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The Flower Show

PHS Recognized by “Fast Company” as a Beacon of Innovation and Social Impact

April 02, 2024

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By Melissa O’Brien 

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is proud to join the prestigious ranks of Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2024. This recognition is a testament to PHS's unwavering commitment to utilizing horticulture as a catalyst for positive change in the Philadelphia region. 

At the heart of PHS's mission is the belief that gardens, trees, and exceptional horticulture are essential components of thriving, equitable communities. On a year-round basis, PHS invites everyone to embrace gardening as a superpower to transform society and the environment. 

In a recent conversation with PHS President Matt Rader, we dove into the details of this achievement and PHS’s future plans. 

The Significance of the Recognition 

"Receiving this prestigious recognition from Fast Company is a point of pride for all of us in the PHS community," says Matt. "It's evidence that we are contributing to and leading a 197-year-old institution into new directions that are having a positive impact on horticulture and the health and well-being of the region." 

As an organization with a rich history spanning nearly two centuries, being listed alongside change-making organizations like OpenAI, the National Women’s Soccer League, Microsoft, and Taylor Swift Productions showcases PHS's resilience and creativity. Matt says, “Even as an almost two-century-old institution, we're still ranked with start-ups that are innovating and driving change." 

Driving Impact Across Communities 

In 2023 alone, PHS's programs directly engaged over 300,000 individuals in the Greater Philadelphia region, with impact reaching 1.14 million residents living within a 5-minute walking distance of a PHS project. These initiatives are made possible by the dedication of PHS members, volunteers, sponsors, donors, and government partners, as well as proceeds from events like the annual, world-famous Philadelphia Flower Show

Economic Empowerment Through Employment 

Matt shed light on several key programs at PHS that are making a tangible difference in the region. Through PHS Healthy Neighborhoods Program’s Workforce Development and LandCare initiatives, PHS has helped grow small businesses and created thousands of jobs while fostering economic opportunities for underrepresented groups. 

One of PHS's flagship programs, the Workforce Development initiative, provides valuable training, job placement, and ongoing support for returning citizens and individuals facing barriers to employment. "Using horticulture as a tool to create economic opportunity for people is one of PHS's top priorities," Matt says. "We're helping individuals transition from not having a career in the green industry to having a successful one." 

Pioneering Research for Healthier Communities 

PHS's commitment to forging health research partnerships underscores its dedication to evidence-based practices. Collaborating with institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, PHS is at the forefront of studying the transformative effects of nature-based programs on urban communities, particularly those facing socio-economic challenges. 

PHS’s partnership with the University of Pennsylvania for health research has yielded insightful findings, demonstrating the multifaceted benefits of green initiatives on community well-being. "Studies on efforts to clean and green urban areas have shown significant reductions in violent crime and feelings of depression, demonstrating the holistic benefits of our initiatives," Matt says. 

Restoring Urban Green Spaces: The Philly Tree Plan 

As a lead partner in shaping Philadelphia's first-ever Philly Tree Plan and now a leader in creating the Philly Tree Coalition to implement the plan, PHS is spearheading efforts to restore the city’s tree canopy, thereby enhancing environmental resilience and fostering greener, healthier neighborhoods. 

Matt described PHS’s integral role in the Philly Tree Coalition which has formed to fundraise and implement the plan, stating, "We are deeply involved in the execution of the plan, working closely with city staff and partners to ensure its success. Our goal is to reach 30% tree canopy coverage by implementing innovative strategies to plant and care for trees." PHS’s leadership will mobilize resources and utilize deep expertise to drive lasting change in urban tree-planting efforts. 

Community-Led Initiatives for Lasting Impact 

Additionally, through green initiatives like the Nicetown and Tioga 'Love Where You Live' greening plan, PHS empowers communities to articulate their visions for neighborhood revitalization. "It's a community-led initiative focused on addressing health outcomes by empowering residents to drive change in their neighborhoods," Matt says. "Through partnerships and grassroots efforts, we're fostering a sense of ownership and identity among community members."

Looking Ahead 

As Fast Company celebrates the Most Innovative Companies of 2024, PHS stands as a shining example of how innovation, community engagement, and horticulture can intersect to create lasting social change. With a commitment to advancing health, equity, and environmental sustainability, PHS continues to inspire and lead by example in the Philadelphia region and beyond. 

Looking ahead, Matt outlined PHS's plans to build upon this recognition and drive further innovation. “Adopting Vision 2027 in 2019 has propelled significant growth in the Healthy Neighborhoods program and the institution as a whole,” says Matt. “Looking ahead, the focus remains on innovation, with plans to lead the Philly Tree Coalition and expand public gardens and landscapes for equitable access.” 

PHS's diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan aims to uplift broader voices in horticulture, alongside initiatives to highlight the 200-year history of home gardening in Philadelphia. Matt says, “Planning for PHS’s 200th birthday in 2027 involves opening pathways for green careers and further scaling impact through increased support from volunteers, donors, and members.” 

 In closing, Matt encouraged individuals and organizations to get involved with PHS's efforts. "Whether it's planting something in your backyard, volunteering, or becoming a member of PHS, there are numerous ways to contribute to healthier, greener communities," he says. 

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