A business incubation center in Detroit practices what it preaches.
In a building in Midtown that once showcased Ford Model Ts, a unique operation aims to move businesses, and their communities, into the future.
Aptly named the Green Garage, the venture by Tom and Peggy Brennan, launched last October, offers office and workshop space to entrepreneurs who are developing sustainable business ideas. The Brennans and numerous volunteers also provide access to business plans, funding sources, and community connections — all while developing and promoting environmentally friendly practices.
“There is, in society, an idea that business and the environment need to be on two ends of the spectrum,” says Tom, a former management consultant. “You’re helping the environment or you’re making money, but you can’t do both. We reject that philosophy.”
Following Tom’s retirement in 2001, he and his wife spent several years researching environmental sustainability before making plans to establish a green demonstration center. After looking for property in Ann Arbor, the Brennans came across a vacant brick building on Second Avenue, north of Canfield, near Wayne State University. Following more than two years of renovation, the building now serves as a model of efficiency, using net-zero energy systems and recycled materials.
It also abuts Detroit’s first green alley, a pedestrian thoroughfare made up of recycled paving stones and featuring gardens nourished by collected rainwater and low-voltage lighting. The alley was funded and overseen by Green Garage, Motor City Brewing Works, and the University Cultural Center Association, now operating as Midtown Detroit Inc.
After the building and alley were completed, the Brennans began to help businesses achieve a triple bottom-line. “With the same action, with the same core activity that is in the building, (entrepreneurs) are able to gain a yield or a profit economically, are able to raise up their community, and are able to help save the planet,” Tom says. “So this is different than a historic (business) where you would make a profit and then philanthropically help the environment and help the community. It’s all integrated.”
Chad Dickinson, who builds furniture using natural materials, says the Green Garage has become a second home. “I have been developing my business sustainably for the last five years and I was really hungry to find a community of people who are doing that,” says Dickinson, principal of Dickinson by Design. Other businesses that have tapped into the green business incubator include Final Five Productions and Mend LLC.
The Brennans are still figuring out the best operating methods for their business. “This place is still a lab,” Peggy says. “We don’t want to control other people and make the change; we just want to promote the change.” db