The Cornerstone Café in Victoria, BC, is not your regular coffee shop. Sure, people go there to sit, drink coffee, socialize, and read; maybe they work, and maybe they study. It looks just like any other coffee shop. But the café's history is an inspiring story of community engagement, empowerment, and sustainability, from the "grounds" up.
1. Social enterprise
The Cornerstone Café is a social enterprise, which means that rather than maximizing the café's profits for a select few, the café's owner—the Fernwood NRG—reinvests the profits into the community. The Fernwood NRG is a non-profit organization committed to creating a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable neighbourhood, so when you buy a coffee at the Cornerstone Café, the money you spend goes directly back into the neighbourhood through the Fernwood NRG's programs and services.
2. Building revitalization
Re-use and recycle! Prior to 2005, the heritage building that houses the Cornerstone Café was a boarded-up eye sore in the centre of Fernwood Square, but a neighbourhood visioning forum changed that. Residents voiced to resolve the issue of the forgotten, unused building. They wanted to revitalize the building and use the space for a community café, local artists, and locally owned businesses. So within half a year, the Fernwood NRG bought the Cornerstone Building, and within fourteen months, local residents, supporters, and funders pooled their efforts to renovate the heritage building and create retail spaces, with apartments above. Two months after renovations were completed, the Cornerstone Café, opened and it continues to thrive and bring in revenue that goes right back into the neighbourhood.
3. Affordable housing
The cost of homelessness in BC is extremely high. In fact, it's an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 per person, per year, in health care, social and justice system costs (p.5). Affordable housing helps alleviate these costs because housing is a core need, and when it's fulfilled, people are healthier, mentally and physically. Not only was the Cornerstone Building revitalized and renovated for business spaces on the ground level, it also has renovated apartments on the second storey, which include four three-bedroom affordable housing units for families and children, and residents in these units have access to the full range of Fernwood NRG services.
4. Geothermal heating
Alternative energy solutions that work with ecological systems instead of against them are key to an environmentally sustainable environment, and the Cornerstone Building was revitalized with this in mind. The Cornerstone Building has a geothermal heating pump that was installed during renovations. The unit draws renewable energy from the ground and provides up to 70 percent of the Conerstone's heat and hot water, lowering the building's operating costs and adding to several of the Fernwood NRG's environmental initiatives. Plus, the building has thermal windows and dual-flush toilets.
5. Zero Waste
The Cornerstone Café is pursuing zero waste in its operations, including regular composting and full recycling. To-go cups are compostable, and customers are charged for the cups as an incentive to bring a travel mug.
So if you're looking for a sustainable way to spend your money, and you need a coffee, drop by the Cornerstone Café. Read their local newspaper. Listen to live bluegrass music on Wednesday nights. Attend a free course at Fernwood University, held at the café. Hang out in Fernwood's "living room". Support the sustainable future that the café embodies, and get inspired. Is it possible in your community?