Coworking Business Tips

How coworking spaces can use energy data to uncover big savings

"Sustainability is, by definition, doing more with less,” said Alex Lassiter, Founder and CEO of GreenPlaces. “So creating more value with fewer resources is something we see with coworking spaces all the time." 

Lassiter and Jess Porta, GreenPlaces Director of Operations, joined Coworks CEO DeShawn Brown for a conversation around sustainability and coworking operations. 

Watch the full interview of Coworks and GreenPlaces.

Why sustainability even matters

Sustainability has become an increasingly important focus in commercial real estate. According to a survey by Altus Group, nearly 70% of commercial real estate investors say environmental sustainability is impacting their investment strategy. Sustainable "green" buildings provide substantial benefits for owners, tenants, and the community.

Green certified buildings have been shown to command rental rates that are roughly 3% higher per square foot than similar non-certified buildings (source: 2021 Dodge Construction Green Outlook report). Tenants are drawn to the energy and water savings, which lower operational costs by an average of 8-9% annually (source: U.S. Department of Energy). Green buildings also have higher occupancy rates according to a study by the Institute for Market Transformation, which found LEED and ENERGY STAR certified buildings had occupancy rates around 10% higher than conventional buildings.

Green buildings positively impact the health, wellbeing, and productivity of occupants. In a survey by Dodge Data & Analytics, over 65% of tenants say sustainability factors impact their leasing decisions. Features like access to daylight, better ventilation and indoor air quality, and use of nontoxic materials matter more than ever post-COVID (source: Deloitte 2021 Commercial Real Estate Outlook). 

To certify as a green building, properties can pursue certifications like LEED, EnergyStar, and WELL Building Standard. WELL focuses on health and wellness elements and has been linked to reduced absenteeism according to research published in Building and Environment Journal. More than 5,300 projects are WELL certified globally (source: International WELL Building Institute).

Meanwhile, a B Corp certification measures a company's entire social and environmental performance. While not real estate specific, many property owners and managers like CBRE and JLL pursue B Corp status. B Corps commit to goals like carbon neutrality and are legally obligated to consider employee, community, and environmental interests alongside shareholders.

The myth that it costs more to be efficient

There is a popular misconception that sustainability initiatives are just nice-to-haves or cost centers — available only to behemoth brands like Meta, Starbucks, and Google. But the truth is, sustainability aligns with profitability goals of most businesses, especially coworking operations. 

Brown noted, "there's this weird, paradoxical conception of sustainability that it's going to cost more. So even though I know it's maybe the right thing to do, I can't commit the funds to it, making it a cost center. But really, owners and operators need to shift that mindset to know this is actually a long term investment into operational efficiency. It's actually a profit center.

How exactly does sustainability drive efficiencies and cost savings for coworking spaces? Here are some examples that Lassiter and Porta mentioned:

  • By getting visibility into utility usage data and benchmarking against peers, coworking operators discovered 6-figure savings opportunities from things like overactive HVAC systems. Just optimizing thermostat temperatures saved tens of thousands in one case.
  • One coworking space found they were paying for 10 times the waste pickups of comparable locations, costing an extra $75,000 a year because a neighbor's trash was being picked up with theirs. 
  • Little tweaks like moving printers out of individual offices reduces paper waste substantially. Turns out people are less likely to hit print when they have to walk to the printer.
  • Shared resources inherent to coworking like communal printers, kitchens, and conference rooms mean less duplication of underutilized resources.

As Jess Porta, Director of Operations for GreenPlaces noted, "If you told me that that overactive HVAC unit or air conditioner, cost you $10,000 This year you might say ooh, we could actually make a better experience for our tenants and save money." The takeaway is that sustainability is not just about being eco-friendly — it's about "operating smarter.”.

The unique challenges faced by coworking spaces

“Community managers often don't have experience in property management,” Porta explained.. And as a former community manager and coworking space director herself, Porta spoke from experience. “They tend to be lean, focusing their efforts on sales and member experience.”

Coworks already tries to alleviate the various responsibilities that fall on a community manager’s plate with software automation and optimization. "We built our platform to automate as much as possible so that you're saving time and saving money — not having to hire a 12 person staff to do things software is good at," said Brown.

This makes it hard to prioritize sustainability. As Porta noted, "When you're a community manager, you're in survival mode here. You're just trying to get all the things on your plate done. You're just trying to sell office suites, you're just trying to get the bills paid so you can make those small margins. You do not have time to do the above and beyond stuff like sustainability."  

However, the inherent shared resources model of coworking lends itself well to sustainability since the baseline footprint is lower. Brown said, "I believe coworking is, by definition, a step towards being more sustainable for larger companies. Instead of having a central office for your employees, you have a shared space, shared offices, conference rooms, shared amenities."

The takeaway is that while sustainability may not be top priority for many coworking spaces today, the fundamentals of coworking actually align very well with many sustainability best practices. It's about identifying quick wins that also enhance profitability.

What data you need to get started

Lassiter explained how GreenPlaces works. "When we sit down with a business we say, look, this is sustainability data. So you've got your electricity information. You've got your water information that's both water in and water out. You've got your natural gas for heating, you've got waste, which is both the amount that you produce, where it goes and how much you're picking up."

By getting visibility into all these areas and comparing against other similar coworking spaces, the opportunities for savings become clear. As Lassiter noted, "If I told you that that an overactive HVA unit or air conditioner is costing you an extra $10,000, and your conference rooms are freezing, you have incentive to make a better experience for your tenants and save money."

Porta emphasized that operators have to start with measurement and data, because, "if you don't measure, you have absolutely no idea what's working, what isn't." She advised that community managers be proactive about getting utility data now, because, "at some point some member will be like, hey, I need your electricity bills and gas bills for the coworking space, along with my square footage for the last year. And you're going to be scrambling and emailing your landlord like, can I get all this data?"

The fact is that data and benchmarking illuminate the real opportunities. “Knowledge is really power.”

How do you know how efficient your space is if you can’t benchmark? That’s where GreenPaces comes in. The platform is also designed to identify anomalies in your billing, as well as rebate programs in which you can put more money back in your pocket.

In an upcoming partnership, Coworks users will be able to benchmark their utilities against their own portfolio, if they have one, and among other spaces. 

Watch the full interview for all the actionable takeaways and to learn more about GreenPlaces.

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