Writing the next chapter of the Evergreen story
A message from Geoff Cape, Founder and CEO
Published on March 28, 2022
by Geoff Cape
Today marks a milestone for Evergreen. After 33 successful years of creating sustainable cities across Canada as Evergreen’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, I have made the decision to step down later this year. This is the right time to pass the momentum forward to new leadership.
My mind races through the countless projects I’ve worked on with so many amazing people, evolving Evergreen from an idea -- initially set up as a small charity focused on community- based environmental programs, that has since grown into a national organization to help cities thrive, now and in the future.
Given the strong ongoing collaboration with our partners - government, academia, business, communities, and forward-thinking funders - I am confident that Evergreen will continue to shape our future cities for the better. During the transition to new leadership, I will continue to help lead Evergreen as the Board advances the search process.
Since day one, we have worked together with courage and creativity as part of Evergreen’s DNA, enabling us to adapt and respond to challenges and design solutions that make us stronger. These qualities saw us through the difficulties of the 1990s, the great recession of 2008, and shortly after, the opening of Evergreen Brick Works. And finally, here and now, a global pandemic and unprecedented challenges that we met with imagination, resourcefulness, and sheer tenacity.
In the beginning
I started Evergreen in 1991, with a few friends at my kitchen table. The vision was simple -- to integrate nature into the design of cities for the benefit of both. We believed local stewardship was the key to creating vibrant neighbourhoods, a healthy, natural environment and a sustainable society for all – all of which remains true to this day.
We experienced growth along the way. We started with planting trees in Toronto’s Don River Valley, then expanded our programming onto school grounds in 2000, scaling our impact nationally. In 2002, we were inspired by the emerging idea that charities can create powerful business models to support the delivery of their mission though social enterprise. This was the start of the idea that became Evergreen Brick Works: launch a native plant nursery that would provide youth with employment and skills-development opportunities, grow trees that would support the delivery of our mission and generate a financial return that would support our charitable mandate. Great idea, we thought. And it evolved with time.
The lessons learned were endless, which you can find in this report, Transforming Evergreen Brick Works. Some were easier than others! Test ideas. Trust your team. Refine your ideas. Trust your partners. Engage the community. Operate within budgets and be bold. Develop plans and be prepared to change direction as we learn. Trust your instincts. Ask questions – a lot of questions.
We officially opened the doors at the Brick Works in 2010, having transformed an abandoned, boarded-up old brick factory into a globally recognized showcase for green design and an award-winning public space. It became a gateway to Toronto’s remarkable ravine system, a destination for children and families, a place for leaders from across Canada and around to share ideas, a national hub for innovation and a space for experimentation, welcoming 500,000 visitors a year.
With this unique space as Evergreen’s new home, many signature city building programs ensued: Evergreen’s Farmers Market, the largest in the city; the Children’s Garden, a prototype which has been scaled across the country; Evergreen’s legacy of greening school grounds, which continues today with its Climate-Ready Schools pilot; a robust public art program, and our ongoing work to revitalize Toronto’s ravines, further expanding the reach of the Brick Works, connecting communities with nature across the City.
In 2018, we expanded again with new programs to address some of the most pressing issues cities face -- from climate resilience and affordable housing to low carbon design solutions and vibrant public space. We have focused on the necessary innovations for sustainable, inclusive cities. Along with our founding partners, we launched Future Cities Canada, a platform to move ideas across the country connecting city builders to the resources, tools, tested solutions and people required to build capacity and achieve change in communities.
Looking to the future
As the world opens up post pandemic, Evergreen will be stronger – with new skills, new ideas, and new ways of working together – your support and partnership makes this possible. These are exciting times and the opportunity for Evergreen to lead is real.
Thank you for being a part of these incredible years. It has been a privilege to meet and work with so many wonderful people, partners, and volunteers locally and nationally to support and drive change in our communities.
Evergreen is a work in-progress - it always has been and I hope it always will be, because that’s what progress is. Help us write the next chapter of the Evergreen story so that more communities across Canada will thrive. We want to work with you.
Thank you again for your continued support.