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Green Caution Flag

December 11, 2008 at 10:43 am

Season’s greetings to all,

It’s time to reflect on the industry as we find ways to combat the decline of the economy. The green industry has taken center stage and has also become a profitable market for most. Looking back at 2008, personally I have seen more backyard manufacturing of products being labeled green, new DBA’s sprouting green buds of lackluster products, performance  and knowledge, making waves in the industry and establishing flags of caution for the experienced and legitimate green business and products.

My point is a word of caution to consumers and designers. It used to be when there were layoffs and an adjustment in the economy, a new lawn cutting or landscaping business would show up, and everyone was a landscaper. These same small landscape companies did not have the experience and overhead  that resulted in low ball bids making the Lawn & Garden  industry a tough place to make a living  –  I know, I did it for 23 years.    The good thing is these start-ups are not around long.

Today it’s not the person with a new truck  or trailer and a lawn mower; it’s a new “Green Business, Green Business Consultant or a green product”. It’s understandable that we all want to make a living and at this point retain our existing lifestyles or in some cases simply survive. Anyone with a lump of cash or a credit line can manufacture anything. Things to consider when hiring a consultant or thinking about using a new green product:

1. Ask for credentials, experience and portfolio;

2. Request references;

3. Ask to talk to other employees, they can be brutally honest;

4. Request research and long term data;

5. Look for public media, not just press releases;

In our business we have seen consultants and designers that simply do not have practical experience. As forward thinking and positive our industry (green roofs and green walls) is, do your homework when a green project is in your reach. Just because they attended Green Roofs 101, it doesn’t make them a green roof consultant or installer.

 George Irwin
 

 

Perceptions: Seeing green roofs in Austria

November 18, 2008 at 4:36 am

Like  the majority of our readers/ visitors, I am constantly on the look-out for green roofs. Extensive, intensive, moss-covered, or grass-filled eaves… Every green roof is, for me, a signal of Mother Nature’s pulse. A sign that she hasn’t abandoned us entirely, and will slowly, subtly, reclame our denuded constructions with autotrophic (i.e. self-feeding, from the sun’s energy…)  Life.

I recently moved back to Austria,  one of  the several German-speaking lands of milk and honey. Further to my beloved cheese- and chocolate-dominated diet, this analogy also extends to the fact that I’m now living in the Motherland of extensive green roof technology. Whether driving along the Autobahn, hiking at 2500 m above sea level, or going to work, my hungry eyes are constantly satiated with the sight of green roofs.

Here’s the funny thing, though. When I lived in Reutte in the autumn/ winter of 2005, virtually all the conversations I had with locals about green roofs were met with confusion, curiosity  and disbelief:

“Why would you put plants on the roof?” “Never heard of such a thing..” “They may be big in Germany, but green roofs don’t exist around here..” “Green roofs wouldn’t work here, we get too much snow.” It reminded me presenting the concept of vegetated roofs to someone who’d never heard of it before in North America.. except I’m in Austria, a progressive member of the EU.

Granted, I’m not in Linz, which has been implementing green roof policy and incentives since 1989. I’m 600 km west, in a Tyrolean Alpine village that is covered by snow for 6 months of the year. Deep and persistent snow cover plays an important role to the cultural psyche of this region. World-class skiers grow up here. As far as the locals with which I’ve spoken are concerned, green roofs may exist in Linz or Munich, but they don’t fit in here.

What’s so funny, then? Well, when I returned to the area this past July, my eyes were repeatedly surprised by green roof after green roof. They are, in fact, EVERYWHERE here! Just as I have been pleasantly surprised, many of the locals (who had no idea about green roofs before) universe community now report that they’re seeing green roofs everywhere too.. they’d just never noticed them before.

The experience has been not unlike that familiar experience from back home, of witnessing the lightbulb going on above a newly introduced’s head. The only difference is that here, the green roofs are HERE yet few people notice them (or thought much about them if they had). In some of the cases (see photos), it is hard to imagine how  someone could miss them!

 

Catholic church in Reutte with green roof walkway

Catholic church in Reutte with green roof walkway

 

Tourist Information Centre in Reutte with green roof
Tourist Information Centre in Reutte with green roof

This experience has opened my eyes to how green roofs  are perceived. While North American’s figure that Europeans are light-years ahead with regards to social and environmental policy (realistically about  15 years), this doesn’t mean that all Europeans know what green roofs are.

Dare I conclude that, regardless of geography or culture, green roofs may be either new and exciting, or so common that the layman doesn’t notice them.   Is this too much of a generalization?

 

 

An Awesome World Green Roof Congress in London! Day 1

November 10, 2008 at 2:09 am

Jet lag a thing of the distant past, we’ve been  back here at Greenroofs.com for a few weeks after our extremely interesting and entertaining trip to the UK capitol and the 2008 World Green Roof Congress (WGRC).   Many of our readers expressed a lot of advance interest in attending  this particular conference because of  the location and their opportunity to do additional sightseeing in the beautiful English countryside and beyond.   In fact, most of our fellow participants did just that, adding vacation days to their trip across the pond to take full advantage of their stay.

Due to time constraints, we opted to arrive the morning of the first day of the Congress on Wednesday September 17 figuring (wrongly) we’d get there in plenty of time.  Manuevering  from Gatwick to our hotel was quite a workout with bags in tow (not to mention horrifically expensive at about $130 for two, round trip) – and I can honestly say that Grand Central Station in New York  doesn’t even come close to the hustle and bustle of Victoria Station! “Move It or Lose It” should be their motto.

