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Green Garage

ES Community Spotlight: Green Garage Detroit

February 15, 2024

When thinking about collaboration in sustainability, it’s natural to first consider tangible solutions. Undoubtedly, more sustainable equipment, optimized processes, and data collection are incredibly important to making a difference in energy efficiency and usage. The beautiful thing about the sustainability industry is that it is a multi-faceted triple bottom line with actions that have positive social, environmental, and economic outcomes. It requires the meeting of minds from multiple points of view to make a difference. We had the opportunity to speak with Tom Brennan, co-founder of a business in Detroit that has taken huge strides in uniting businesses to shape a greener future for the city. Green Garage Detroit is a shared workspace for socially and environmentally conscious small businesses and remote workers, as well as a demonstration center for sustainability principles in an urban setting. Its reach has extended into entire neighborhoods of the city throughout its decades of growth. They know firsthand the impact of collaboration among businesses in sustainability.

ES: What inspired the idea of Green Garage?
GG: It truly started with my wife Peggy and I working to make our personal lives sustainable. We shared our journey with our friends and community members, and that eventually led to starting the Great Lakes Green Initiative in Troy. Prior to that, we committed ourselves to deep study in sustainability over the course of five years, mainly on a community basis. We had about twenty families who were a part of this study time right in our own kitchen. We took our time to gain a deep understanding of all the places we could become more efficient and sustainable: waste reduction, composting, water efficiency, geothermal, you name it. And while we were educating ourselves, we were all also taking steps to put our knowledge into practice. We reduced our lawns and grew native plants; we had a car-sharing system; we tracked our water usage; we composted and superinsulated; it was something else.

ES: Tell us how you took the step from your kitchen table to a fully operational space.
GG: We began teaching others the very things we were spending our time researching. As more people showed interest, we realized that there was a call for a space. We found the Green Garage building, which used to be a part of the history of the automotive industry, near Wayne State University in Detroit,. All the improvements that we have made over the years involve recycled and reclaimed items, as well as the installation of various systems that help us operate at about 10% of the waste, water, and energy of a traditional office building.

ES: Green Garage seems dedicated to education across the board – how did you incorporate that in the early years?
GG: As more people came, we encouraged them to share their expertise and passion. 2008 was about the time that we embarked on another big deep dive into sustainable work and green business. We created different focus groups that concentrated on different areas of sustainability. Some examples consist of the net-zero group, business group, water group, library and learning group, and exterior building group. The most astonishing thing is that everyone had an interest in sharing what we had to learn, and that very thing fueled our dream of making all this work a part of Detroit’s future.

ES: How would you describe Green Garage’s mission?
GG: We are a living example of a sustainable working environment. From a business standpoint, we are a triple-bottom-line business that believes in profit for good. We want to show that there isn’t a conflict between being profitable and helping the planet and our local community. All these components help businesses to become more resilient.

ES: Say more about resilience and its relation to sustainability.
GG: Another strand within the evolution of the space is the overarching goal of sharing sustainability. There is a strong movement to have sustainably-minded professionals that need a place to gather and grow relationships. Over the years, the Green Garage community has grown and become more diverse. We have multiple non-profit organizations that call our space home, in addition to up-and-coming small businesses and, increasingly, remote workers who are tired of working for home and are looking for a place to belong.

ES: How does daily operation work?
GG: There are open first-come-first-serve table spaces along with dedicated desks for people to use. We also have office environments fitting up to 7 people and product-based workspaces (or maker spaces).We see about 15-30 people throughout the day. There is a shared kitchen space where the majority of community connections happen. It’s incredible to witness serious groups of professionals from varying areas of expertise foster and grow relationships here.

ES: It sounds like there is a diverse gathering of minds.
GG: Absolutely. We see businesses that work with solar installation, creatives and performers, landscape architects, engineers, people who work on statewide clean air and clean water, and sustainable food organizations, to name a key few. What’s staggering is that everyone works in their field and outside their “regular jobs” to advance sustainability in Detroit’s green future. This is a building of activists. The connections are both formal and informal, but the collaborative effort speaks for itself. The people who have found Green Garage all on their own and what they are all working towards is just amazing. There is clearly a growing dedication to helping the planet by shifting our impact.

ES: Are there outside projects or initiatives that inspire the organization and its vision?
GG: Our community and its active participation continue to inspire us. You can look at some of the organizations we house on our website and learn more about their efforts to make Detroit more sustainable.

ES: How can an interested person or business regularly use the space?
GG: You can visit our coworking page to learn how to make the Green Garage your workspace.

ES: Are there other ways to get involved?
GG: Absolutely! We offer regular events such as our bi-weekly community lunch and building tour, which takes place on the first and third Friday of every month at noon and which is open to the public. We also hold special events throughout the year and volunteer opportunities that you can find on our website.

ES: How have you grown your impact in the years since founding the Green Garage?
GG: Since we founded the Green Garage in 2011, we opened two other sustainability-based businesses in our Detroit neighborhood: El Moore Lodge, which offers overnight accommodations and annual residences in a historic apartment building, and Seasons Market, a good food market and cafe that provides fresh, local food options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Together, these three businesses, which are just a couple blocks away from each other, have helped us deepen our impact and invite more and more people to join us on our sustainability journey.

ES: What is one piece of wisdom you would give to aspiring green businesses?
GG: It’s a holistic approach – there isn’t just one piece of wisdom that we can offer. I often tell people this: if you’re getting involved with sustainability, you must embrace that the struggle is a part of the reward. If you’re expecting things to flow, it won’t necessarily do so in the way you might think. Creating change means growing pains, but it yields growth all the same in the end. Don’t give up when the struggle comes. That means it’s working.

Are you a part of, or know of, an organization you think would be a fit for our ES Community Spotlight series? Let’s chat!


Categories: Blog, ES Community, Sustainability