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Green Coworking: Interview with Chris Messina and Ivan Storck or Citizen Space

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by Worldchanging San Francisco local blogger, Britt Bravo:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost half (49 percent) of the nation’s businesses are operated from home. Working from home provides amazing freedom, but with that freedom can come isolation. Community and opportunities for collaboration can be lost when it is just you sitting down to work each day.

Coworking, a group of individual entrepreneurs sharing a work space, can provide that community while also being an environmentally sustainable choice. I talked to Chris Messina of Citizen Agency and Ivan Storck of SustainableMarketing.com about their green coworking space in San Francisco, Citizen Space for the Big Vision Podcast and have posted a transcript of the interview below.

For more information about coworking, read the Coworking Community Blog, check out the Coworking wiki, join the Coworking Google Group, watch this short video, and see photos of coworking spaces in the BusinessWeek article, Where the Coffee Shop Meets the Cubicle.

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Chris Messina: My name is Chris Messina. I co-run a company called Citizen Agency with my partner Tara Hunt. We opened up Citizen Space in San Francisco in November of last year, of 2006.

I guess I got involved in coworking originally because I was working out of cafes and wanted a more collaborative, productive environment to go to and work around other people in. The green part sort of just came naturally, both by being around Ivan and finding out more about what he does, but also holding that value as well, and wanting to figure out a way to change the worklife environment so that you don't have to give up your values when you go to work.

Ivan Storck: I am Ivan Storck from SustainableWebsites.com, and SustainableMarketing.com. I got involved in green coworking, being here in Citizen Space and trying to bring some of the green values that I promote on my Internet sites into actual practice here in the work place.

The first part was realizing that I could go out and freelance and not be involved in a huge corporation anymore. That made me realize that I could bring my environmental values to my work. I think that is a big realization that you get from freelancing. When you find other people that are into the same thing, it's great, because it just helps to reinforce that and gets things moving.

Britt Bravo: What is coworking, and how can you make it green?

CM: The idea of coworking is actually a very old idea. It is simply a matter of getting people together, maybe of similar character and working in the same place. You can work for a big company, you can work for a small company, you can work for yourself. You can even be a student, or anybody who frequents cafes, or you can work from home.

The broad general idea is to no longer work all alone and so that you can be in a much more productive environment around other people. The idea was actually sort of a prototype that a friend of ours, Brad Newburg, had done in The Mission. Essentially, one day a week people would get together and they would work together. I met Brad, and I had previously worked on a project called CivicSpace, which was actually a Drupal site for organizing people.

One of the things that always struck me as being missing from that project were physical spaces where people to get together in. I mean if you are creating this organizing software for any purpose, people need a place to actually meet up, and talk and to connect and to have those face-to-face and one-on-one interactions. So I had always wanted CivicSpace to have that component.

So when I met Brad, a little while after I had left CivicSpace, it seemed like, "Hey here is someone who has already sort of had this idea and has gotten a very small example of this started. With this idea we can actually take this bigger and we can start creating our own space."

So last spring we started a space called -- at the time it was called Teh Space, but then it was renamed, after we left it, to the Hat Factory, that is still running. It's another coworking space in San Francisco. The idea of that space was to make it a much more egalitarian sort of "Kumbaya" place where everyone chipped in for the rent and made it work.

We realized that after four months of running it that you needed a little more structure and you need a little more, I guess, rules, or people to guide the existence of the space, who are really bought in the idea of making the coworking space happen, and then there are those who are clients of the space, or who come in, and are part of the community of the space, but aren't as interested in the day-to-day management of running a space, and that only makes sense.

So anyway, that's kind of where coworking came from. Since then, we've tried to really open source our practices and our processes and the things that make it work openly on a website and a wiki. As a result of that, and as a result of sort of evangelizing the idea, we've seen 50 or 60 different spaces around the world start to crop up where interested independents are seeing this model and are really excited about no longer working from home by themselves, but are actually meeting with other people and saying, "Hey, just two or three or four of us, let's get together and work regularly, even out of a cafe, and then eventually let's move into a regular space that we ourselves run and manage that is the workspace of our dreams."

