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Making bricks work: Evergreen's urban enterprise
by SEE Change Magazine
on June 05, 2012

Evergreen BrickworksSEE Change Magazine recently sat down with Tara Rogerson, Director of Social Enterprise at Evergreen, to talk about that charity’s experience in the social enterprise realm.


About Evergreen

Evergreen is a not-for-profit organization that makes cities more livable. By deepening the connection between people and nature, and empowering Canadians to take a hands-on approach to their urban environments, Evergreen is improving the health of our cities—now and for the future.


About Evergreen Brick Works

A community environmental centre in the heart of the Toronto ravine system, Evergreen Brick Works is many things: a vibrant public space featuring a local farmers’ market and retail garden market; a showcase for green design and urban innovation; and a “hands-in-the-dirt” learning space for youth and adults alike.


How much of your operating budget comes from income-generating activities?


Currently, 40% of our operating budget comes from earned revenue. Evergreen Brick Works more than doubled our income generating activity; however, even before EBW, we had a significant earned revenue business. Evergreen is a very enterprising bunch.


What are your income-generating streams?


We have several. Our newest streams at Evergreen Brick Works include leasing revenue. We have 13 third-party tenants on site – all with a social mission working to make the world a better place. Third-party events (i.e. weddings and fundraising events), which is our most significant contributor - we have approximately a dozen spaces on site we rent out for events. The buildings are beautiful and unique and vary in size. Parking is our third. We charge for parking, which is critical in supporting the operations of the site. And finally, our Evergreen Garden Market, which serves the double purpose of advancing Evergreen’s mission of connecting communities with nature and generating income. The Garden Market proposes sustainable solutions for every backyard and balcony.


Evergreen Brick Works

Photo credit: Kelly Cruise

What is your potential for growth?


The possibilities are endless. The current revenue streams have significant growth opportunity. We can more than triple what we are currently earning. However, the sky really is the limit. With hundreds of thousands of people coming down to Evergreen Brick Works there is so much opportunity to offer something of value and earn revenue for the charitable mission. The four revenue streams are our first but there will be more to come.


Are there any areas you would like to expand upon?


The event business is currently top of mind for me. We have an absolutely beautiful, historic, heritage building on site that we rent out for events. Also, we’d like to encourage the "greening" of this industry, so there is an interesting angle, or effort, we’re working toward here.


The venue is in high demand; the uniqueness and size combination is hard to come by in the city - it has the ability to seat 600 comfortably. The only limitation is, it’s an open-air building so we can’t offer the space all four seasons. So we’re currently exploring social financing opportunities to make it available three or four seasons (without affecting the integrity of the iconic heritage look).


What do you do with the money?


Every dollar earned – every dollar – goes to supporting the operations of Evergreen Brick Works and our mission-driven programming.


You’re in your second year, any a-ha moments or pitfalls you’ve encountered?


Cash flow is king. As a charity we did not have significant reserves on hand to cushion any initial shortfalls, which is typical of any new business. We had to bootstrap and invest as our revenues grew. Although we always knew this, we became painfully aware a few months after opening. Keep your cash flow statement up to date and track your metrics!


Communication is queen. Evergreen as a charity has worked to communicate frequently and timely with the public on why we are charging for certain things and where that money goes. We charge market rates for our social enterprises and I think sometimes that confuses people. We’ve also had to communicate as frequently internally. As a social enterprise we’ve had to prove that even though we’re making money we’re also following the mission. Every business is operated through the lens of Evergreen's mission.


Where do you see Evergreen Brick Works 10 years from now?


Changing the world. I hope that doesn't sound naive or flippant. On one level, we’re a model for what municipalities around the world can do with their obsolete and crumbling industrial relics. Every municipality in the world has an abandoned industrial pad they don’t know what to do with, and we invite them to borrow from our model.


More broadly, in 10 years I think Evergreen will continue to influence and be part of the livable sustainable cities movement internationally. Through our work, we want to continue to expand our reach and relevance in building sustainable cities, from advancing urban agricultural practices to the adaptive reuse of old buildings, to building smart energy-efficient new ones. We have to be a society more connected to nature, one that is more efficient with our use of natural resources like water and those raw materials we use to build and feed our cities. And the social enterprises embedded into our business model will be the financial foundation to achieve this ambition.


What advice would you have for a budding social entrepreneur?


Dreams are reached one step at a time. Sometimes I get frustrated that the growth opportunity I know is there isn’t happening faster. But we can only do one thing at a time. Stay focused and just know you’re going in the right direction. Looking back, I am amazed by how much we’ve accomplished with so much support from the community.


Which brings me to my second thought: don’t go it alone. There are so many people in the community who are keen to offer advice and expertise and want you to succeed.


Finally, know the numbers. If you struggle with this part, take the time to learn it. The numbers and the metrics tell the story of your business – what is working, what isn’t. I believe it is the most critical piece for sound decision-making.


Tara Rogerson

Tara Rogerson is currently the Director of Social Enterprise at Evergreen, an environmental charity. Tara oversees multiple businesses with total revenue of over $4 million. Before Evergreen, Tara completed her HBA and MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business, with a focus on entrepreneurship. Previous professional experience includes working in business development for Intrawest Corporation at several resort locations in North America, and scouting potential business acquisitions for venture capital investing.


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