When New York City musicians Leon Lyazidi and Uliana Preotu formed their first rock band back in 2006, they weren’t looking for money or fame. They were purists, creating music for its own sake.
But once they were on the road, they quickly realized it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Audiences were sparse, critics were unforgiving, and it looked like they’d never get the attention of a record company. Their funds were running out.
“We had to take another look at ourselves and understand why people don’t like our music and why we’re not getting this opportunity or that opportunity,” says Preotu, a WeWork Chelsea member.
So they decided to completely start over. Since then, their band Cilver has signed a deal with an indie record label and seen their first single “I’m America” get plenty of coverage. After a lot of time in the studio, their new album Not the End of the World will debut April 29.
“Making this record was the hardest thing Leon and I ever had to do,” says Preotu. “We were prototyping Activatr while recording it in Chicago. Not losing the creative juices while doing so was the biggest challenge. We are extremely proud about how it turned out. It is the best music we’ve written so far.”
Throughout this process, Lyazidi and Preotu learned a thing or two about hiring the right people, connecting with their audience, and promoting themselves through social media. As they launched their new band, they also co-founded a marketing business called Activatr.
How does it work? Basically, companies get their current customers to promote them through their own social media networks.
“The business does a call to action to its consumers,” says Lyazidi, also a WeWork Chelsea member. “In exchange for a perk like a discount, free trial, or some sort of exclusive offer, consumers schedule content to push through their social media.”
The co-founders initially targeted musicians who needed help building a following and selling their merchandise. For example, they do all of the band’s marketing through Activatr. But they’ve expanded their client base to any type of business that would benefit from word-of-mouth advertising.
In case running a business isn’t enough, Preotu has been busy learning to code. Lyazidi is pursuing a master’s program at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
And, of course, they are both pursuing their music careers.
“When I started NYU in May, we were also editing our record at BMG Studios,” Lyazidi says. “So from 7 AM to 7 PM, I was in class wearing a suit and tie. Then I would roll up to the studio, take of my suit, and put on a T-shirt.”
They say their key takeaway from the whole experience is the importance of pulling together the right team and learning from their setbacks.
“This isn’t just a project,” Preotu says. “We feel strongly about it, which is why we decided to struggle financially and make a ton of mistakes. When we go all in, we go all in.”
Let’s say that you, a trusted, competent, beloved member of your workplace, were charged with increasing your company’s productivity by 15 percent and substantially boosting in your coworkers’ happiness. Most of the solutions to this kind of problem—say, a renovated space, group meditation, or workplace yoga—usually involve throwing a decent bit of money around, or asking employees to do things that aren’t, well, very productive. What you really need is a low-cost, low-maintenance solution that requires minimal effort or time from your colleagues, that inspires productivity and happiness.
You need plants.
Science has proved that a greener thumb leads to happier, healthier people. Study after study links the biological impact of plants, like cleaner air, with the psychological effect, like a more aesthetically pleasing environment.In a 2014 University of Exeter study, researchers saw a 15 percent increase in productivity after adorning an otherwise barren office with houseplants—a correlating result of its subjects also reporting increasingly positive perceptions with concentration in the office, air quality, and how satisfied they were at their jobs. A 2010 study from the New University of Technology Sydney yielded a similar result: Plants helped reduce stress levels and negative feelings 58 percent.
But plants are a pain: They are a pain to buy, a pain to move around, and a pain to care for. Going to a nursery or the greenery section of a hardware store is an endeavor of suffocatingly multilateral decisions to be made. Which size plant? Which species? What color? How much (or how little) light do you have in your room? And which of those plants require the level of care you’re willing to put forth? What kind of care is required of it? Which kind of soil does it need? And, finally: What. Kind. Of. Pot. Will. You. Put. It. In?
Plants are definitely earning their place on a pro forma cultural lifestyle checklist, the perfect adornment for finishing an Instagram-perfect living room. If you’re at all a citizen of the internet, looking at the Instagrams of young urbanites near and far, you’ve probably been served ads for companies like The Sill, a plant startup selling everything from succulents to room-dominating fiddle leaf trees in chic, color-blocked pottery. If nothing else, you’ve read the stories about plants as—what else?—a millennial trend: Bloomberg reports that startups like The Sill are taking advantage of the intersection of millennials’ delayed parenting plans and their desire to care for something living while still enjoying the frequent travel they’re known to value.
