Sustainability and creativity are a perfect and profitable match for local co-working spaces

Today’s local co-working spaces and business incubators are making their offices more environmentally friendly, and they find it benefits in more ways than one. Green workspaces and offices can cut costs and save energy. Sustainable office practices also attract the creative and innovative startups that drive the 21st century economy. These clients want clean and green workplaces, and they’ll locate where they can find them.

The Tri-Main Center on Main Street in Buffalo, a local co-working complex, makes eco-friendly practices a reality. Its managers do as many kinds of recycling as they can, including plastic, cardboard, metal, and glass. The Tri-Main has replaced almost half of its old energy-wasting lightbulbs, lamps, and lighting fixtures with new energy efficient LED lamps. Building managers also work with a local farmer’s group, called the Farmer Pirates, who do composting of all manner of recyclables. Another local organization helps the Tri-Main Center recycle used batteries. Because of these efforts, the Tri-Main Center recently won an award from the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable.

Marilyn Suzanski, project administrator for the Tri-Main Center, described some of these innovative green practices. “We … put in some permeable paving in our new parking lots as well as bio swales (landscape elements that remove surface runoff water) so that we're keeping runoff from going into the sewers. We have ... vacant property that's being farmed by refugees who are clients of one of our tenants, Journey's End, and they're also farming our bio swales with flowers that they sell in our lobby. Every Thursday, we have a farm stand in the lobby and ... they sell their flowers, so our parking lots are also being used for … people that are in the building.”

Suzanski believes the center’s eco-friendly efforts benefit Tri-Main both from a cost standpoint and also in socially responsible ways. “We're 600,000 square feet with about 1,500 people regularly in the building, so we have a big carbon footprint, as far as energy use … so we really feel that it's good for our bottom line; we're aware of keeping our costs down by not using more energy than we need to. But we also feel, from a society's perspective, that we have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible and be as positive a resident in this neighborhood as we can.”

The DIG Innovation Center at the Buffalo Medical Campus is another co-working space that’s made strides in sustainability. The Innovation Center is an incubator for new entrepreneurs and business startups. With a large number of life science and biotech tenants, it’s no surprise that the Innovation Center incorporates environmentally sensitive policies into the building’s work spaces. Some of these include nontoxic cleaning products, printers that use reusable disappearing ink, a SMART fridge in the lobby with healthy vending options, free indoor bicycle parking, and subsidized NFTA transit passes and Lyft rides. The Innovation Center also installed a white roof to reduce energy use and 141 solar panels.

Jamie Haaman-Burney, director of planning at the Innovation Center, sees environmental sustainability as part of the Innovation Center’s mission. “We're a nonprofit … charged with growing an innovation district in Buffalo. With that innovation district, our goal is to ensure that it provides positive social impact to our community. So, we basically look to the sustainability lens in almost everything that we do, and that includes when it comes to our building operations and entrepreneurial programs. We provide all of that, and it’s … built into our DNA to do these kinds of things. “

These practices have helped the Innovation Center reduce its carbon footprint, divert more waste into composting and recycling programs, and become a better steward of the environment. Building tenants and nearby neighbors appreciate the Innovation Center’s green-friendly practices. Haaman-Burney explained that these sustainable policies help attract like-minded tenants who want to be in a place where the building managers and entrepreneurs share the same cultural and social values.

“It's already built into our organization's culture, and through that … we've been able to attract similar-minded organizations into our buildings,” Haaman-Burney said. “When we look for tenants or groups that we want to help with their startup, we want to make sure that they also fit with the culture that's already here. When we try to attract these companies, we make sure they have the same kind of social impact and environmental impact in their mind as well. The companies that do come here tell us they appreciate the culture that's provided in this building and on our campus.”

Read more articles by Jeff Dahlberg.

Jeff Dahlberg is a freelance writer and the author of “Not Just Snow and Chicken Wings: Positive Stories About Buffalo’s Rebirth.” He was born and raised in Western New York. A University at Buffalo and Second City graduate, he longs for the day when both the Bills win a Super Bowl and the Sabres win a Stanley Cup.
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