One of the central tenets of green building is the conservation of finite resources. One resource that’s often overlooked but certainly worth conserving is physical space. Efforts to reduce the amount of space we use coincides with a growing trend in commercial real estate: coworking facilities.
“Everyone knows that sustainability is a three-pointed triangle: people, profit and planet,” said Lois Vitt Sale, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer at Wight & Co. “And what’s really relevant about the sustainable connection in these types of coworking facilities is people—putting people central.”
The first crop of coworking facilities delivered what they promised—shared offices and conference rooms—but they were faceless and rather utilitarian. Today’s flexible spaces attempt to create more of a cooperative vibe.
“What’s different about these next generation coworking facilities is that there’s a common purpose in these spaces, and there’s a sense of community and collaboration. Community in every sense is a huge part of sustainability,” said Vitt Sale. “We think of resource efficiency in sustainability in terms of saving energy and saving water. Upstream of that is shared facilities. Not having to have every one of these buildings build their infrastructure that’s required, but being able to share those resources is huge.”
TechNexus is an incubator and venture capital firm founded in 2007. Startups who work with TechNexus are fast-growing tech companies working on bleeding-edge technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence.
The company contracted Wight & Company to design its new offices which occupy a full floor within the historic Lyric Opera Building. The facility enables true collaboration with permanent and temporary offices as well as meeting space that can accommodate up to 400 entrepreneurs.
Spaces like TechNexus are billed as a cost-saving measure for fledgling firms looking to reduce overhead and focus on product development. But the obvious side benefit is the sustainability that comes with a handful of companies sharing offices, conference rooms, copy machines and other resources rather than creating separate spaces where all of that is duplicated.
Coworking spaces are the disruptors of the commercial real estate industry right now. And according to Marcus Moufarrige, chief operating officer of Servcorp, the benefits inherent in them should soon spread out to other buildings and spaces.
“Flexible workspace is essentially a part of the sharing economy,” Moufarrige said. “Servcorp was founded on the fact that it was cheaper, more efficient and more productive to share the workspace, to share the humans who service the workspace and to share the infrastructure that services that workspace as well.”
Based in Australia and with offices around the globe, Servcorp serves a different clientele of coworking spaces. Unlike facilities like WeWork or Regus that are more reliant on young startups, Servcorp’s clients are between 35 and 55 years old and have been in business for more than five years.
Roughly half of the users are branches of multinational organizations looking for a marquee address. That’s Servcorp’s main demographic, as they locate in Class A trophy buildings, such as the newest of their three Chicago locations in River Point at 444 W. Lake Street.
“It used to be that having a great address in a commercial building and sustainability were diametrically opposed,” said Moufarrige. The idea behind Servcorp is that a company can have a global reach without having to create a footprint in each individual market, taking up needless space.
A typical commercial office building massively duplicates the various infrastructure and systems that run through it. Moufarrige believes that his company’s approach, reducing these redundancies, hasn’t been taken far enough in larger real estate buildings.
“While it might meet green standards in terms of HVAC and lighting and the things that service the common areas in a building, is the building focused on the most productive use of space? And is the building focused on providing services that reduce duplication in the building?” Moufarrige said. “On every single floor in this building, the tenants will have installed IT infrastructure, which is completely redundant and unnecessary and identical on every floor, despite what any IT guy will tell you.”
A better approach, he believes, is to have more systems built into a high-rise. This includes information infrastructure. Servcorp has 155 floors of offices under control in major cities around the world—all of which are served by cloud-based hubs in Atlanta, Dubai, Singapore, Tokyo and Sydney.
“Would it not be better to create an environment like we’ve created, to maximize the utilization of technology and the resources available for the landlord as part of the real estate service?” Moufarrige said.
A new trend that River Point takes advantage of is to build conference facilities into the building that tenants have access to. By offering meeting spaces as a building amenity, a tenant can lease less space. But because of that amenity, the building owner can demand a higher rent per square foot, making it a win-win situation.
Most coworking spaces operate on the principal that just about any professional with a laptop can drop in and perform their task at hand. But what if your line of work isn’t confined to a generic office environment?
The Hatchery is a new food business incubator in the East Garfield Park neighborhood designed by Wight & Co. The 67,000-square-foot facility broke ground last October and should be open for business by the end of this year. Whereas white collar office workers can benefit from sharing conference rooms and fax machines, users of The Hatchery will share kitchens and stand-up mixers.
“The Hatchery is sustainable and a model that’s geared for success because it’s a common purpose,” Vitt Sale said. “If you didn’t have a common purpose in this building, it wouldn’t work necessarily.”
There will be 56 kitchens at The Hatchery in a variety of sizes. Electricity will be fed overhead and gas and water have been designed for ease of flexibility, allowing the kitchen space to be reconfigured as needed. If an incubator business in The Hatchery were to outgrow its space, it can move to a larger kitchen or even combine kitchens for maximum utility.
Flexible workspaces continue to evolve. But the central theme of shared resources is one that can be carried over to other, traditional work environments.