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Business Planning & Management


An effective business plan needs a strategic approach that assures that the values and mission of your garden align with profitable new growth. For most public gardens, financial strategies are paramount in planning their futures. These strategies can be integrated into strategic plans, but can also be far more detailed than is usual in a strategic plan. An institution’s values and mission will help guide financial strategies focused on fundraising, earned revenue, membership, or on the financial impact of capital projects.

Adhering to a business plan that focuses on the triple bottom line will help generate cost savings and create positive associations with brand to establish the kind of reputation that attracts talent and visitors. Public gardens need to provide a level of transparency into their operations that goes beyond regulatory reporting requirements. Initiatives like the Global Reporting Initiative (a standard used by 2,000 companies worldwide to report their environmental, social, and economic performance), and the Carbon Disclosure Project, exist to help gardens become more transparent about performance. Both of these initiatives bring businesses to the table to set appropriate sustainability goals based on industry benchmarks and to identify best practices for reaching them. There are tremendous benefits to public gardens that invest time and thought into financial planning processes. When done consistently and well, these processes result in better performance on the individual and organizational levels, higher satisfaction and morale among staff, and can foster partnerships with key stakeholders in the community that can help advance your mission.



The triple bottom line concept is a way for gardens to view their business as a social, environmental, and economic entity and measure it along these parameters. Public gardens should strive to use the triple bottom line method for Business Planning and Management, as all three factors play a major role in determining if your garden can stay in business and generate a profit and impact the larger institution or community you are part of.

For example, the business model for university and public gardens is typically more focused on education and research, not about return on investment and analyzing every action. If your garden is part of a larger institution, such as a college and university garden, whose primary purpose is education of undergraduates and graduate students, demonstrate your relevance and what you can bring to the table in regards to research and enhancing the student body culture and experience. For instance, students that are stressed can find refuge at events or trails that your garden provides. Have a political strategy for demonstrating that relevance to the provost, faculty members, specific departments, and president. Because the solicitation of donors has to be approved by central development and you compete with other departments for funding, finding ways to show why you are important to the mission of the academic institution you belong to is critical.

College and university gardens are an important part of recruiting new students and could be a major factor a student would decide to choose a school over another. It’s important to recognize that influence and the power that garden presence has in inspiring students interested in a career in horticulture, plant conservation, and the environmental sciences.

No single bottom line can sustain a business alone. The following are just a few important reasons to implement the triple bottom line into your business models:

  • Your garden needs a healthy workforce with diverse skills, different perspectives, and an inclusive philosophy to ensure equitable social benefits.

  • Your garden can only operate in an economic situation where local businesses thrive. If your city or region becomes a dead zone economically, your own garden won't have access to people or resources in the long term (See Local/Regional Economic Health Attribute).

  • Your garden needs to promote good stewardship of natural resources to ensure they are available 10 years down the road and beyond. Environmental health is interconnected to the social and economic well-being of a garden and often leads to long-term financial savings as opposed to hidden costs.  




“I'm a huge believer in the triple bottom line annual report format: economic, environmental, and social. There are mechanisms out there for providing audits for all three of those things. At the highest organizational level, I think there should be an annual accounting of how you’re doing on environmental, social, and economic sustainability.”

~President, Green Spring Gardens 


“We want to make our institution very transparent.  There is documentation of all the decisions we make here. You are able to see our mulching operations, for example, and attach the science that goes behind that, as well as the business model going forward. What we’re doing here will make it easy for all institutions to understand how we do things, and if it's helpful, to see both our failures and successes. One of the key pieces for any organization would be the transparency component.”

~Director, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University


“Even insurance rates are changing. I think it's important to understand the operational basis of an organization, the basis of its bottom lines. Some will have bottom lines having to do with environmental education, but others have to deal with everything from buying insurance to making sure that they're able to present the garden or public vista that they want to.“

~Head of Science, Royal Botanical Gardens


“Increasing collaborative research, expanding leadership and environmental conservation, advancing interpretation of culturally significant plant collections, these are strategic planning themes we identified. So when thinking about our business plan, we evaluate what projects contribute to those themes, and if it does not, it gets a lower score. If it is a high priority and a low cost and it fits with what we said we were going to do in our strategic plan, then it is a no brainer and we are going to do it. Our business strategies and how we generate revenue have to be consistent and support what we have in our strategic plan.”

~Associate Director, Matthaei Botanic Gardens & Nichols Arboretum


“You have a variety of prospects as your donors, and you’ll craft a message that best appeals to them without leaving anything out. You have to mention sustainability. At heart, we’re all about conservation. I might say to a donor who only cares about children’s nature education, if you care about kids experiencing and having an appreciation or understanding of nature, well then you have to save nature, do you not?  You can take all of this and make it part of a philosophical whole that your more discriminating donors should understand.”

~Executive Director, Toronto Botanical Garden


"If financial data is all you measure then that is all your organization will care about. Some sort of sustainability audit is a critical 1st step to figure out where you are and then to decide as an organization whether you are going to make progress in improving those things."

