Summer, 2017 

The Community Builder
Toronto — Canada

Preston Walberg is busy building a new type of co-working space which places all its emphasis on more sustainable practices and principles. Creating a working environment which will not only use low carbon and low waste technology, but which is also intended as a space to bring together innovators from a variety of clean, renewable, and green sectors. A collaborative workspace which by design, is dedicated to people working towards reducing our overall environmental impact.
The aim is pretty simple: Create a thriving community for cleantech entrepreneurs in the city of Toronto. Having already started this challenge, Preston has discovered the process of making itself can lead to unexpectedly welcome results - He’s already joined forces with some passionate and incredibly insightful people who are actively working towards achieving this very goal - The proof of concept, in essence, is already there. By leveraging the power of this community further, they hope to empower even more people to collaborate towards creating a low carbon economy.

Thus far, the tech startup model has been a valuable source of inspiration. Preston believes this agile and disruptive way of working can be re-appropriated by more businesses working within the cleantech sector to help build a cleverer and more mindful future for everyone.

As Preston puts it, “We know that disruption comes from innovation by startups, whilst we also know a lot of startups fail. By offering lower operating costs, and insights from green economy enthusiasts, we intend to help a community of entrepreneurs see how an entire new ecosystem of products and services can work together to offer an alternative to the fossil fuel based economy that currently exists in Canada”.

“I enjoy solving problems. The more challenging or more fundamental, the more intriguing it is to me.”

—  What about the journey which brought you here. What’s your background?

“In my previous role as a project manager I was mostly a facilitator for overcoming obstacles. I needed to help engineers, architects, installers, and people from a variety of trades understand each other’s concerns. I then facilitated the finding of solutions which were needed to get a project completed. This approach to project development and learning, parallels with how we need to rethink our approach to the infrastructure of our lives and businesses — with a view to sustainability.

In the long journey, I did a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. Academically I began to see our long term trajectory, and realised the need to “bend the curve”. This has continued with me through my life, and so when I see opportunities that offer potential to help make this happen I get excited and look for ways to be involved. At the end of the journey I want to know that I did my best to put us on a healthy course.”

—  What reasons really stand out to explain why you’re here now starting this exciting project?

“I enjoy having a hand in solving problems. The more challenging or more fundamental the problem, the more intriguing it is to me.

Secondly, the basis of solving the overall problem is about changing how people think and act. It’s about reframing the reference points which we currently use to make our decisions. It’s also about making the journey easier which encourages people to shift towards the problem-solving end of the spectrum. It’s about communication and bridging the gaps.”

— Do you have your own angle on sustainability or ‘sustainable by design’?

“Yes. Nature is a closed loop system, so keeping this in mind and using that strategy to design and work with it is fundamental. The principles of the Circular Economy along with Biomimicry probably encapsulate the solutions best.”

“Nature is a closed loop system.”

— Sustainability is an often overused word. Do you have a better alternative?
“No, I don’t. Memes, influential ideas, movements, how they all impact society is very interesting. I find them very curious to study in hindsight but have limited appreciation for how they develop in the initial stages.”
— Do you see much of a line between the process of design & building to sustainable principles?

“Absolutely. They’re intrinsically connected. We’ve designed a mostly linear system for our economy whereby we create piles of waste that we then look to hide. This is fundamentally incompatible with long term society functioning.

Creating an economy that functions with a circularity is the only solution. To do this, there has to be full life cycle analysis and economic structuring to ensure that we are required to pay for all stages of the life cycle transparently. If there is no waste, then all things are returned to a state of purpose or neutral impact in our closed system.”

— What will be the most important features to your concept for the co-working space?

“A sense of community. For creativity and innovation to flourish there needs to be a sense of safety and purpose.”

— How do you think your idea could scale, or be carried to anything else?

“It can both scale and be taken to other industries. We’re already seeing the concept of co-working space scaling in cities around the world.  It’s basically a very valuable commodity - Square footage in cities has been underused in many circumstances.

We heat and provide services to a significant amount of square footage in cities that currently isn’t optimized. Co-working space rectifies a lot of this, particularly when there is a growing sector of “gig” economy actors with mobility. Recently, Wework opened up more than 100,000 square feet in Toronto when there already were about 50 other local players in the market.

Our strategy is to focus this type of space around a specific goal. Think of it as how a University breaks up it’s areas of focus or study into different faculties. One can think of us as the small business, or startup faculty of ‘Cleantech’ and ‘Greentech’.

As we transition from strictly competitive economic models of business to a more collaborative model. Existing within a close community of colleagues and businesses all working to similar ends, will be an overall leverage for being more successful as a business.”

The Sustainers — 21st Century Pioneers
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