IS: I can add to that. I think also it's really exciting to be involved in a space like this because since you are designing it from the beginning, you get a chance to bring your values into it and for me, the sustainability part of it is really important.

I strongly believe in the triple bottom line -- which is people, planet, and profit. That for me is a truer definition of sustainability than just being an environmentalist. I don't think you can get to the part where you work on the green stuff if your people aren't happy.

So I think the primary focus is to create a very collaborative, creative environment where people can really get stuff done. Also since we're doing it from scratch, to make sure that the green things are built in as much as possible from the beginning. And that we can share ways of doing green things, even on a budget while you're getting started, because you don't have to spend a lot of extra money to be green. You can even save your money. It has already saved us money on our energy costs.

BB: What are some of the things you've done in the space to green it?

IS: From the beginning Chris and Tara purchased compact flourescent light bulbs, which are CFLs. They're energy saving light bulbs that last forever. We just had a little mini energy audit and we realized that our electricity bill is very low for the space that we have. They are the primary factor for that because we know that the computers use a lot of energy. We have a list of other stuff. Chris can talk about the floors.

CM: So when we moved into our space, it was actually previously a carpenter shop. The guy who was basically using it to make furniture and things like that. So when we first came to the place, we were actually kind of shocked at the condition that it was in.

We were like, "Well, I don't know if this can work, but we see the potential here. It's in a really great location, being close to downtown, and it also is something that we can really fix up and put a lot of effort into and make it our own." So that's what we did, and we worked with the landlord, David, who has been really supportive of us, and worked with him to find and source renewable bamboo flooring -- not only was it super cheap,which was surprising, but it is also sustainable. I mean, bamboo grows like grass, so that was really good.

Then we've done what we can to really just make sure that we're using fewer and fewer throwaway paper supplies, using mugs and things like that, dish ware. Then, as Ivan mentioned, the lighting, but we also have a low flush toilet and various things like that.

So these are all pieces that -- some of which already were here, other things we decided very explicitly, when we had the choice, to make sure that we did the right thing and so on. It's also good because where Tara and I live is just down the street, and so we're saving a lot just in terms of commuting, whereas before Tara worked previously in Redwood City and I had worked in Mountain View and in Palo Alto for a while. Not having to rely on transit to get there and back and forth I think helps as well.

IS: A big part of where we've gotten our inspiration and help has been the Bay Area Green Business Program. We're lucky to have that here in the Bay Area. The cities and counties around the Bay run this program, and they provide you with a checklist. They have this one that is specific for offices, and it's full of ideas that you can implement.

One of the things that we've done is to actually put that checklist up on our wiki, online, so that anyone involved in the space can go in and edit it and write down an idea or check off something that they've done. It makes it more of a collaborative process, and also makes it possible for us to work on it, to pick it up one day of the week and then leave it, to just pick it up when we have time to work on it.

It definitely has been a little bit of a challenge to work on because it's not billable work. But it is one of our long term goals to get Green Business Certified. I believe it will happen this summer, so we are actually making progress on it. A lot of the stuff is really easy to do.

CM: There are some other things that we will be doing that aren't currently done. This is sort of an ongoing greening process. It isn't the kind of thing where you just take three steps and you're done. It's actually something you have to remain vigilant to.

We have back bay windows that go out and, unfortunately, look over the highway. But, as it is, they are single pane, so not only do we lose a lot of heat there, but there's a lot of noise and things like that. What we're going to be doing is replace those with dual pane glass, and that'll provide extra insulation in the winter when it's cold and we have the heaters running, because we don't have central heat, and it'll also dampen the noise and just make the space a little bit more friendly.

We're also going to be installing ceiling fans in the main area of the space, so that, especially during the winter, which we just went through, and it was actually pretty cold, the heat from our heaters, our electric heaters that we use, will actually be kept forced down, where people are, as opposed to just rising to the top and heating the ceiling.

IS: We're also using Energy Star compliant electronic devices. That's actually really easy to do. Almost anything of good quality that you buy now is Energy Star, but it does help with the Green Business Certification here in the Bay Area. There's also the EPA's Energy Star Partner program that you can apply to be a part of and get a recognition from the EPA.

