By Tunde Wey
March 21, 2012
Peggy Brennan’s assuring smile is confirmation to visitors of the Green Garage
that they are welcome. At 58, Brennan, half of the inspired couple who founded the Green Garage in Midtown Detroit, is full of patience and thoughtfulness. She speaks with an intentionality aided in part by over four years of painstaking efforts to realize this project.
The Green Garage is a green renovated historical building, a community of people dedicated to sustainable and green practices, and a business providing incubation services to local green sector enterprises. The Green Garage espouses a triple bottom line approach to business: building profit, bettering the environment, and maintaining a strong community focus.
Peggy and her husband Tom host a weekly meeting called Sustainable Business Community Conversation -- a forum for businesspeople to discuss issues of sustainability and profitability. Here, Tom Brennan facilitates piercing conversations that investigate real life application of the triple bottom line business philosophy. It is a support group of sorts for any businessperson interested in executing what Peggy Brennan describes as the “moral mandate” of businesses as caretakers of the community and environment. These weekly meetings are a long tradition of the Green Garage, dating back years before its actual conception.
After retiring as a business consultant, Tom Brennan began to devote time to studying environmental issues, reading books such as “The Great Work
” by Thomas Berry. The book speaks evocatively about the immediate imperative of reversing the destruction inflicted on the earth by the powerful march of technology. Inspired, the couple began having weekly meetings with friends around their kitchen table to discuss environmental sustainability, learning and acting in concert.
Incited by these weekly meetings, the Brennans wanted to establish a public demonstration of “green” ideas. After two years of searching outside of the city, they settled on their current location -- a former Model T showroom dating back to 1920, in Detroit’s Midtown. They purchased the building in December 2007; all that remained was to figure out exactly what its use would be.
The building marked a shift for the Brennans from the theory and soft practice of green principles, to their execution. They employed their familiar approach of community and conversation to guide the process, engaging over 200 people in this discourse. They finally settled on a establishing an incubator space to support green businesses. Over the next two years, the Brennans and their community of volunteers deliberately considered every aspect of the building’s construction. Part of the goal of construction was to prove that it could cost as little to rehab a historical building as it does to responsibly demolish it.
After two years of careful planning, the City of Detroit reviewed their plans and issued a building permit in a mere 7 days. The Brennans view the city's rapid response as a validation of their "go-slow-to-go-fast" approach -- a philosophical guidepost to process engineering.
The construction took another two years; in this time, the project only generated one and a half dumpsters of waste! (As a reference point, an estimated 8,000lbs of waste is created from the construction of a 2,000 square foot home.)
Ninety-percent of everything that was taken from the building was reused, and most of what is currently being used in the building came from the US waste stream: chairs from Detroit public schools, lighting from local churches, etc. Peggy estimates that it will cost the Green Garage, which opened in late 2011, around $300 a year to heat and cool all 12,500 square feet of the building.
From discussions that started around a kitchen table to a fully realized embodiment of their ideals, these are real and tangible victories for the Brennans. Peggy believes that it is our “great work to reconcile the (negative) effects of the industrial generation with its effects on the environment.” In the process of this reconciliation, they are creating jobs and helping other companies develop financially and environmentally sustainable businesses.
Portrait by Marvin Shaouni Photography.