~President, Gallagher Consulting Group 



Goal 1: Address both short-term and long-term sustainability within financial planning and business management decisions.

Goal 2: Implement a plan/policy to integrate sustainability into financial planning, investments (i.e. socially responsible investment options), employee saving plans (401k), and business management decisions.

Goal 3: Garden commits to triple bottom line as a standard for measuring, reporting, and evaluating financial and business management decisions.


UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that aligns with this attribute:

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

2017 Progress Status:

Despite steady improvements in manufacturing output and employment, renewed investment will be needed in the least developed countries to build needed infrastructure and ensure the doubling of industry’s share of GDP in those countries by 2030.

As many countries move to more efficient and less energy-intensive industries, their emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of manufacturing value added are generally declining. From 2000 to 2014, Europe and Northern America reduced their emissions intensity by 36 per cent. All of the 10 largest manufacturing countries saw decreases in their emissions intensity. Such promising trends are not reflected in the global emissions intensity level, however, since a significant share of global manufacturing value added has moved to countries with generally higher intensity levels.


Definitions of acronyms/terms used below:

RFPs and RFQs: Requests for proposals and requests for qualifications are published or privately solicited announcements for design services needed by gardens. RFQs are more general and confine themselves to information on a design firm or team’s qualifications, while RFPs solicit proposals for how a design team would address a specific project. (Rakow, Public Garden Management, p. 66).



1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline 

2. Identify Stakeholders 

3. Data Collection/Resources

4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Success 

6. Report, Communicate, Educate

7. Resources and Case Studies 




1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline


Use the Business Planning and Management Self-audit Worksheet for the self-audit and use it to further track your planning decisions (see Develop and Implement a Plan of Action section below).


For new and emerging public gardens utilize section 2.04, Business Plan, on pages 31-34, of the Guide and Toolkit for New and Emerging Public Gardens created by the 2017-2018 Longwood Gardens Fellows. 


“The financial planning has to be an outcome of the strategic planning.”

~Associate Director, Matthaei Botanic Gardens & Nichols Arboretum


Good strategic financial planning is focused on strategy, vision, and priorities for the future.  A key element of financial strategic planning is the identification and framing of critical issues. An organization should examine where it currently is strategically positioned, how it compares to others in its sphere, and what is on the horizon. The first step is framing the right questions and determining what needs to be answered in order to establish financial strategic direction. Consider the following questions as part of the Business Planning and Management self-audit process:




  • Does your garden regularly review its capital expenses to ensure it meets the Triple Bottom Line standard (e.g., construction projects, durable indoor and outdoor equipment, catering, external and internal programs, restaurants, café, retail, and events)?

  • Does your garden make a conscious effort to divest from fossil fuels, factory farming, and other harmful extractive and unsustainable environmental practices? 

  • Does your garden do a self-assessment of your business processes annually to prevent fraud and ensure adherence to mission, values, and policies?

  • Does your garden have a supplier diversity policy expressing commitment to enhancing the economic opportunities for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (WBE) (e.g., every contract has at least 10 percent minority business enterprises listed)? (See Chicago Botanic Garden Supplier Diversity Policy under Association Resources section).

  • Does your gardens collections policy include agreements with other countries, regions, or external sources to ensure plant species are collected, researched, and distributed ethically (plant procurement contract specifying process for research accreditation, provenance, commercialization, etc.)?

  • Does your garden have a policy and allocated resources geared towards climate change and how to ensure your plants continue to thrive when disaster strikes?

  • Does your garden have a policy or contract for those who rent your garden for weddings and other events (e.g., an agreement they must sign if damage is incurred or an upfront security deposit)?




  • Does your garden have policies and procedures for soliciting and accepting funds and cultivating donor relationships (donor solicitation policy)?

  • Does your garden have a financial contribution policy for the board of directors (e.g., every board member is expected to support the fundraising effort, either by contributing to the organization financially, cultivating and soliciting donors, or writing grants)?

  • Does your garden have a strategy for prioritizing sources of funding such as grants, individual donors, institutional donors, members, and crowdfunding platforms to meet capital needs?

  • Does your garden establish campaign goals by dollar and by type of donor (e.g., individual, non-member, member, institution/corporation)?

  • Does your garden have separate financial plans for: operations, earned revenue, development (unearned revenue), and capital?

  • Does your garden have an internal policy or template for all staff to follow for budget requests, RFPs/RFQs, grants, etc.?

  • Does your garden have programming that ties directly into a government agency mission and could be aided or fulfilled through grants? 

  • Does your city have a green loan program that allows you to borrow the entire cost of a project upfront and pay it back on, for example, energy savings over X amount of years (The Arnold Arboretum is involved in such a program in Boston, MA)? 


2. Identify Stakeholders


A policy on environmental responsibility is a good first step towards the broader concerns of sustainable development. Management should incorporate stakeholder expectations into a broad policy statement that sets out the garden’s mission with respect to sustainable business development. This policy statement should guide the planning process and put forward values towards which management, employees and other groups such as suppliers are expected to strive. Ensuring alignment among key stakeholders is crucial to any business planning approach and should include the participation of all people involved: Board members, staff at various levels, and key external stakeholders. Development is not always about raising money and earned revenue. Depending on your institution and your stakeholders, it can be about ensuring that money is allocated to the right avenues (social or environmental capital) that enhance your goals and mission. Consider the following when identifying and engaging stakeholders:


  • Garden leadership staff gathers input from volunteers and staff from the bottom up to ensure business plan is aligned with your mission and vision and then confers with board after synthesizing information.