All it would take, then, would be some canny entrepreneurs who knew the greenery space, who understand our most contemporary anxieties, and who have a slick hand with branding to come along and solve for the plant-decision-paralysis that stops potential buyers before their first pottings. The world needed someone to make houseplants cool. The plant disrupters did just that.
Justin Mast comes from four generations of professional gardeners, and he practically grew up in his parents’ Michigan greenhouse. His company, Bloomscape,headquartered out of WeWork 19 Clifford St in downtown Detroit, is vaporizing the most quotidian details of dressing your workspace (or home) in greenery, making the most grating aspect of plant-buying a thing of the past. With a tightly knit (but, yes, growing) team of 13 employees, Mast is painting the country green, taking a personal understanding of what a new generation expects from their lives, and (yes) using it to help sprout a new standard around itself.
“Millenials have been a conscious group of consumers from the beginning,” says Mast, 36. “A lot of the mindfulness around food and where it comes from—I think we’re taking that same attitude to our homes and the environment that we’re in. It’s weird that you’d spend all this money taking yoga and drinking an organic smoothie, and then you come home to a stark space that’s full of chemicals in the air and Ikea furniture.” That same logic, Mast explained, should naturally extend to millennials’ expectations for workspaces.
Bloomscape begins by quizzing users on what they might want in a plant, what they might be able to commit to, both space-wise and timewise, and how much light the plant is going to get. After that, users pick a plant, which all come in Bloomscape’s one-motif-fits-all chic terracotta potting. After you place the order, the plant shows up at your door with a notecard detailing care instructions specific to the plant in terms so simple no green thumbs are required.
When it comes to picking the right plants for the office, Mast offers advice that has little to do with natural-light needs or water requirements: “Get a plant that’s interesting to you and the people around you,” he says. “There are some really funky and fun ones to choose from. A ponytail palm, for example, looks like a character from a Dr. Seuss book. Find plants that you can relate to. Or, more simply, just get excited about.”
In the canon of cliche quotes about gardening, a particularly common one comes from Spanish poet and playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca: “Green is the prime color of the world and that from which its loveliness arises.” Surely, some pinstripe-wearing stockbroker from a bygone era once purchased a brass and mahogany paperweight from the back of a SkyMall catalog with that line inscribed on it and mounted it next to his banker’s Lamp. But imagined misappropriations of Calderón notwithstanding, is it possible that plants genuinely boost success of one’s business and life? To say nothing of the loveliness of one’s life?
“There’s a Dutch word I grew up hearing a lot—gezelligheid,” Mast says with a laugh. “It’s a feeling of warm, social, lighthearted coziness.” If that sounds like the kind of thing that can’t be faked—especially in a work setting—it absolutely is. It’s a feeling that needs to be cultivated naturally. And the easiest, healthiest way to see it around you involves cultivating nothing more than a little nature.
Hedge your bets
Before you plant your urban jungle, keep these things in mind.
Start with one plant. Then get a friend. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many plants right away. Get to know the rhythms and needs of a single pot. Once you’ve got that down, try another, similar plant—no two plants are exactly the same.
Read the instructions. You are not a bad plant parent. Plants are not a mystery —you just need to do your homework. Keep those tags with the plant name and care instructions. If something’s going wrong, read the label or expand your research online.
Pick a plant that inspires you. Instead of choosing something by how easy it is to care for, get a plant that excites you. If you’re interested in the plant, you’ll keep it alive.
Even though every bit of news about climate change is, well, terrifying, it’s comforting and empowering to remember that small adjustments to our daily lives can make a big difference to Mother Nature. Each of these shoppable items (all created by WeWork members or sold at Made by We in New York City) make being green easy.
Ditch disposable to-go cups. For your next coffee run, bring along a collapsible cup by StoJo, a member at WeWork 81 Prospect St in New York. The Pocket Cup, which is made from recyclable materials, keeps your morning joe warm or cold, then stashes in your bag when you’re on the go. $15
Put your best foot forward. All of the cozy socks made by Conscious Step—a member at WeWork 109 S 5th St in New York—support farmers in India and are made sustainably and ethically with organic cotton. And depending on which pair you choose, like these Socks That Plant Trees, you can support a cause, like planting ten trees through nonprofit Trees for the Future. $15.
