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The Green Garage Detroit is a business model that incubates other businesses. It hosts space in ways that are good for the environment, good for the community and economically viable. This fully green model uses 1/10th of the resources and produces 1/10th of the waste compared to traditional businesses.
Peggy Brennan is the owner of Green Garage Detroit, a business model that provides space for other businesses to learn and grow using a sustainable triple bottom line business model. Peggy and I met at the Green Garage and enjoyed conversing at one of the booths in the redesigned historic 1920 Ford Model-T showroom. Peggy shared the story about how the windows were bricked over during the riots in 1967 so the building could continue to be insured. Until Peggy and her husband, Tom, purchased the building in 2007, the inside had not seen the light of day since the building was bricked. Peggy remembers fondly the day they began to remove the bricks. “Light poured in from the western exposure. It was a highlight of a long process.” After renovating the building using all green materials when appropriate, the Green Garage opened in 2011 and its “principal work has been forming a diverse, supportive, and accountable co-working community and helping triple bottom line businesses grow naturally.”
How did the Green Garage come to be? Peggy shared her husband, Tom, approached her about studying sustainability after a great deal of thought and reading "The Great Work" by Thomas Berry. She agreed to help develop a study group. “After a great deal of thought and reading “The Great Work” myself, I agreed to help develop a study group.” In the book, the author talks about how “it is our duty to rectify the effects of the Industrial Revolution.” Peggy says they were inspired to start a small discussion group around their kitchen table. About 12 people met around their kitchen table from 2005-2010 to study each week for two hours. Each member of the group shared about how they were changing their personal lifestyles based upon new learning.
Peggy describes that during that five-year time period, she and Tom, around 2007, felt that a positive contribution would be to "look for property around a university to develop a "green demonstration center." They first looked in Ann Arbor and after hearing a number of conversations Peggy and Tom explored Midtown Detroit, wanting to be close to a university. Midtown is home to Wayne State University. “We found the building that would eventually be the Green Garage and purchased it on December 31, 2007.”
An "outgrowth of the sustainability conversations” led Peggy and Tom to purchase property and for the next two years they were in "design discussions, determining everything from the design of the building to how to heat and cool it efficiently to how we'll manage materials to the eventual business model. During this time, we had about 200 people volunteer their time.” Peggy and Tom spent another two years in construction, adjusting design elements as warranted. They opened for business in November of 2011, with one business, New Solutions Group. They have expanded to over 50 businesses presently. The Green Garage Detroit is a business model which incubates other businesses by hosting space which is good for the environment, good for the community and economically viable.
“You focus on something and do it well,” says Peggy. A few of the motivating questions leading them were “could we have a positive impact in the business world with a sustainability model and could we leave a legacy of a greener planet for our grandchildren?” Peggy says that they are not aware of other business models like their own.
“After we purchased the building on December 31 of 2007, the market crashed in 2008.” Her daughters were having trouble seeking employment in southeast Michigan. The sustainability question led Peggy and Tom to brainstorm a business incubator model which would improve business opportunities in SE Michigan. A few of their innovations at the Green Garage Detroit are:
1. Renovating a historic building to become a near-net-zero business in Detroit
2. With 50 businesses renting the space, each goes through a 4-5 hour orientation no sustainability and space usage
3. Weekly brown bag lunches open to the community
4. Weekly tours of the building
5. On-site library for people to use and gain new knowledge
6. One annex with three workshop spaces
7. A building that uses 1/10th of the resources other business models use
8. Developed the first “green alley” in Detroit
9. Fully 50% of the land around the Green Garage is permeable, water filters into the water table
10. Radiant system utilizes solar thermal panels
 From GreenGarageDetroit.com home page
Peggy says that this business model fits into her overall sense of life purpose through, “living a more sustainable life, not just in our homes.” More businesses would do well to look to at the Green Garage Detroit model of shared space, shared learning, collaborative methods and fully integrated green practices. Truly, this space is an inspiration for future models of business “incubation.” Peggy says to others interested in the health of the planet, "it takes years to get into the habits of sustainability.” One example is how each week the Green Garage weighs its trash. Photos are taken and sent to the businesses renting the space – as simple reminders of what could have been composted (like coffee grounds) and what might not need to be used. Green Garage Detroit uses 1/10th of the water and energy of other businesses. They also take out 1/10th of the trash.
The alley around the building is a green alleyway utilizing permeable pavers and bricks so that water can flow to the water table. A nice quiet room leading to the alleyway allows for reading among a few plants.
And what if a business is new and just beginning to find its green wings? Peggy said that within their business they have the opportunity for other business leaders to provide scholarships for those just starting out. For as low as $60 per month, you can rent table space in the open work area. Businesses have access to showers should employees ride bikes to work; a refrigerator and coffee station; a library; and it is within walking distance to restaurants and local shops.
When asked “If you could imagine 10 years into the future, what do you see for the year 2026?” Peggy said: I'll be 72. After arriving on the M1 rail from Ann Arbor (to be completed in 2017) I would love to walk from the El Moore and visit the park. There would be something going on for the children. After being there, I’d go to the Green Garage where I’d chat with people and learn about new developments happening in the city." She imagines conversations and a community alive with purpose and family connections.
Peggy and Tom, after developing the Green Garage, decided to develop the El Moore Apartments that are within walking distance of the Green Garage. This is a green project inviting “sustainable urban living” with a choice of roof top, green urban cabins.
As Peggy looks to the future she and her husband are motivated by “what we are leaving to our grandchildren,” a legacy of green innovation and a beautiful business model so others can benefit from collaboration and new learning.
You are welcome to visit their website, GreenGarageDetroit or schedule your own visit and tour. Stop by on Friday at noon to meet other business owners and neighbors, to network in the community and learn something new. Many businesses have grown and left the Green Garage making room for new ones. It is a warm and open environment, quiet and lively with potential.
Over 50 businesses have now used the Green Garage to jump start their own growth and every business that uses the Green Garage goes through training on sustainability practices.
The Green Garage Detroit helps businesses to thrive and begin to practice sustainability models.
The Green Garage is a fully renovated, environmentally sustainable model with fully integrated green practices.
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Peggy Brennan, Owner of Green Garage Detroit