  • Form a business advisory board or finance and operations committee to provide non-bias perspectives.

  • Form a green team (representatives from various departments) that can meet regularly to review and analyze sustainable business practices. 

  • Bring in experts from landscape and operational specialties (e.g., ecologists, arborists, landscape architects, plumbing, masonry, engineering, etc.) to find ways to design and plant sustainably, reduce costs, and increase operational efficiency.  

  • Hire an external consultant to assess operational structure and your current business model (e.g., a financial consultant firm that specializes in financial planning processes).  

  • Corporate sponsors and other cultural institutions with natural alignment to your mission that your garden can partner with for workshops, events, conferences, and programs on and off site.

  • Engage local community leaders and businesses to gather interest in future project collaborations

  • Engage previous donors and current members on the issues they care about and how their money would be spent to address those concerns.  

  • Engage local elected officials and leadership staff at offices of environment and sustainability and state department of natural resources to see what sustainable business goals align with yours. Discuss ways that you could partner with them on upcoming business plans, particularly if the city owns all or parts of your property (e.g., a new visitor center that could be part of a city initiative for green architecture through the living building challenge, whole building design guide, etc.).  

  • Engage private and state landowners that you share land boundaries and ownership with on sustainable landscape design and infrastructure projects (city-owned property).

  • Reach out to other government funded gardens for resources and advise.


3. Data Collection/Resources


“You need to work with agencies and governments that do measure and quantify these things, and get as many of them to validate what you’re doing as you can. You can get green audits and green energy audits that will give you a rating and tell you where you can improve.”

~Executive Director, Toronto Botanical Garden


Unlike strategic planning, business planning addresses the scope of the organization in quantifiable terms: size of operations (people, programs, inputs); corresponding budgets; and corresponding outputs projected by year, or for each of the specified phases of growth. Be sure to quantify and analyze the number of garden operations: garden areas, acres of nature reserve, kilometers of nature trails. This informs business decisions on maintenance, number of staff, and additions or subtractions to the landscape that need to be made.

Many organizations underutilize data of all types, but particularly service outcome and fundraising data. Data can provide powerful information if it is accurately collected, analyzed, and used to improve organization effectiveness. Data collection is instrumental in assessing your organization’s use of program performance, outcomes, and fundraising data. This process will help inform how program and donor databases can be optimally structured.

It’s also important to establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), as they are critical in examining progress toward an intended result. KPIs provide a focus for business and operational improvement, creating an analytical basis for decision making and helping focus attention on what matters most. Managing with the use of KPIs includes setting targets (the desired level of performance) and tracking progress against that target.

The Global Reporting Initiative offers a few helpful metrics for measuring and reporting your environmental triple bottom line. These include (but are not limited to):

  1. Renewable energy use and energy consumption (direct and indirect)
  2. Amount of material that is recycled
  3. Amount of water withdrawn from local water sources
  4. Total NOx, SOx, and GHG emissions


Consider the following questions when performing a self-audit and attempting to collect data and resources in regards to Business Planning and Management:




Does your garden regularly track (internally or externally) any of the following (Look for multiple “YES” answers)?:

  • Energy use (sources and efficiency)
  • Water use (sources, efficiency, release and conservation)
  • Waste reduction (toxicity elimination, recycling, composting)
  • Materials use at employee facilities and visitor services (reuse, sources, recycled material)
  • Products/materials from local/regional sources (office supplies, equipment, etc.)
  • Catering company menu offerings (e.g., health and nutrition)
  • Food supply chain for cafes/restaurants (e.g., sustainable agriculture)
  • Future plans for green infrastructure, retrofitting, or replacing older infrastructure (e.g., irrigation).
  • GHG emissions (GHG inventory)
  • Identified/researched grant sources and associated reporting requirements
  • Program Related Investments (Internal & External)
  • Employee benefits (policies should be reviewed annually)
  • Insurance (collections, buildings)
  • List of MBEs and WBEs contracted with 
  • Planned land acquisition costs (real-estate market/value).
  • Expansion plans off site-facilities or infrastructure (e.g., treatment plant for effluent water, solar panels, etc.) 
  • Operations and construction costs (equipment, vehicles, maintenance)
  • Number/acres of garden areas, acres of natural lands/reserves, and kilometers of trails




  • Has your garden identified which of your different revenue streams (e.g., ticket sales, plant sales, events, retail stores, etc.) is most profitable (earned income analysis)?

  • Has your garden standardized budgeting methods for your entire workforce for what senior management and your board expect to see?

  • Does your garden have KPIs for your financial planning documents (expected return on investment)?

  • Does your garden analyze donor data and giving histories?

