The Forge, a co-working space in Greater Sudbury managed by the environmental non-profit network reThink Green, is designed for productivity, collaboration, and innovation. Created using sustainable materials and processes, the Forge presents opportunities for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established businesses to use flexible and professional office space and services, and fosters an ease of networking that can grow business and extend social and environmental participation.
The only co-working arrangement in the city with a social enterprise mandate, a number of affordable workspace options are available to suit a variety of business needs. Hot Desks provide the ultimate flexibility to residents who want to get in and get out – drop in for a day, purchase unlimited access, or take 100 hours and set your own schedule. Permanent Desks and Private Offices allow those seeking a more stable workspace to set up shop and include secure personal storage for long-term residencies.
Most membership options (excluding drop-ins) include limited free access to our newly renovated boardroom and lending library. The Forge is a warm, inviting space that comes fully equipped with all the technology needed to be productive: 60” plasma display, video and tele-conferencing, strategy boards, fast wireless internet, comfortable seating and good natural light, and complimentary locally roasted, fair-trade and organic coffee.
As an environmental non-profit network, it was important for reThink Green to use the most sustainable choices available in creating the Forge: cork flooring (no trees killed), Interface carpet tile (recycled and recyclable), VOC-free paint (fewer toxic chemicals and leaching), cellular window shades (that keep the heat in during the winter and keep the space cool in the summer), and reclaimed materials (saving from landfill, making community connections) all support our environmental mission.
reThink Green was founded in 2005 as a community network which empowers member organizations to meet their environmental and sustainability goals. reThink Green members include environmental non-profits, community groups and green entrepreneurs. Because many of these groups are run entirely by volunteers, they often lack a place to meet and work. The Environmental Resource Centre, now known as the “Green Room,” was developed as a venue for these organizations to plan, discuss and collaborate on environmental projects in the community.
Volunteers mostly use the Green Room at lunch hours, in the evening, and on the weekends; therefore there was an opportunity to make more use of the space during business hours. The Forge was a natural expansion of the Green Room. By providing working space and meeting space for businesses as well as non-profits, reThink Green is better able to sustain itself as well as its member organizations.
reThink Green was originally housed at Eat Local Sudbury, but as both organizations grew it was clear that a new space was needed. The Forge was launched in April 2014 on the third floor of the old Muirhead Building in downtown Sudbury. We encourage our members to use sustainable transportation (walking, bicycling, public transit), so a downtown location was essential.
When reThink Green took over the space it was in rough shape: old fixtures, peeling paint, dents in the walls and years of accumulated junk and debris. Fortunately we have a very supportive landlord who agreed to finance 75% of the renovation costs as credits towards our future rent. With start-up funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, FedNor and the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation, reThink Green staff, interns and volunteers went to work.
In a few months the place was transformed into a clean, comfortable and inspiring working space. By researching and sourcing the most ecologically friendly building materials, the renovations of the Forge had minimal environmental impact. We acquired and re-purposed furniture and fixtures from other businesses that were closing or had a surplus. This practice saved these items from the landfill, helped us stretch our budget and also built stronger ties between the Forge and the community.
reThink Green, the parent organization of the Forge, is a non-profit corporation. The revenue from the Forge goes to support the activities of reThink Green, such as environmental capacity building seminars, community events, green business workshops and collaborations with other environmental organizations. reThink Green has been funded for ten years by project grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. As the organization has grown over the years, so has its associated operational costs. Resources and staff time are needed to maintain current programming, but this is difficult to justify in the context of a project grant.
The mission of the Forge is to provide reThink Green with self-generated revenue to cover some of its operational expenses so that grant applications can focus on specific projects. It also provides an excellent venue to host community events and collaborate on environmental initiatives.
One of the goals of the Forge is to encourage a more sustainable and environmentally aware business community. By working in the Forge, members have access to workshops and training to make their businesses more sustainable. They also participate in a workplace where green values such as recycling, composting, and energy conservation are practiced.
