste management. In response, the community ramped up their recycling efforts in the workspace and at home. Signage was introduced to the workspace to explain house rules to new members, and better waste management practices were brought into company cultures — an effect that snowballs as companies grow within the coworking space. King reflects that education can plant the seed to encourage more sustainable habits.
“Educating people is the key to making changes,” agrees Elisabeth Souquet, Climate Fresk facilitator who, along with Maxime Fazilleau, hosts “workshops in collective and citizen spaces” to raise awareness and educate people on their impact on the environment.
Our everyday choices affect the planet, from small actions like grabbing a daily coffee to using technology. Even if we think we’re making a sustainable decision, sometimes we need a reminder. Climate Fresk participants often “feel directly impacted on a personal level. It’s a huge motivation for people to change,” explains Souquet.
2.Take community action
In London, Souquet and Fazilleau have started workshopping at coworking spaces. Collaborating within a 3-hour session urges the group (who may not know one another at first) to build a shared sense of accountability. They go on to make a more conscious effort by switching off the lights, plugs, and computers in the evening.
Planning to “run on 100% renewable energy by 2030,” the Generator Hub coworking space in Exeter, U.K., also urges its community to take small actions. The community are reminded to switch off devices when not in use, and encouraged to “feel empowered when it comes to sustainability progress and choices,” explains Business Director, Liz Finnie.
The operator also informs the community of processes, and “how much water has been saved or how beneficial their composting of food waste has been, and give them choices in product offerings.” Finnie recommends “nominating a sustainability champion or leader to home down on the most important issues and how to tackle them.”
Collaboration is what makes coworking different from other working models. The community shares space and resources, including water and energy use. Consider optimizing this with the amenities you offer, for instance, you could set up a tools library so the community shares equipment with one another.
Fazilleau recommends fitting out your workspace with second-hand equipment, like computers, screens, keyboards, and printers. “You can also have dongles wired to the internet instead of WIFI,” he said. Generator Hub models this approach, free-cycling and selling “any usable office equipment and furniture items no longer needed on platforms like freecycle, gumtree, or Facebook marketplace.” It goes to show that you don’t need to purchase the latest gadget for the technology to still work.
3.Establish sustainable partnerships
Forming partnerships can do wonders for your sustainability efforts. Collaborating with Dallas’ first refillery and zero waste shop Usefull to eliminate single-use plastics has earned the workspace SUPER certification. Its sustainable mission attracts like-minded people and companies to join the Good Coworking community. The power of influencing others can create a “huge ripple effect,” said King.
Opting for refills to eliminate single-use plastics in its workspace as well, Generator Hub has “recently received a number of water saving products from South West Water to remind people to shower within recommended times, reduce the water flow of kitchen taps and check for leaky toilets,” in a bid to reduce water consumption.
Finnie said, “We work with a zero to landfill company who manage our recyclables and general waste (incineration for energy production) and now have an onsite hot composter to deal with all food waste.”
The workspace has a strict essential-only printing policy, and bans laminating, which reduces paper and plastic usage.
4.Design green buildings for greater well-being
Workspaces have control over more than just what goes on within the workspace. It’s important to also be mindful of the environmental impact of the building that you occupy. After King linked her recovery from asthma with working in a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building, Good Coworking was launched to “open a conversation between sustainability and wellness.” Research from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America suggests that “air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms.”
“Buildings can affect our health and our worth,” explains King, so it’s advisable to implement the principles of a green building. Good Coworking has windows on almost every wall to bring natural lighting in, providing natural views, and has a central green courtyard. The 450 solar panels installed on the roof were funded by one of their members. King recommends working with an environmentally conscious landlord to make some of these changes happen.
Energy efficiency reduces the amount of energy needed to heat and cool buildings. It’s key to prevent turning on the air conditioning in the summer and the heating in winter. According to the recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) report entitled Bridging the occupier-landlord gap for the future of workspace, 75% of landlords “picked energy efficiency as the most important factor to be addressed out of a range of sustainability factors.” It’s becoming “a priority for landlords and occupiers in office leasing choices.”
The ULI report recommends installing smart AI and technologies to improve energy efficiency in office buildings. At Generator Hub, they have put the lighting systems on sensors and timers “so they automatically switch off when not in use,” said Finnie.
Thanks to their landlord, Generator Hub also recently upgraded to a more energy efficient gas boiler system to improve heating efficiency and save on bills.
“We don’t use our air conditioning system (it has been decommissioned) and we only fit energy saving or low energy lighting throughout,” said Finnie. “To improve on inefficient building design we have installed window blinds to keep out or retain heat when needed, and continue to repair and draft-insulate windows where needed.”
Reducing energy consumption can be improved at the very start of a workspace operator’s journey. It’s much better to repurpose existing buildings rather than building from scratch. As a biodiversity expert, Souquet is very concerned about how new development works, removes natural habitats, and requires the manufacture and transportation of new materials.
“Restoration, renovation, and installation are key,” said Souquet.
Generator Hub occupies “a Grade II listed building that was originally designed to be a French onion warehouse,” said Finnie. Similarly, in the heart of Dallas’ old industrial neighborhood, Good Coworking “gave new life to” a refurbished 1950s warehouse. King acknowledges that there is limited stock of old buildings in the U.S., compared with the U.K. and Europe, which makes it difficult to repurpose properties in some cases.
Another common challenge in the U.S. is its car culture, which produces “around one-third of all U.S. air pollution,” according to National Geographic. Not only that, but the production and maintenance of cars, including fuel intake, is incredibly bad for the environment. The coworking ecosystem can work together to overcome this by attracting local residents to walk or cycle to your workspace, and become more of a local hub.
King believes this will happen in the area around Good Coworking, which is being largely redeveloped into a vibrant and walkable area. It will attract more service providers around the workspace too, and could attract more residents to the local neighborhood. Workspaces can facilitate active forms or travel “by installing a bike rack, showers, and lockers,” said King. Good Coworking also has a central staircase that encourages the community to walk around the workspace rather than use elevators.
Finnie agrees car transportation is a huge problem. At Generator Hub, “all of our staff either walk, cycle, use public transport or drive an electric vehicle to the office. We do have a small private car park for members and plenty of bike storage.”
Where’s the best place to start when making change?
We asked our experts: What is one simple thing that workspaces could start doing now to improve their sustainability practices?
King: Look at your hospitality functions, and make sure you’re not offering any single-use plastic in your catering and meeting rooms. Use ceramic mugs, plates, and proper cutlery. Make sure your kitchen is equipped with a dishwasher.
Souquet: Education and signage.
Fazilleau: Ban everything that’s paper use, such as printing.
Finnie: Engage with an external body that could carry out an energy audit and create a baseline carbon footprint so that targets can be made and changes implemented to start doing better for the environment and budgets.