Follow the sun. These TwiLight solar-powered lights by Solight, a member at WeWork 123 E 23rd St in New York, are pretty genius. They’re lightweight, foldable, and waterproof luminaries, which means they’re perfect for patio parties and camping trips. And the best part? They require no electricity or batteries. $17
Bundle up. Save on heating bills (or protect yourself from aggressive office AC temps) with this chic Aria Topaz scarf from member Studio Variously. The cashmere scarf is hand-woven and dyed with chemical-free coloring by artisans in Nepal, and it comes in a natural canvas case—no bubble wrap here!—that you can reuse. $118
Fry right. Many nonstick pans are made with chemicals, but not Green Pan. The Venice Pro frying pan from Green Pan, a member at WeWork 1460 Broadway in New York, is made from upcycled stainless steel and aluminum and a trademarked Thermolon coating. The sand-based finish emits 60 percent less CO2 into the air compared with traditional nonstick coatings. How’s that for green eggs? $99
Drink all day. Make each trip to the water fountain a fun one with the Aurora bottle from S’well, a member at WeWork Medius House in London. Its sleek design makes it a breeze to take anywhere—and keep up with your daily water-intake goals. $32
Be totes amazing. Break your plastic-bag habit for good by toting one of these adorable Utility Canvas bags, available at Made by We. They’re just as handy at the farmers market as they are at the public library—and each one makes a serious style statement, too. $52
Send good word. Sure, email is technically zero-waste, but these pretty cards by member Miks Letterpress are printed on 100-percent-recycled paper and are an old school (and biodegradable) way to say “thank you” to clients, coworkers, and friends. They’re available at Made by We, too. $12
Get buzzed. Al Mokha makes it easy to get your caffeine fix without a guilt trip. Their socially and environmentally conscious beans, grown and harvested in Yemen, are conflict-free and handpicked by farmers who are fairly paid for their work. Try their Yemeni Medium roast for its subtle citrus and cocoa notes. $21.95
Make ’em work. We may be biased, but giving yourself (or a friend) a WeWork membership is a solid way (and is so much more personal than, say, a scented candle) to introduce them to sustainable workplace practices like being single-use-plastic-free, offering only meat-free menus, and committing to being carbon-neutral by 2023. Prices vary.
In 2017, Interface Carpet was relocating from Georgia’s horse country to a four-story cement building in central Atlanta. The world’s biggest producer of carpet tile had conceived its new headquarters with the intention of energizing young designers, wowing international buyers, and proclaiming its mission to grow without harming nature. To bring those goals to life, corporate VP Chip DeGrace knew just who to call: his old pal Bill Browning.
Browning, a design strategist and sustainability consultant, has been thinking about reviving buildings since 1973, when he published a key paper that helped define the “green building” industry. DeGrace knew him in those days for his work with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a research and engineering shop that pioneered hydrogen cars and other innovations.
In the decades since, Browning has advised the architects and owners who created the Bank of America Tower in New York, Google’s East Coast headquarters, and other global landmarks. His consulting firm, Terrapin Bright Green, which is a member at WeWork 25 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, guides real estate owners to implement an overarching idea that Browning, DeGrace, and hundreds of property specialists call biophilia.
By way of explaining the movement, Browning poses this fundamental question: “Can we build and operate a building that delivers the ecosystem that would have been here without the building?”
Biophilic design takes strong guidance from nature. Lights mimic the arc of the sun, growing brighter and dimmer over the day. Central artwork and corridors look like forests or valleys, at the very least using those ecosystems’ materials and colors. Sounds echo those that calm or orient people in a park or on a trail.
Clients call Terrapin when forming a strategy to reduce sick days, improve efficiency in limited space, or breathe life into a new headquarters. “Browning isn’t here to tell us what it should look like,” DeGrace explains. “He’s here to tell us how nature would do it.”