That actually is fairly easy for small businesses to be a part of, so I encourage people to look on the EPA site to check that out. Just being a web-enabled company is a big part of saving resources, like paper. You can actually see our Green Business checklist online if you go to citizenspace.us and then click on the wiki.

You can see that a lot of the office requirements for the Green Business program are about reducing paper, not making copies when it's not necessary, and using things like the wiki and the blog, and stuff that we think of naturally being web companies, actually really makes a big difference in the amount of paper that we use.

Also using two monitors is a great way of saving paper. Almost all of us here are set up with the laptop screen and the main monitor. It allows you to put documentation on one side of the monitor, and also do your work on the main screen. So it is another way of saving paper. There's actually about a hundred different suggestions in this checklist and we've probably done about thirty or forty of them now. We're almost basically certified. We just haven't finished every single area.

CM: This is sort of basic and could fall into some of the logistics, but we have three types of trash that we gather. One is, obviously, just regular trash--stuff that is, unfortunately, not recyclable, or reusable. Another is the recycling itself, which is normal. And then we have compost -- so that is a service that, I think, we have to pay a little extra for, but it's very minimal on a monthly basis.

We are able to make sure that food extras and things like that are done away with in a proper way. I think that you have to check locally to see whether or not your area provides services for that, but it's something that you could do locally as well. For example, we have a few plants, not a lot of plants in here, but we do have coffee grinds or things like that we're able to use as sort of a fertilizer internally.

BB: What are the benefits of green coworking?

IS: The primary one, as I said, is on the people side of people, planet and profit, although in terms of profit, we're definitely saving money every month on our energy bill, but people-wise it has been an incredibly collaborative space.

Everything from being able to hang up the phone and say, "Oh that was such a bad client call," and being able to commiserate with someone, just to have that emotional support, but also to have some really creative ideas, and flow of ideas going back and forth between everyone that's here and all the visitors that come through.

It's been really inspiring and we've had visitors say that being here in the space, interacting with just maybe three or four people, is more inspiring than being at a web conference for the entire week. When someone says something like that about your space, it just really brings a smile to you.

CM: I would agree with Ivan. I think that the personal interactions are really the fundamental benefit of getting involved in any kind of coworking thing, but it also, for me, is a really important piece of my independence from working at another place, or working for someone else. The people of the space really do have a lot of influence and can add a lot of benefit. I mean it is their space as much as it's ours so when someone has an idea, it really is up to them to kind of add that piece to it.

Rather than working out of cafes for as long as I did, being able to come into a coworking environment where I can influence what goes on, I can have events when I want to, we can bring in trainers and things like that, even just suggestions to see what's possible, means that we're getting a lot more out of our work environment, our space, then for example if we were just working out of our living room -- which we did for a long time -- where you just, you can invite people over for dinner, but I wouldn't want to have 40 people there as part of a training or seminar.

So there's that part of it, the local, personal interaction that you get. There is the shared creativity. But I think what we've seen, because of the way that we've gone about organizing the coworking community, is there's a much broader impact and a wider community to actually draw from.

There are people literally all over the world in cities all over the place where we're able to show up. And not only do we get a tour of the local environment, but we have a place to work where we can just meet really interesting people and continue the experience that we've had here.

For example, Tara and I went to Vancouver this past weekend and we spent time at the workspace there. We had a little board room and we had desks to work out of, and it was really productive . It allowed us to sort of escape for the weekend, to be in a new environment, and yet to never really lose a beat.

There are coworking spaces being started up in Europe and even I think in -- I'm not sure if it has hit Africa yet, but I know that, especially all across U.S. and Canada, there are coworking spaces being started up almost every weekend.

That just suggests that there is a real desire for people to get together and work together, people who are finding themselves working from home and are feeling alienated. Or just spending too much time locked in the den or locked in the bedroom or something, when they really could benefit from being out and about with other folks.

BB: Who are the kinds of people who are getting involved with coworking?

CM: You know, I think actually the people who are attracted to coworking varies greatly. I think so far it's similar to the BarCamp event model where it started out as being a lot of geeks and people online, because it spread through online vehicles.

