At 4444 Second Avenue, nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of Cass Corridor, is Green Garage Detroit. Erected in 1920, the building itself has a colorful history as a former home to Model T’s and shoe repairs alike. Today, the husband and wife co-owners, Tom and Peggy Brennan, who purchased the building in 2007, have worked hard to stay true to the original design aesthetic while increasing the sustainability of the inside operation. Past and present have been carefully woven together to create a business opportunity that is turning the traditional small business model upside-down by giving people an affordable possibility for a workspace while also reducing, reusing and recycling.
Green Garage Detroit is a co-working community, complete with a rooftop farm, which nearly 50 local businesses, nonprofit organizations and independent professionals call home. Co-working communities provide rentable workspace for professionals, such as local business owners, freelancers and more. Green Garage’s triple-bottom-line approach (people, planet and profit) to sustainable enterprise is what the Brennans see as the future of business. The Brennans founded Green Garage with the motivation that working in a sustainable community setting allows individuals to succeed more frequently. Green Garage strives to make decisions that are positively impactful for the environment and community – and it’s showing.
“It’s a very diverse community here, both in terms of the people who work here and the work that they’re doing,” said Matthew Piper who is responsible for communication and operations management, as well as recruiting new tenants. “Some things that unite these diverse groups [are] the opportunity to be a part of a professional community here in Detroit and reduce the environmental footprint of the work they do by locating to the Green Garage. We have a really robust recycling program, composting program, and energy and water reduction systems. By moving into the Green Garage, the business environmental footprint decreases considerably.”
In fact, Green Garage cares so deeply about their sustainability efforts that they measure, chart and publicly publish their waste (the stuff that isn’t able to be recycled), water and energy on their website each month so they can track their environmental footprint and thereafter make continuous improvements. It is rare to see a business so dedicated to their practice that they are willing to let the public in on their efforts, for better or worse.
“We’re doing everything we can to consider the natural environment and the ecosystem around our building as much as we’re considering the community and as much as we’re considering our financial bottom line,” Piper said. “We strongly believe we live out of balance in this country, in terms of the amount of resources we consume. We’re trying to be an example of how to have a successful business consume less, which we think is critical to the future health of the planet.”
Implementing a rooftop farm is just one of the many environmental considerations Green Garage has established. Sarah Schnell, an environmental student at Wayne State University, manages the urban farm and the composting and recycling operations for the building. The majority of the produce – mostly edible flowers and lettuce – currently goes to Green Garage’s neighbor Motor City Brewing Works. Green Garage is looking to expand their produce to other local businesses in the near future.
Go Green: Become Part of the Co-Working Community
Green Garage is continually interested in welcoming new businesses and nonprofits into their community. There are several different levels at which businesses can join based on their needs and budget. Instead of having to rent or buy a traditional workplace, Green Garage residents can pay as low as $65 per month for the first year for the basic workspace.
Like everything with Green Garage, the process of joining as a resident is methodical. A person can’t just hand over their credit card information and sign up online. They actually want to get to know you, to understand where you’re coming from, and to take their time to ensure the right decision is being made on both ends. “We usually have three to four meetings with a prospective resident to understand what they’re doing and what they’re hoping to accomplish [and] what their needs are,” Piper divulged. “We like to make sure we have a good understanding of what we both offer and then we take it from there.”
Green Garage opened its doors to the public in 2011, and one of the most impactful initiatives, according to Piper, has been their free community lunches. Every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. Green Garage hosts a public bring-your-own lunch where special presentations are given by members of their co-working community or by a community partner working in sustainability. After lunch, the participants are invited to join a building tour. Attending a community lunch is also a welcome opportunity for prospective residents to check out the space, learn more and see if it might be the right fit for them.
The public is also invited to join in on Green Garage’s Sustainable Small Business Leadership Lunch every Thursday from noon to 1:30 p.m. for open conversation about the leadership of triple-bottom line businesses. “These conversations are about business leadership, but are wide-ranging,” said Piper. “The conversations are guided by the participants so people can bring their own life and professional experience to them. They are open-minded in terms of thinking about the triple-bottom line and how it applies practically.”
The Future of Green Garage
As for what’s next? The future of the Green Garage appears to be a bright one. The Green Garage parent company has recently been working on its sister project, the El Moore, a sustainably renovated residential apartment building and urban lodge. “The El Moore is about taking the principal operation of Green Garage and applying that to a residential space,” said Piper. Located just down the street from Green Garage, the El Moore offers residents and travelers an extraordinary opportunity to engage with each other and the local Detroit community. Piper mentioned that the next phase is going to be the creation of a privately managed and publicly accessible park space.
Green Garage Detroit is as original as it is practical. “I’m really proud of the fact that our community is [as] diverse as it is and gets along as well as it does. For whatever reason, it just really works,” Piper said. “The people who find us are open-minded and enthusiastic, tolerant people. It’s amazing to see it happen. It’s a real gift that you just don’t see everywhere.”
Note: All images featured in this article are courtesy of Green Garage Detroit.