  • Does your garden have a process it follows to prioritize and categorize where you allocate financial resources (See Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum Prioritization Rubric under Association Resources section)?

  • Does your garden regularly review and track money allocated to programmatic focuses on site and off site and by department?

  • Does your garden analyze membership demographics and percentage of renewals?

  • Has your garden tracked the increase or decrease in annual revenue and done a comparison of each fiscal year?

  • Does your garden report program related investment (PRI) funding to stakeholders?

  • Has your garden used free online tools like the B IMPACT ASSESSMENT (BIA) to assess how your garden performs against dozens of best practices?

  • Does your garden do any financial benchmarking (Association Benchmarking platform) to compare with other gardens?

  • Does your garden utilize frameworks and scorecards established by government agencies or organizations like GRI to report on financial savings?

  • Does your garden utilize questionnaires and scorecards to determine whether donors, sponsors, or investors meet certain standards of transparency, accountability, and performance?


4. Implement and Develop a Plan of Action


One of the first steps your garden needs to take is creating long term financial objectives that are clearly outlined in a plan of action and reflect the gardens values and mission. Applying a triple bottom line lens to any/all aspects of business planning, for example, supply chain contracts and capital investments, demonstrates that your garden is committed to no single bottom line that strictly prioritizes financial well-being.

Just as data collection should be goal driven, the action planning process must also help the garden to identify the important criteria for action decisions. Financial oversight includes matching action steps to existing resources and developing realistic timelines. Consider how to continue to cultivate buy-in and demonstrated engagement from the most influential staff members who have been part of all steps in the process.

Chances of success increase when garden leaders focus on opportunities that have a natural fit with their organization’s resources, assets, capabilities, clientele, and mission. These factors can serve as the basis for a competitive advantage. As you look for suitable opportunities, keep in mind intangible assets, such as relationships and reputation. Identify opportunities that your garden is well positioned to pursue and that will be seen by key stakeholders as natural extensions of its operations.




  • Outlines costs related to land acquisition, construction, and operations.

  • Commit to a membership structure and planned giving and endowment model.

  • After researching sample RFPs and RFQs, identifying a list of donor prospects, and anticipating capital needs well in advance (e.g., programs, events, conferences, etc.), ensure the solicitation of donors and partnerships are aligned with your mission and enlist design firms/teams that can help bolster future public engagement campaigns.

  • Devote staff time and resources to meeting with city officials and local government agencies about opportunities to align your business related sustainability goals with theirs (whether through staff connections, at a conference, etc.). Gardens that are on city owned property can develop a partnership with their city/municipality in order to expand operational facilities for programs, acquire land, and implement infrastructure that fulfills your vision and mission, but also enhances the profile of the city when it comes to achieving sustainable initiatives and being perceived as a “green city.” Examples include a living building challenge or innovative green infrastructure that makes your garden both a local and national tourist destination but also a leader in sustainability that can be emulated locally. The more involved you are with your local government and city officials at public events, meetings, and conferences, the greater chances of them collaborating and investing in one of your projects.

  • Develop membership programs as a way to generate a broad base of support and to identify donors who may be encouraged to give at higher levels. Be sure to have a suite of options and policies including: annual appeals, solicitation of major gifts, capital campaigns, planned/estate gifts, and memorial giving.  

  • Begin creating a financial reserve as soon as possible, a “rainy day fund.” A typical target for many nonprofits is to maintain at least 6 months of operating budget in reserves.

  • Implement a targeted donor solicitation campaign that focuses on the programmatic areas and assets of your garden that you want to improve. Make appeals to previous and new donors about programs and projects that your garden envisions will give you more exposure and be a beacon for best sustainable business practices.

  • Be transparent with the public and your members and donors about how an action, for example, building a state of the art green roof, could provide more income in the long run. It may lead to a stronger connection with your community, a partnership with other businesses, or save you money in terms of storm water management and pollution control.




  • Accessibility and inclusion ensure that visitors feel comfortable and welcome at the garden. The garden needs to consider physical, socioeconomic, and cultural barriers. Accessibility by public transportation, for example, may help the garden to reach audiences without access to private vehicles. Gardens need to work with local government officials and apply for permits to install signage with mileage distance to garden near key bus stops, train stops, or bike paths. This will help further market and expose your garden to surrounding communities. Implement a plan to make your garden more inclusive by working with the city to see if there are ways to connect garden walking paths/bike paths to other existing infrastructure (See Bartram’s Garden under Case Studies below).  

  • Ensure that the garden’s supplier chain includes a percentage of MBEs and WBEs.

  • Finance free professional development, career advancement, and learning opportunities for community members (K-12 schools), students, volunteers, interns, and employees at events, conferences, classes, and workshops. Allot time for staff who are interested to pursue fundraising courses or mentorship programs such as those offered by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

  • Work with college/universities to offer garden scholarships and internships to students interested in horticulture and want to learn and conduct research.  

  • Have special events featuring experts in their field (artists, chefs, ecologists, etc.) for classes and workshops for both employees and the public (either free or at a cost).

  • Implement fair hiring standards (interviewing minority candidates and not having strict requirements that are exclusive of major demographics).   