But now, and I think more into the future, we're going to see a lot of other people who maybe don't call the Internet home, but are either familiar with that, or who friends who are into that, and can hook them up, because they want to see a local community emerge of independent workers.

So we've seen a lot of people actually in Berkeley. A number of disparate groups, kind of slowly finding each other and getting together because they want to be able to work out of their homes and neighborhoods. They don't want to have to travel either into the city or an hour away.

Where a lot of people are able to telecommute now, or just work from home generally, rather than doing the work from home -- which is again sort of an alienating, disempowered feeling -- getting together and sharing resources and sharing knowledge and sharing experiences is really I think validating and rewarding. It gives you an incentive to actually show up and go to work and feel good about it.

So while it's starting out again now with people who are online, I think we are starting to see the trend migrate outwards into other communities -- whether it's artists, writers--I've heard about some lawyers actually, and I guess other folks who can do a lot of their work online.

BB: Can you talk about how your space works?

CM: To get into the nuts and bolts a little bit of how the space works, right now we have three different ways of getting involved in Citizen Space in particular. Every coworking space is little bit different, but we are trying to work on bridges between coworking spaces so that if you're a member at one, you can actually show up at another one and sit down and start working. Whether if it's a low fee or no fee or whatever.

As Citizen Space the way that we work it is that we have a monthly subscription rate. If you're a "month-er", you get a desk and you get a key, and that's $350.00 a month. So you essentially can bring in a monitor, you can leave your documentation, you can leave your stuff. You bring in a seat and you've got a little workspace.

We recently created a second model to meet additional demand, and also to extend the size of our coworking community here. It's called "coworking lite," and that allows people to get keys, but without a permanent desk. So it's kind of like a hot desk kind of situation where we have space in the back where people can come in and work.

It's a little less expensive, and a little less of an investment, but you can come in whenever you want to. So if you happen to be someone who works at 6:00 a.m., when most of us don't, you can get a key and basically know that you're going to be able to come in and have a seat.

The third is probably the best way to get involved, and that's the free -- well I won't call them the "free rider", but the idea is that it's both beneficial to the folks who can come in, spend an hour or two, maybe even once a month or once a week or whatever, and just are looking for a random space to sit in, that's an alternative to cafes. It's also a benefit to the renters to have interesting new people coming in, keeping the space fresh, keeping new ideas flowing and so on.

You essentially can come in whenever there is a renter here who has opened up the space. So there's no guarantee that the space is going to be open, which is different than a cafe. But we give a lot of different opportunities for people to contact us whether it's through our website or through Twitter or through anything like that so that if you want to stop by and spend an hour or two, you can do so. You can know with some assurance whether or not someone will be there to let you in.

IS: I think that the "coworking lite" plan really just captures the ethos of what Citizen Space, and other coworking environments are about. I mean it's really heavily influenced by the open source community and the ethos of sharing. That fits in so well with sustainability, because it's making the best use of limited resources -- and actually making better use of limited resources to create something that you wouldn't normally have if you just had resources that were used by just one person or one group.

BB: What are some of the challenges?

CM: I think some of the challenges revolve around some of the business stuff. Personally, my background isn't really business or finance, so that's been an interesting challenge. Tara and I run a consulting company, and either way we'd have to get an office for our business.

What we decided to do was rather than just have an office that is for ourselves, and make limited usage of a scarce resource, we decided we'd have an office, but we'd open it up for other companies and individuals who previously were in our situation of working from home, working out of cafes. And we'd provide this as a resource.

As such we're not really breaking even quite yet on the space. In fact it's costing us some money, but we figure that if we had an office space all our own, we'd be eating the entire cost without the social benefits and without meeting our triple bottom line either.

So the cost, the investment we make in the space, doesn't come back as a money-making venture right now. But as well, we are in a position that we don't have to be making money for it to work. Finding a sustainable business model from a business perspective, and one that is generalizable for other spaces, is something that we like to do and a challenge that is put to the entire coworking community. I'm pretty optimistic that we'll come up with something and some way to actually share in each other's resources and extend the network, maybe along the lines of a Zipcar model or something like that.