In addition, reThink Green has been running “Sustainability in Business” workshops at the Forge for local entrepreneur programs at the Learning Initiative and the Regional Business Centre. Based on material from The Natural Step, these workshops demonstrate how sustainability can be a good for business not an extra expense to the bottom line.
Our most important partners are the current members of the Forge. They support our success and inspire us to achieve our goals.
ADHD Learning Centre (Diane Brunette). Diane has been with us since the beginning – even before the paint was dry on the walls. She counsels and coaches children, teens and adults with ADHD to better understand their condition and use it to excel.
Dave Copeland Independent Life Insurance. Dave found a place in the Forge after he was evicted from his previous office because of his cerebral palsy.
Canada World Youth (Shaheen Lotun). Shaheen leads exchange programs for young adults. This year’s participants are from Kenya and Tanzania and are focused on environmental and women’s issues. Two volunteers, one from the Yukon and one from Kenya, are currently working for reThink Green in the Forge.
Rowantree Farms (Allison Muckle). Rowantree Farms is a local organic farm that supplies gourmet eggs and vegetable to restaurants and specialty grocery stores.
Planet Earth Organic Landscaping (Ersin Abdullah). Planet Earth provides sustainable landscaping and organic gardening to businesses, organizations, and home owners.
Flat River Consulting (Hewitt Family). Flat River Consulting specializes in environmental reclamation for mining properties.
Ecospex (Julie Scarcella). Ecospex provides a support tool for sourcing green building products.
Impacts & Outcomes Objectives
The Forge is a model for environmentally sustainable practices and a collaborative work environment that makes increasing sense in today’s culture. It is a professional gathering space for businesses taking advantage of its services and is a natural meeting place for community members and representatives from other organizations who intersect with reThink Green.
The Forge provides an affordable space for the increasing numbers of people who are seeking or needing alternative work arrangements. Co-working provides a natural link among organizations that perhaps seem diverse but where unforeseen and creative sparks can happen. Popular and well-utilized online resources such as LinkedIn are evidence of how crucial these links can be. But the Forge goes one better: providing actual space where people can gather in real time – a wonderful resource for Greater Sudbury! The networking and collaborations offered at and through the Forge naturally create more connections among people, creating the potential for greater social participation as well as business growth.
The income generated through the Forge supports the broader work of reThink Green, enabling staff to continue to do the work of linking and fostering partnerships among the environmental non-profit organizations of Greater Sudbury.
One of our challenges is balancing private vs. public working space. Many co-working spaces are entirely open concept to encourage collaboration, while others offer private offices for focus and productivity. We have found that in Sudbury there is a high demand for private office space and less for an open concept workspace. Our two private offices were filled almost immediately and have remained occupied since we opened. Several businesses have inquired about private offices, but were unwilling to consider another option when this was not available. We have employed two solutions to this problem. First we have added dividers to the desks in the Forge. This provides more privacy for members and the ability to personalize their space with photos, art or posters. Secondly we have moved the reThink Green staff into the Forge and are offering the reThink Green private offices for members.
Patience is critical to starting a social enterprise. The Forge has been open for just over six months and is just now reaching a point where we are covering the costs of our operation. We are not yet to the point where the Forge is financially supporting reThink Green, but we are profiting from the other benefits of having the space to work and building a business community. Every week we have more inquiries about using the space and our connections continue to grow.
We have found that it is good to remain flexible in how we work with our members. We have our standard packages, but we are open to making changes to suit our customers. For example, we have a permanent desk package shared between three members of a family business. We also had a digital currencies start-up pay their monthly membership in BitCoin.
Vision for the Future
We are very excited about a potential collaboration with The Natural Step’s IMPACT! program. If the funding proposal is successful, this sustainability training program for entrepreneurs would be hosted annual in Sudbury for the next five years. The next generation of local green entrepreneurs would be fostered at the Forge.
We would like to see the Forge grow into a community of environmental businesses and non-profits who share not only a work space but also ideas, projects and goals.