  • Establish new programs and change marketing tactics for established programs to generate greater participation amongst low participating demographic groups.

  • Garden program leaders should identify like-minded organizations that may serve as partners in program design and delivery. Gardens can leverage their impact by collaborating with institutions in ways that achieve mission objectives for all partners. Among other benefits, partners can contribute expertise, equipment or facilities, financial resources, and access to diverse audiences. Partners can also include nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions, and business entities. For university/college gardens partner with other relevant departments to solicit private donors for future projects. Ensure collaboration with these departments and other relevant cultural, health, and research based institutions to engage the student body, university, and public with educational programming. 




  • Build standards for guest engagement into job, intern, and volunteer descriptions and performance evaluations. The people you hire can impact visitor perception of your garden. This needs to be outlined in contracts with external partners as well, such as catering companies so that they can be helpful ambassadors of the garden. 

  • Determine from the outset garden operation hours. Hours open to the public is an important guest experience and business decision. Longer hours require additional staff and bring about more challenges such as safety. Consider your target audience and decide hours strategically based on accessibility to public transportation, etc.

  • Develop detailed annual and monthly budgets, including an adequate staff/volunteer plan to manage and run each program, facilities requirements, equipment, materials and supplies, etc. Plan for contingencies; prepare budgets for best and worst case scenarios.

  • Comply with legal requirements and accounting standards to remain legal and accountable and to ensure public confidence. Make sure to check Financial Accounting Standards Board, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and Internal Revenue Service. (; )

    • Pay attention to Form 990; approved deferred gift instruments; strict guidelines under income, gift, and estate laws to qualify for certain tax incentives; and reporting regulations for non-case gifts.

    • Review regulations relating to online giving

  • Invest in administrative systems and technology. Administrative systems include financial management tools and procedures. Many administrative operations can be outsourced to companies that specialize in various functions. For example, payroll management, bookkeeping, website development, and data storage can all be managed through third-party vendors. Likewise, it is not necessary for the leadership team to create all of the relevant administrative documents from scratch. Many sample documents and templates are available open-source online or for a nominal fee.

  • For smaller, newer, and emerging gardens execute phased growth—this ensures that the garden manages and allocates assets responsibly over time, since gardens rarely have the funds available to develop the entire garden at once. Leadership should review the phasing strategy set forth in the master plan and amend the priorities for development as appropriate. Cost estimates accompany each stage of increasing detail, at which time the leadership staff should review cost and budget projections.

  • Implement a business model where all indoor and outdoor sales transactions from outsourced or external companies (catering companies for events, café, restaurant, etc.) are not given autonomy for all business decisions. Decide what materials and food are used, purchased, and sold throughout your garden. Being a part of the culture of your institution these highly interactive public spaces should reflect your mission and should be purchasing, distributing, and selling products that are sustainable and that promote conservation. For example, if your garden advocates sustainable agriculture, health and nutrition, and sustainable waste management, evaluate whether your restaurant and café offer guests food and drinks that are unhealthy (soda), materials (plastic, Styrofoam, etc.) that are unsustainable, and waste streams with no recycling option. This same philosophy should be applied to internal operations as well, such as your visitor center and retail stores, anywhere your garden can demonstrate its commitment to sustainability from a business standpoint.

  • Implement financial and non-financial metrics to quantify objectives and to understand the business performance of your garden. Use tools and online resources like the Triple Bottom Line Tool, GRI, B-Impact Assessment (See Resources below) to assess performance. These will give your garden a greater understanding of key business drivers, which ultimately allows for effective time and monetary investments. This will help gauge and control the present state of the business. Research metrics through garden industry trend reports or annual reports of peer gardens. Commonly used financial KPIs are revenue growth, earnings growth, and debt reduction.

  • Standardize budgeting requests and forms for all departments ensuring it is aligned with what leadership staff and your board expect. This should include budget priorities and externalities (e.g., products from abroad).

  • Form a green team or sustainability committee with representatives from various departments that can regularly meet to discuss better business practices and ways to improve protocols, standards, and operational procedures. If such a team cannot be formed, get funds or allocate money to hire a sustainability coordinator whose job would be to evaluate current revenue streams, policies, and procedures and find ways to create a more sustainably business minded culture.


5. Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


While every garden project and event is typically structured based on a business model, does not mean it must be profitable to be worthwhile. It just has to be the best use of scarce philanthropic and management resources. When a venture creates direct social and environmental benefits, these must be factored into the assessment and given proper weight. Once your garden has developed and implemented a plan of action it should look to ways to evaluate that it’s carrying out its objectives and goals. Establish a regular review cycle to track financial sustainability performance, adapt plans as opportunities/constraints arise.


  • Evaluate the garden’s sustainability performance and business plan on an annual basis to ensure that it is consistently relevant.

  • Revise frequency with which departments and staff members meet if a lack of understanding or communication is identified. For college/university gardens determine whether faculty members at the larger institution you represent are aware of business plans and policies.