I think for the most part it's been a really good experience. You're going to have the occasional setbacks and the occasional questions about how to handle things and what to do, but given that our attitude so far is that we are running this kind of as an experiment - and there are really no wrong answers, the best we can do is to fail lightly and just keep moving on . As such if we can learn from those things and share our experiences with other people, who are also trying to start their spaces, that sets the model for other people to in turn share what they've learned.

As Ivan said, it's very much applying the open source model and principles to a real-life situation, and that's something that I think is really exciting. So far I don't think there's been too many bad challenges.

The one thing that we have done, that's been an interesting challenge -- I mean this is not unexpected -- we run community centered events in our space. We're a little bit judicious about the ones we let in; we don't just allow any events to come in. But there have been occasions where people have--and before we weren't charging anything for hosting events in our space because we felt it was a community resource to be shared--There was one event in particular that sort of left a mess and weren't as respectful of the space, given that it was free, as we had hoped. So we talked with the organizer, who didn't quite understand the ethos of the space. So we had to ask him not to return with his group.

But in other situations where there have been questions about how we run the space, and the cost to us and so on, I think that we've worked it out, and helped people to understand where we are coming from, why we make the space available, what it costs us to do it -- more in terms of effort and attention and stress than in terms of dollars. When that is made known and people understand that we are doing this as independents, I think that there is sort of a mutual understanding.

IS: I think also it's been such a social space it's been really fun, but also we have had to remind ourselves that it is a working space, it's an office first. I don't think we've really crossed that line but maybe we've come close. It's a challenge.

It's not a hard challenge, it's kind of fun, because we do enjoy ourselves here. This is one of the places I really look forward to coming to, and I don't think I've ever really felt that about a work space before. But we definitely have to remind ourselves that this is an office and we want to have times for productivity as well as welcoming the community, too.

BB: What do you think is the future of co-working?

IS: I think what people have realized this time, or this year, finally, is that sustainability is an integral part of running a company. It's not just another marketing effort; it's actually a core part of operations and competitive advantage. We feel the same way here -- that we're always going to have the sustainability element of what we do, whether that's on the people side or on the planet side, and of course the profit side too would be nice.

So, it's continuing to meet the certification requirements of our local green business program, continuing to communicate what we're doing to others, so that they can copy our model, and not have to reinvent the wheel on their own. Even if they don't have local certification, they can take ideas from what we're doing. A lot of what we're doing is equally applicable anywhere else, and easy to adopt and take pieces from, just ones that will apply to any other co-working space.

CM: So I guess I see a couple things. One is that I see more people ending up in the situation of working on their own, working for themselves, and wanting to find an alternative to just cafes. I mean, I love working out of cafes, and I think cafes are great, but they're not great for everything. Eventually what we've found is that they're not really great for the individual who is working out of the cafes, or the cafes themselves.

In fact, I talked to my friend Eileen, who runs Ritual Roasters in The Mission, and she gave me a really interesting figure, that in I think it was on a monthly basis, to operate one power plug in the wall of the cafe was costing her up to four hundred dollars a month. And she had like, you know, five or six different outlets.

So you can imagine how much that's costing the cafes and how much they're trying to figure out, "Well, what do we do about this? Because clearly, these are, our patrons, they're coming and they're buying coffee and so on, but then they're staying for five to six hours, on a three to five dollar drink, and that's not really working for us."

Meanwhile, the web warriors, the web workers, are trying to figure out and are trying to come to grips with, what is their roost; what is their place, you know? Can they keep going to these cafes if it's not working for the cafes, and furthermore, are the cafes providing the kind of environment in which they can thrive?

The more that coworking gets out there and the more we establish models that will work for other people and in fact, establish even alternative forms of this. . . . The folks in New York came up with this idea called Jelly, and the folks in Philly came up with a similar thing called The Cream Cheese Sessions, I think, it's all around food.

The idea is actually instead of just getting a physical space and an office space, to find someone's home, and work there for a day a week. So, they'll say, "Let's go meet up at Amit's house on Wednesday afternoon and we'll spend six hours, just working amongst each other." It's a social thing, and you know, in New York it's really expensive to find spaces, and so that works for them.