Interface moved into its new space in August 2018. A digital print wraps around the exterior of the building so that the view across West Peachtree Street evokes a Georgia Piedmont forest. Because it receives strong sunlight to the north and east, those sides of the building use less artificial light. The main workspace features green semicircular couches for meetings. Product samples and color swatches sit upstairs near a terrace. In the rear, workers can retreat to yoga rooms without windows or illumination where they can reset or stretch.
Biophilia honors the fact that workers use different settings to accomplish different goals. Interface no longer asks professionals to manage all of their workflow in a cube under bright lights. Just as you don’t try to drink from a rock or catch a fish from a field, you shouldn’t have to try to recharge your creative energies in a monotonous setting or drum up ideas in a cluttered one.
To Browning, sustainable living begins with paying attention to how human needs map to nature. His firm advises clients like Interface and Google throughout design projects. Most of its recommendations flow from three main strategies (which are outlined in the handbook Terrapin recently published). One places “nature in the space” by bringing in natural light or big windows. Another suggests “natural analogs,” like regional wood or bamboo for walls and floors. A third emphasizes “nature of the space,” in which designers lay out a floor plan so people see far-off beacons (such as) and find visually pleasing places where they can rest.
These patterns play out differently in different regions. In Twin Falls, Idaho, for instance, the Clif Bar bakery evokes nearby mountains with a jagged wooden exterior and fake snow painted on top. The hotel lobbies around midtown Manhattan that Terrapin has helped design showcase Hudson Valley wood and stone, and orient guests toward big windows.
Terrapin’s team also researches how seeing nature correlates with feelings of calm, focus and alertness in hospitals, schools, hotels, and offices. Browning is finalizing a hotel-based study that shows guests spend more time in biophilia-designed lobbies than in traditional ones.
Ink48, in far west Midtown Manhattan, is one such space. It’s in the same vicinity as a Holiday Inn Express and a Comfort Inn, both with lobbies filled with glaring light, competing televisions, and heated trays of uneaten food on a side table.
But Ink48 feels like a national park by comparison. The lobby lights are low. Cowhide chairs with deep, back-supporting curves face the broad avenue. Guests drink coffee behind a glass partition, set apart from the flow of people checking in and out. Behind the check-in desk, natural wood frames a wall of iris blue, yellow, and pea-green slats, recalling a horizon line. People linger.
The idea that natural cues foster effective work has spread to many companies, including WeWork. Devin Vermulen, WeWork’s senior creative director, says he and his team experimented with plants in workspaces a couple of years ago. Members enjoyed them so much, Vermulen recalls, that the plants “became ubiquitous” in more locations.
Next, “we want to start testing circadian lighting,” continues Vermulen, a longtime design leader in the company. “These lighting systems use LED bulbs to change their color temperature and mimic what’s happening outdoors, and that can improve your cognition.”
Terrapin’s next big project is an overhaul of the core the international airport in Portland, Oregon. The team of engineers, architects, and landscape architects is analyzing who’s likely to be in certain sections of the airport at a given time.
“A business traveler has probably already checked in on their phone and doesn’t typically get stressed until the gate,” Browning says. “A family with young kids is probably stressed all the way to the kids’ play area. Someone traveling for a funeral or to see a sick person is never stress-free.” Terrapin will recommend a mix of views, materials, lighting, and pathways to limit stress for every type of flier.
Going forward, Browning wants to go beyond making buildings that reflect the ecology around them—he wants to make them a measurable part of the ecosystem. “We’re assigning numbers to a building’s carbon balance, to how it uses water,” Browning says. “That’s a major area of focus for us.”
But for current clients like Interface, the main focus is helping creative professionals focus.
DeGrace says Interface staff flocked to the new zones created by Terrapin—though some employees needed a few days to acclimate to the freedoms.
“People feel guilty doing something other than sitting at a desk,” he says. “But if you’re open to being more effective and healthier rather than just sitting and drinking more coffee and more coffee, then try … and see what it does.”
Beginning the biophilic breakthrough
You don’t need a master’s degree to bring natural coherence into your workplace. Try these three simple steps:
Place a photo from nature on your desk or your phone wallpaper. Looking at natural settings sparks feelings of calm, alertness, and focus—even if those natural settings are just copies.