  • Evaluate and work to reduce the number of budget line items if necessary. If there are products, services, programs that are not directly tied to your mission and are prohibiting your garden from spending the staff, time, and resources on what has been successful and critical to your mission, then scale back operations and business plans.

  • Evaluate volunteer and employee retention rates by annually examining competitive compensation packages (Health, Dental, Vision, 403(b), 401(k), Life and AD&D Insurance, Disability Insurance (STD, LTD coverage), Voluntary Life , SIMPLE IRA, FSA/DCA, Vacation/Sick Leave, Personal Time).

  • Monitor the number of annual visitors and the reason for their visit through surveys and other evaluative forms. For example, if your garden has three areas of focus: conservation, education, and health; your garden should strive to analyze what percentage of visitors came for one or a combination of those specific areas of focus. This aids the business planning process helping better understand your current and future target audiences. Evaluate the peak time of year for visitation and adjust your business plan accordingly

  • Conduct a GHG annual emissions analysis by metric tonnes CO2e (CO2 equivalent), example measurements include direct GHG emissions, indirect GHG emissions, GHG emissions from water supply and treatment, GHG emissions from energy supply and use, and GHG emissions from employee commuting.

  • Evaluate the number of full time employees, part time employees, seasonal employees, contractors, new hires annually and the average number of jobs lost annually (breaking it down by department for large gardens). Regularly review employee performance and your personnel plan to determine needs for employee retention, additional hires, and opportunities for hiring interns, part-time, or, seasonal employees.

  • Evaluate maintenance requirements on a regular basis in addition to initial capital requirements to determine cost for restoration, retrofitting, design firms, etc.  

  • Evaluate financial viability of both the initial expense and the lifetime costs/benefits for all materials and construction projects.  

  • Regularly review operating expenses to ensure purchases and maintenance demonstrate sustainable business practices. The following operating and service expenses should regularly be reviewed:

    • Utilities
    • Internet services
    • Office supplies
    • Program/event supplies
    • Soils/mulch/growing media
    • Chemicals-IPM
    • Tools & equipment
    • In-house & outsourced document reproduction
    • Plant materials & seed
    • Beneficial insects
    • Uniforms
    • Fleet maintenance
    • Local transportation services
    • Manufacturing processes
    • Transportation--minimize distances, optimize efficiency of transportation methods employed
    • Use of renewable energy in production and operations
    • Lifecycle costs/durability
    • Product/service providers' sustainable practices (manufacturing, CSR, transportation, renewables)
    • Raw materials-local/regional sourcing
    • GHG emissions
    • Water consumption/quality
    • Energy consumption
    • Material/construction/equipment durability
    • Waste management
    • Supply chain management
  • Evaluate CSR (corporate social responsibility, i.e. practices employed by companies to support and/or advance environmental, economic and social sustainability) claims and practices of service providers. Evaluate investment holdings (i.e. companies held in investment portfolio including those held within mutual or other funds) for CSR track record. If sustainability practices and business performance are satisfactory, maintain holdings; if not identify better investments and reallocate to more sustainably focused investments.

  • Adopt a regular business plan review process, cycle, and metrics to evaluate progress with respect to financial, environmental, and social sustainability.

  • Monitor business performance and verify it against established criteria using tools such as GRI and GIIRS. 

  • Monitor the business performance of products, and those of suppliers, to develop better sustainable practices and invest in more innovative technologies and services.

  • Supply chains for plant material, food products, clothing/gift shop items, and garden equipment such as vehicles and tools to maintain should be reviewed monthly. As a best practice identify more fuel efficient and less reliant fossil fuel products and services.

  • Annually review and evaluate contracts you have with external businesses, particularly as you acquire new land and add facilities (consider the number of years outlined in these contracts and weigh them against industry standards).

  • Regularly review and meet with utility companies you are contracted with to ensure that they are reporting and providing the information you need and want.

  • Ensure monthly reforecasting. The flexibility to re-forecast and revise processes is important, especially in today’s market conditions. Frequent re-forecasting continually gauges garden performance to crucial aspects, such as the market, budget plan, and business competitors.


6. Report, Communicate, Educate


Let your visitors and the public know how active you have been in fulfilling your mission by sharing current and future business plans and investments that illustrate your commitment to the triple bottom line.  When gardens identify meaningful accomplishments, they must determine how and what to share in an internal capacity with stakeholders and in an external capacity with the public/target audiences or on a national scale (such as through our Association’s network).


  • If your retail store or café have green certification logos (e.g., fair trade products, etc.), or work with local farms highlight/advertise that fact or make a statement to the public via electronic materials or print including your website, email, displays, brochures, etc. Communicate to the public any awards or certifications you’ve achieved where you took extra steps and spent more money to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability (e.g., World Architecture News award, LEED certified, etc.).

  • Report online or in public displays a list of donors (with their permission) who have contributed to the completion or implementation of a program or project that you feel warrants communicating and mentioning. Keep your donors informed about the progress and status of your projects. Communicate with investors plans for becoming LEED certified (silver, platinum, etc.) and what impact that could have environmentally, socially, and economically.