What I see happening in Philadelphia, where our friend Alex Hillman is putting these things together, he's able to get people together, even if it's out of Panera or something, for these Cream Cheese Sessions, and drum up interest, to the point where people will say, "Well, why are we going to Panera all the time? You know, this isn't our space, we can't really run it the way that we want to. We can't have events and meetings here. Why don't we take this group and branch off and get our own space?" And so I see that those small efforts run locally to gather interest are really important to what I call, "the life cycle of co-working."

So that's, I guess, how I see this sort of playing out, and really giving people an option, and a choice in the kind of work environment that they find themselves in.

In terms of green coworking, and the greening of the independent, in general, what I'd like to see over the next coming years is more and more knowledge given back to the individual about their green and environmental impact. One of the things that we'd like to do, and that we're working on with coworking is, Ivan and I, and some other folks who have talked about this idea, have talked about a green API.

What we're going to be doing actually, one thing that we didn't mention, is that we're going to be doing carbon offsetting, if not already, for our space. So essentially, for all the power we consume, we're going to be putting back an equal amount of solar, wind, or whatever other types of power, onto the grid, to offset our consumption.

What we'd like to do is to extend that model, into almost anything, into web services in particular, so if we're using applications like Blinksale or Basecamp, that those folks can add an additional charge, which probably is actually pennies per month -- but you know, even a dollar a month would make a huge difference.

To offset our usage of these services, so that essentially not only are we being green locally, but we are being green in the services that we touch online. Over the long term, this kind of idea is such that we'd be able to run statistics on ourselves, to see what our impact is, and to see what more we can do as individuals in our work environments, in our practices, and just the things that we can do to continue to make a local difference.

IS: I think the carbon offsets are definitely a great idea, and they're a very powerful means of having an easy impact on getting your ecological footprint to be smaller - for the individual, and for the space, and for companies. It's going to expand over the next five years, to not only being able to offset your impact, but to actually come up with ways of measuring your ecological footprint, and working on ways of just reducing that off the bat, rather than just being able to offset it.

So, offsets are really the first step. They're the easy step we can do right now; but once we have systematic and web-enabled ways of calculating your ecological footprint, we can offer that to people that are in the spaces, other companies, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of those methods being available.

CM: I guess, one of the things I do want to see happen as coworking builds itself out--in terms of this generation of coworking, it's only about a year old, or a little bit older than a year--as I've tried to do with BarCamp and making diversity, especially gender diversity at conferences, be a big issue that BarCamp attempts to at least address and to open awareness to, I would like coworking to sort of do the same for the environmental impact of a workspace.

And so, green coworking is that; is our effort to come up with a name and an idea, and a way for people to identify, Well, what kind of space do you want to work in? Do you want to work in a big corporate office with a bunch of cubes, or do you want to work in a green, coworking space?

And, hopefully coworking becomes somewhat synonymous with green working and so on. We are, as Ivan said, somewhat at the beginning stages of that, but I do think that even simple things like the carbon offset program is a way to just get people thinking of those things, first and foremost, almost to have an instinct to ask questions like, "What's the impact of this? Should I really buy this equipment or should I buy something else?" And furthermore, "What resources are the coworking community providing, or showing me, that will help me make better green decisions?" Because other people are invested in this problem as well.

IS: It's kind of like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Once you start measuring your impact, you really start thinking about it and it has an immediate impact, because all of a sudden you realize all of these things that are really pretty easy that you can be doing to reduce your impact and to lower the price of the carbon offsets that you'll need to purchase.

Britt: If a listener wants to start or join a coworking space, what should they do?

CM: The first thing to do is to check out the blog/wiki, and you can find those things at coworking.info, or wiki.coworking.info. That's essentially where our web resources are, and once you're there, I'd strongly encourage anyone to join our coworking group. It's a Google group. It's very easy to join, and to get involved with, and there are a lot of supportive people on it. A couple of months ago when we checked, it was about 500 people, but there's probably more now on it. These are people around the world who are trying to get places started up.

So, the first step really, is to get on the list, ask other people, "Hey, is there anybody in my area who is trying to start up a coworking space?" Because, you know, more often than not, there oftentimes is.