Bring a plant to work. Many studies support the link between the volume of flora in an office and the quality of air there. Higher air quality correlates with higher cognitive function and fewer sick days.
Come into the light. At peak work hours—roughly when the sun climbs highest in the sky—work in the brightest part of your office, even if it means toting your laptop to the kitchen or a common area. Cycling your tasks in tune with the course of the day can help limit procrastination (and later on, improve sleep).
It can feel hard to muster Earth Day cheer when the news is often bleak. Climate-change-driven extreme weather is starting to feel like the new normal at the same time global governments are retreating from significant coordinated action.
So how do We Work’s most sustainably-minded innovators manage to keep a bright outlook? They’re inspired by the changes they see happening at the frontlines of battles against climate change, ubiquitous waste, and fossil-fuel consumption. We spoke to members from four organizations—Global Green, Karma, Stojo, and Ubuntu—who collectively work in five countries about the most potentially world-changing ideas in sustainability in 2019.
Organization: Global Green
Mission: Advance solutions to climate change by building sustainable, resilient communities
Names:William Bridge, COO, and Emma Nault, head of strategic partnership and development
Location: WeWork 520 Broadway in Santa Monica, California, and funding projects around California, New Orleans, New York City and more
The next big thing? DIY green infrastructure
Why is this so important? According to Bridge, Global Green’s priorities for action in the many underserved communities in which it operates stem from a core belief: “We need to start taking initiative ourselves and not wait around for government,” he says. That means helping communities most susceptible to the effects of climate change prepare, whether fighting flooding in New Orleans by teaching people how to build a rain garden, or fire prevention in Southern California for families rebuilding after devastating blazes. “Current climate action at the national level is quite ineffective given our political situation,” says Nault.
What does that mean? Swarts’s brand of collapsible coffee cups has successfully capitalized on people’s desire not to waste a cup every time they order coffee—in just five years, the company has sold 1 million of them. But Swarts says coffee cups are just the beginning.“We think of our product as a gateway product to sustainability,” he says. “Once your eyes have been opened to the disposable-cup problem, over time it changes your overall behavior. It changes the way you relate to all single-use plastics.”
What he wants to see happen next: Swarts dreams of the day when cities integrate models for closed-loop systems around waste into their planning. “You could have a deposit system and collection system in infrastructure” similar to a bike-share program, he says. “It would take a combination of using app technology, scanners, barcodes, [and] payment systems to incentivize people to do the right thing to not create more trash.”
Mission: Fight global food waste.
Name: Elsa Bernadotte, co-founder and COO
Location: Based in Stockholm, and operating all over Sweden and in Paris and London, from where Bernadotte works at WeWork 41 Corsham St
Next big thing: Extremeyouth activism
How it’s playing out: “Right now, young generations are engaging to raise sustainability as a more important topic and actually express their views on what we need to do to solve the major global issues,” says Bernadotte. She points to the example of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old whose school strikes to protest climate change attracted more than 1 million students worldwide this March (and are scheduled to happen again May 24). “She has taken the lead in that sense, and there will be more after her,” adds Bernadotte.
How does that impact Karma’s work? Karma makes an app that helps restaurants and grocery stores reduce food waste by letting them sell it at half-price at the end of the day. She regards the youthful energy around sustainability as a signpost that her business is focused on the next generation of consumers. “They will be the future of customers,” she says.
Organization: Ubuntu Power
Mission: Provide power, internet, and other infrastructure to off-the-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa
The next big thing? Following the lead of developing markets for energy solutions
How does that work, exactly? “There’s a general trend toward more renewable sources of energy and decentralizing that away from central coal, power stations, fracking, and all the fossil fuels—breaking [the system] up into hyperlocalized generation units,” explains Herrada. But as climate change forces economies in the developed world to reckon with the fragility of their power grids in the face of extreme events like hurricanes and persistent flooding, models like Ubuntu’s are becoming increasingly relevant in places like North America and Australia. “The greater innovation and rate of development is being done in the frontier markets in contexts that have been considered poorer,” he says. “And then those innovations are fed back into developed markets.” He compares the process to mobile payments, which took off in Africa and China well before in the U.S. or Europe.