First off, let’s start by acknowledging that while Green Roofs are indeed a trend, it is by no means a new idea. Treehugger recently published an article that looks back through collections of stories from the previous century that imagined cities of the future. The lead rendering envisions a city where “all the buildings are the same height and all their roofs are connected by big bridges into one giant green roof filled with public uses like gardens, orchestra pavilions and open air theatres.” It’s hard not to get lost in these drawings, especially considering how long ago they were conceived.
So what’s behind this decades’ old vision finally becoming a reality?
It’s tempting to say that economics must be driving interest in this phenomenon, because that’s typically how sustainable projects get off the ground. But the answer is a little more complex than this.
The National Park Service has a comprehensive guide to the benefits of installing a green roof on commercial and multi-tenant structures and it provides impactful data regarding economic benefits in addition to the sustainable features. The benefits are well-known to professionals in the industry and environmentalists. Some of the benefits include:
- Useful life – The useful life of a green roof is typically longer than standard rooftop designs. It’s important to emphasize that, like any roof, a green roof must be properly constructed and maintained.
- Mechanical Efficiency – Drawing the cooler air temperature native to a green roof helps rooftop cooling mechanical units get to core useful temperatures faster than normal rooftops, thus improving efficiency.
- Insulation – Green rooftop design naturally improves the insulation of a building, which reduces the mechanical load during cooling season and even offers some protection during heating season.
- Marketability – Facilities with green roofs tend to have higher market value due to the existing investment and efficiencies that are created. Moreover, green roofs are aesthetically pleasing to both prospective buyers and tenants alike.
Beyond the discernable economic benefits that come from installing a green roof, building owners considering undertaking this investment should consider several important factors. The first is to seek national, state and local municipal incentives. New York City has a program to incentivize building owners to adopt green roofs by offsetting some of the installation costs through a grant. Some municipalities are even offering tax incentives to encourage new development and redevelopment with sustainable technology such as green roof design. Depending upon the size and location of your facility, these benefits could be enormously beneficial.
“Healthy City” initiatives are popping up all over the globe as more building owners and engineers become familiar with the economic incentives and benefits associated with green roof construction. But it goes beyond simple economic awareness. As government officials examine new development and renewal development opportunities, there are best practice initiatives being adopted across the globe. Because green roof technology has beneficial qualities to providing storm water relief, reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality, cities view green roofs as a seminal part of municipal sustainability.
So while economics remain an important driver behind the green roof trend, it’s truly the intersection of environmental awareness, good governance and market forces that is fostering change for the better.