The second step, if no one is there, or if you do find other people who are interested, but haven't actually put a stake in the ground, is to go to the wiki, and create a page, usually named after your location. So for example, you'd have, "CoworkingBoston," or "CoworkingSanFrancisco," all in what is called CamelCase.

And that becomes your organizing point where you can devote your resources, you can send people to, you can link to it, you use like "CoworkingBoston" as your tag if you're blogging about things, to get people interested and find out about what you're doing, and just become part of the community.

I think that's a really important aspect to it because even if you're in, for example DC, you might find that there's a space being started up in Virginia that's close enough by, or you can cross the border and work there.

If starting a full space is either beyond your budget or beyond your available time resources at the moment, there's no reason why you can't do some of those smaller type of community gatherings or even just organize a local event.

It took us about four to six months to get the original Hat Factory off the ground. It was actually a really passive type thing because Tara and I were mostly working out of our living room. We'd just walk around downtown and I would take digital photos of "For sale" or "For rent" signs in offices and I would post them to Flickr. We'd get together, actually at Ritual Roasters, and have meet ups to talk about starting a space.

We had a very small mailing group to get things started off. So it was really, really basic. You don't start with a full on space and start renting right away, I mean, that's beyond what you need to do, but you can start with just finding other people.

I think that looking at that as being the ultimate goal, and not just getting a space, but getting people together, is what you should look at. As well, BarCamps have been really influential if you want to run your own event, to find people in your area. That's what they did in Philadelphia, and that really spawned a lot of interest, and they are now creating a space that can support the BarCamp community in an everyday sense. So that's where that's coming from. Just let people know -- and I think the easiest way is through the mailing list -- and then they'll find you and you can go from there.

BB: And how can they start making their space green?

IS: Well, the three most basic things are energy, water and waste. If you started thinking about things that way, it is a good way to get started. Energy in an office environment usually means lighting and computers. So compact flourescent light bulbs and Energy Star certified equipment and you're well on your way.

Water usually means in an office environment, the toilet. So if you don't already have a low flow toilet -- which you might, because we discovered that we already had one; it was already in the code for San Francisco, for the city. So you can take advantage of maybe installing a new toilet or any other device that uses a lot of water. Waste is a big one definitely, if you're not doing a recycling program, get that started and think about composting too.

CM: The one last resource that I would point out is to take a look at an organization called Freecycle. We've recently started working with them and they basically provide -- they're sort of an alternative to Craigslist-- it's locally run people getting together and swapping free stuff.

If you're going to start a space, there's no better way of doing that "reuse, recycle" thing than actually to reuse stuff that's already out there. Going to your local business bureau, or any municipal organization that can point you to companies or businesses that are either getting rid of all their old desks, or that are going bankrupt, or whatever it is. There are going to be people out there that have stuff that you don't need to buy new necessarily to get started.

In fact, the Hat Factory was totally furnished by mostly other Valley startups that were upgrading their offices and were going to just get rid of all their stuff. Also don't put the cost of buying new things and great things in your way. I mean people just want a nice place to work, they don't need to have Aeron chairs. We like to say that we furnished our entire space for the cost of two Aeron chairs, or something like that. Both IKEA and Freecycle and Craigslist can go a long way towards helping you just getting started on a threadbare basis.

IS: Really, just do it. Just get people together, get people talking about it. We're not talking about rocket science here; we're talking about just getting people together and working together and sharing.

CM: There's also just a whole community of support that will help you get started. I think that the barriers to getting going are so much less today than they have been. It is a natural evolution, I think, of the workspace environment.

Britt Bravo also blogs at Have Fun * Do Good, NetSquared and BlogHer.

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Comments

Thanks for the article on our space and how we are trying to keep it green. Chris didn't mention this, but we are 99% paper free, too. Not the space as we can't keep track of others use, but Citizen Agency, the company Chris and I actually make money at (to support our community projects like Citizen Space), is. The only times we have to print is for online check-in airline and stupid government forms.

Oh...and I think you have a type-o in the title it should be:

Green Coworking: Interview with Chris Messina and Ivan Storck OF Citizen Space (not or Citizen Space)


Posted by: Tara Hunt on 7 Jul 07



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