  • Raise public awareness: As a garden committed to conservation, you can also help to increase public awareness about the efforts that local businesses are making to operate sustainably. Purchasing materials, products, equipment, and supplies from sustainably certified sources can help to spread the word about the businesses that have committed to being green. The more that the public knows, the more educated they become about sustainability issues. They can then choose between businesses that are aligned with their values and those that aren’t.

  • Be open and transparent in communicating performance, including annual public environmental and social reports on garden projects, operations, and activities.

  • Internally you should distribute a Sustainability Report conducted by a team of staff from various departments (Green Team).

  • Anticipate, acknowledge, and respond to community concerns, aspirations, and values regarding financial business decisions through social media, your online website, email, or magazine/newsletter.

  • Accentuate and focus on sustainability in interpretative tours, panels, and other educational messaging and interactions with visitors because those are potential donors. You will have a stronger message and greater integrity if the public can see that you back up what you claim. Establish a suite of interpretive tours to help promote your garden, especially among current and prospective financial supporters.

  • Communicate to city officials and local government agencies your future business plan and how they might be able to assist in funding. These could be future projects that are mutually beneficial.  The city may be willing to put millions more into it a project in order to achieve a certain designation and recognition.

  • Develop and implement stakeholder specific communications plans to report regularly on your garden’s performance and progress in financial sustainability aspects relevant to each stakeholder group.

  • Communicate availability of sustainably focused investment options in employee plan enrollment/renewal communications.

  • Market capital campaigns such as being rated by an external organization, B-Corp certification, GRI report, or a GIIRS rating to communicate sustainable impact.

  • Commit to discussing development progress at every board meeting.

  • Speak to management consultants, attend user conferences, and review software life cycle models to understand all options.



7. Resources and Case Studies 


Association Resources: 



Capitalism at the Crossroads: Next Generation Business Strategies for a Post-Crisis World, Stuart L. Hart

The Impact Investor:


Sustainable Operations Strategies: The Impact of Human Resource Management and Organizational Practices on the Triple Bottom Line


Uncommon Service, Harvard Business Review Pres, Frances Frei & Anne Morriss


Why Business Thinking Is Not The Answer: Good To Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins


The Manual of Strategic Planning For Museums, Gail Dexter Lord & Kate Markert


Measuring What Matters:


Financial Management Resources:


●       Financial management and accountability support, resources, and free download templates:

●       Nonprofit Fiscal Policies & Procedures: A Template and Guide:

●       Accounting Procedures Manual template:

●       Tips, tools, and templates:

●       Endowments:

○        Article, “Should Your Nonprofit Build an Endowment”:

○        Laws and Regulations:

○        Five Steps to Starting and Endowment:

●       Accounting and financial management tips, and related information technology:


Other Resources:


“Fundraising and Membership Development.” In Public Garden Management, by Donald Rakow, pp. 124-34. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011.




CUPA casebook:


Triple Bottom Line Tool:


Business Model Innovation for Sustainability: Towards a Unified Perspective for Creation of Sustainable Business Models:


Measuring Business Sustainability Maturity-levels and Best Practices:


Stanford Social Innovation:


Sustainable business model innovation: exploring evidences in sustainability reporting:


Cornell SC Johnson College of Business-Tools, Programs, Resources:


Journal of Business of Ethics:

The Triple Bottom Line: What Is It and How Does It Work?


The Triple Bottom Line and Sustainable Economic Development Theory and Practice



Sustainable leadership practices for enhancing business resilience and performance:



Human Resources:



Carbon Disclosure Project:



Harvard Business Review: The Sustainable Economy:



Duke University: The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship:


RISE Social Venture Rubric: A Diagnostic Tool:


GrantSpace provides easy-to-use, self-service tools and resources to help nonprofits worldwide become more viable grant applicants and build strong, sustainable organizations:


Example Partnership:


Emd consulting (nonprofit strategy consulting): is an online repository of publicly available contracts for large-scale land, agriculture, and forestry projects. The repository includes the full text of contracts; plain language summaries (also referred to as "annotations") of each contract’s key social, environmental, human rights, fiscal, and operational terms; and tools for searching and comparing contracts:


Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment:


B Lab is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that serves a global movement of entrepreneurs using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems:


Evergreen (Canadian based organization with tools & publications):


The Public Gardens Sustainability Index Working Group is made up of diverse field-wide professionals. Does your expertise lie within an Attribute area? Help us build content for Principles and Best Practices. Have success stories? Let us collect your Case Studies. Contact Tommy Rosenbluth:


Case Study 

North Carolina Arboretum

The strategy behind the North Carolina Arboretum’s economic development efforts is place-based: it seeks to utilize the region’s unique assets to build elite research clusters. The Bent Creek Institute works to leverage the region’s unique biodiversity, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center has the potential to anchor Asheville as the center of the country’s climatic research operations. Both efforts are young and the full extent of their economic impact on the region will not be apparent for some time. However, by building an infrastructure through which the region can leverage its assets, the Arboretum is taking an active role in setting Southern Appalachia’s economic course.

