This post is part 1 of a 5 part series exploring the 5 core values of coworking: Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility, and Sustainability.
As a reminder, the coworking community rallied and bought coworking.com so that we’d have a place that tied the word “coworking” to the core values of coworking. These values originated with CitizenSpace, and have been interpreted by dozens of coworking spaces around the world.
I’m noticing that coworking core values aren’t even on the radar of most of the newest coworking spaces opening around the world, so I’m hoping that by taking some time to riff on each one, they might get some visibility and be considered an important element to keeping the movement alive as more than a trend.
This first post focuses on the value of sustainability. Sustainability is a loaded word, with lots of connotations.
The most obvious are the “green” effects of coworking. Resource sharing is inherently green, as is commute reduction. While I consider these elements relatively superficial, that’s not to downplay their importance. But the reality is that, in a modern society, does “being a responsible eco-citizen” belong in the list of top line core values? Efficiency is a benefit, but not a core value. Striving for efficiency is a good goal, but it’s not a core value.
That is to say: if you’re NOT considering the environment you inhabit, the other effects and values really don’t matter that much.
So if sustainability doesn’t mean “going green”, what does it mean?
Sustainability, in my mind, is about making sure that whatever you’re doing can be done for as long as it needs to be done. In less vague terms: are you building your community, your coworking space, your infrastructure, and your business models in a way that they aren’t dependent on outside resources to persist, to grow, and to flourish.
A Farmer Once Told Me
I had the pleasure of seeing Joel Salatin speak at TEDxMidAtlantic in 2009, and remember being struck by what this farmer had to say. I highly recommend his 15 minute talk.
A community that can feed itself is free. A community that cannot feed itself is not. It's that simple.— Joel Salatin (@JoelSalatin) July 25, 2011
In the early days of Indy Hall, Geoff and I were talking about how to take the momentum we’d built and turn it into the coworking space that everybody wanted. One of the important insights Geoff drove home was to make sure that we’d be able to sustain ourselves – our membership should be able to cover our costs as well as provide room for growth – or else it wasn’t worth building the infrastructure to help that community grow.
We looked at for profit and non-profit models, and determined that in order for us to persist, for us to be sustainable, being a for-profit business provided for us most efficiently. We could stay lightweight and agile, but still remain benevolent and community focused. Most importantly, we would grow in a way that was dependent on no one except for the people who benefitted from the resources we could rally.
This is a perfect balance for us, and continues to be as we’ve grown over nearly 4 years.
As long as they need us, we’re sustainable and independent. When they no longer need us as we exist today, we’ve either already morphed into what they need, or the business ends. And that’s okay.
Joel’s tweet above is about food. But if you read past the fact that he’s talking about food, what he’s really talking about is nourishment.
A community that isn’t able to nourish itself lives in dependency of whomever is providing for it, and therefore is not only not free, but not sustainable.
The end of life is dependent on the source more than on the needs of the community.
Conversely, a community that is able to provide for itself doesn’t exclude itself from external sources of nourishment – but it is free, sustainable, and independent.
The people and businesses we support will live as our reflections
I firmly believe that the longer a coworking space is able to do what it does best, the healthier the people and businesses who work from it will be.
- The understanding identity, of who you are (not just who you aren’t).
- The support network for growth.
- The open and honest exchange of information and ideas.
- The humility taught by not having to be the smartest kid in the room.
- The reintroduction of the natural relationship formation into business deal workflow.
These are all things that are necessary to “heal the world”, just as much as the elements of “going green” are.
If we’re healing the planet for people who aren’t living and working sustainably, what’s the point?
Want more? Here are my other essays on the core values: Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility, and Sustainability
To the comments!
This is my perspective on sustainability as it pertains to coworking. What’s yours? Leave a comment below.
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