Located on site at the North Carolina Arboretum, Bent Creek Institute, Inc. is a nonprofit affiliate of the Arboretum working in tandem with the Arboretum’s Bent Creek Germplasm Repository. Bent Creek is dedicated to the economic development of the western North Carolina region, through the creation of complementary partnerships to share knowledge and resources that utilize the region’s unique plant biodiversity for the advancement of biotechnology. Tactics for achieving this strategy are to:

• Develop new tools and therapeutic protocols to help understand the health benefits and drug interaction risks of botanical medicines;

• Validate botanically-based approaches to complementary and alternative medicine…through clinical trial design and development assistance;

• Serve the nation as an international repository and clearinghouse for the study, protection, and careful commercial use of medicinal plants and endophytes;

• Create unique research and work-study opportunities for graduate students as well as undergraduate and K-12 students;

• Discover knowledge and create economic incentives to drive informed environmental public policy that will protect Western North Carolina’s unique biodiversity assets.

Climate change’s impact has become more prominent in the public discourse and, more tangibly, in public spending and investment. Thanks to its location, biodiversity and burgeoning plant-based industries, Southern Appalachia is especially sensitive to climatic shifts, both biologically and economically. Through innovative partnerships with government actors and research institutions, the Arboretum hopes to facilitate a better understanding of climate change’s effects, while establishing Asheville as a climate research and commerce center of national importance. Partnerships include:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Climatic Data Center: Part of the (NOAA), the National Climatic Data Center contains the archives for six decades of US weather data. The Center hosts the North Carolina-based Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, while the Arboretum’s executive director leads the partnering non-profit Centers for Environmental and Climatic Interaction (CECI).130

Centers for Environmental and Climatic Interaction: The Center works closely with the Centers for Environmental and Climatic Interaction (CECI), Inc., led by the Arboretum, and hosts the recently formed North Carolina component of the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites that has been responsible for adding over 20 scientific positions to the Asheville economy.

Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites: CICS seeks to facilitate cooperative research in support of NOAA’s mission and goals related to climate and satellite data: to “understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet the nation’s economic, social, and environmental needs.” It values the Arboretum as a partner for its focus on “regional impacts of climate change on flora, plant adaptation to climate variations, a medicinal germ-plasm collection, outreach to the K-20 communities, and with the Bent Creek Institute, a focus on translating research into sustainable economic investments.”


Royal Botanical Gardens

In 2014, RBG’s Science department completed an initial GHG emission inventory which identified the areas of largest contribution to emissions. This motivated RBG’s management team to begin to investigate methods for the long-term measurement and reduction of this impact in 2017 and beyond. 

In April 2017 Royal Botanical Gardens joined as a member of Sustainable Hamilton Burlington’s Sustainable Business Initiative. As part of RBG’s SBI membership RBG has acquired software to annually measure its GHG emissions with intentions of setting a baseline year and reduction target.

In 2017 some retrofit projects were completed to reduce RBG’s annual GHG emissions:

  • Installation of electric cooking apparatus in RBG Centre’s ‘Greenhouse Café’, reducing natural gas consumption.
  • Installation of an air curtain at RBG Centre’s main entrance, reducing demand on HVAC systems.


Bartram’s Garden

Partnerships are a key strategy for Bartram’s Garden in the development of a wide range of programs designed to fulfill the garden’s mission. Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark, operated by the John Bartram Association in cooperation with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. The John Bartram Association’s mission is to protect and enhance the landmark Bartram’s Garden and House; advance the Bartram legacy of discovery, gardening, and art; and inspire audiences of all ages to care for the natural world. In March 2017, the Board of the John Bartram Association approved River Garden Vision 2025, an ambitious strategic and master site plan. Program design flows from that plan, and the organization is building programs with effective partnerships and meaningful connections to the local community. Programming ranges from historical and horticultural tours to community gardens and a food resource center at the Farm at Bartram’s. There are youth leadership development efforts, children’s programs, adult education, and volunteer programs. Major new developments include the construction of a riverfront biking/walking trail, called Bartram’s Mile, which will soon link to other trails leading to and from City Center; and the establishment of waterfront docks and boat storage for community use. Partners range from the City of Philadelphia, who owns the property; to the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, who partners with Bartram’s on waterfront restoration and major development components; to small organizations such as Philadelphia Waterborne, who partners with Bartram’s on teaching math and science skills to local students via boat building.


Missouri Botanical Garden

The St. Louis Green Business Challenge was launched in 2010 by the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce working with the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Garden continues to deliver the program today with the Chamber's continued support as a sponsor. 

The Challenge delivers "triple-bottom" line results (financial, social, and environmental) to businesses of all types and sizes across the St. Louis region. The Challenge supports integration of sustainability measures into the kinds of everyday operational practices common to every business.  Participants identify and adapt the strategies that improve financial performance and engage employees in voluntary measures to reduce environmental impacts.

To date, 194 companies representing more than 150,000 employees have "taken the Challenge." Ongoing evolution of program tools and services meet the needs of current and new participants, contributing to a strong continuity in the professional network the Challenge has established. Over 40% of companies have participated in the Challenge for three or more years, with 13 companies engaged through all eight program years.