We hadn’t seen Dusty Gedge of Livingroofs.org in a few years, and he welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically – in fact, both Aramis and I felt right at home among seasoned colleagues and new friends, too.   In particular, Paul Shaffer and Nipa Patel of CIRIA were just wonderful.   I’ve e-worked with Paul before,  having reviewed the successful “BUILDING GREENer – Guidance on the use of green roofs, green walls and complementary features on buildings (C644),” (by Paul Early, Dusty Gedge, John Newton, and Steve Wilson, 2007 from CIRIA,)  but meeting Nipa and Paul was very special – they’re really good people with not only great patience and organizational skills, but a great sense of humor, too.   All characteristics which must come in handy  while planning an international conference of this stature.

Delayed bags made us unfortunately miss the better portion of the Wednesday morning session: Jim McLelland, Editor of sustain’ magazine (and the Congress Media Partner), opened the Congress with the Chairman’s Introduction followed by the Keynote Address from Richard Blakeway, Advisor to the Mayor of London on environment issues.   The London Plan addresses sustainability from many aspects and incorporates green roofs and green walls.   London climate change partnerships were discussed along with achievements and plans for the future.   The North American and German perspectives were tackled by Peter Lowitt of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and Wolfgang Ansel of the International Green Roof Association (IGRA), respectively, addressing the drivers for implementing greenroofs, the benefits and achievements of their approach, challenges faced and lessons learned, ending with future plans.

Speaking of the International Green Roof Association, make plans now to attend the International Green Roof Congress 2009 in Nuertingen, Germany on May 25-27, 2009.   Under the patronage of the German Federal Minister of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs, the congress will be hosted by IGRA and the Deutscher Dachgärtner Verband e.V. (DDV).   Wolfgang is extremely excited about the program which will include the latest technological developments within our industry as well as detailed case studies of spectacular greenroof projects from renown international architects and designers.   Of course, there will be hands-on workshops and excursions to Stuttgart and Freiburg, too.

Edmund Maurer from Linz, Austria, gave “Green Roofs in Linz – A European municipality perspective on green roofs” including the history and development of the Linz Green Roof Policy, incentives, rationale, and barriers to implementation.   The City of Linz uses a combination of legal framework, financial grants, and policy incentives.   In 1985 legally binding development plans required greeenroofs, either extensive or intensive and a green roof subsidy was implemented in 1989, marking the first direct financial incentive in Austria.   At present, Linz has approximately 440 funded greenroofs with a total greened of about 500,000 m2 (5,381,955 sf), which includes the Bindermichl Landscape Park at 81,000 m2, designed with playgrounds above a motorway tunnel.

Paul Collins, Head of Design Environment at Nottingham Trent University followed with his presentation of “Green roofs:  British policy responses and practice.”   It was nice to finally meet Paul later, too, as we had been corresponding for many years.

We arrived at the beautiful glass  structure of One Bishops Square in Spitalfields, home to the London offices of Allen & Overy, the WGRC  host, close to noon and joined the other 300 attendees in time to hear Duncan Young of  Lend Lease, UK talk about “Commercial drivers for green roofs”  which was very heartening.   He talked about some of the amazing projects that Lend Lease is currently working on, both in the UK and Australia.   Lots of green buildings and greenroofs!   For example, one of the UK’s largest regeneration schemes is  Greenwich Peninsula which is being developed by a joint venture between Lend Lease and Quintain, working with English Partnerships.   Over the next 15 years, the £5 billion regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula will be transformed into a thriving riverside community with about 20,000 residents and 24,000 workers.   Upon completion, at 190 acres this extensive new quarter of London is expected to form Europe’s largest mass of greenroofs.   And we were told that approximately 70% of the 2012 London Olympic Games structures will be greenroofed!

Update of July, 2011: 70% was a bit optimistic back in 2008, but there will be greenroofs.  For example, to meet green building regulations, the International Broadcast Center will incorporate a ‘brown roof’ and recycling non-drinking water (via About.com).  Of course, a brown roof is very similar to a greenroof, but it more greatly encourages the creation of biodiversity because of the high rubble/mineral substrate and wide, open  sparsely  planted roof.  The gravel, moss, and other low nutrient  plant life  will encourage insects, invertebrates and habitats for  the reported 100 bird and bat boxes to be incorporated on site.

The morning  Question and Answer session  followed with many people asking about insurance issues, especially as recently raised by Swiss insurance giant Zurich Re – see the related article in Building.co.uk “Insurers warn of fire risk from green roofs” by Michael Willoughby of September 5, 2008.   People discussed how non-vegetated fire breaks are critical as well as setting a maintenance regime and having supplemental water available.   In terms of leaks, respondents said that just like in all of the roofing world, flat roofs, greened or not, are the problem.   And it was brought up that many European insurance giants actually have greenroofs on their own buildings, including Munich Re!   Austrian Edmund Maurer added that his country in general has problems related to greenroof maintenance, and several German delegates agreed that this issue was present in their homeland as well.   Also, with the current financial crisis in London (and elsewhere), it was asked how important is it to have incentives from government to promote further greenroof development.   As important as it is to have local and national governments behind the promotion of greenroofs, many people responded that we really need to  focus on  greenroofs as amenity driven, not policy driven.   Dusty said that after climate change, biodiversity is a major concern in the UK and that living roofs provide solutions for both.

Next we  enjoyed our lunch, and I have to say that overall the catering and service was excellent, which  can be  rare for these types of events.   The exhibitor booths  were arranged very smartly, in a U-shaped  embrace of sorts around the central hall and all refreshments, lunches and snacks were set on tables within the exhibitor rooms to make it very easy to flow through, visit and network with other attendees  and the greenroof trade show participants.

The afternoon session was also  lively and we heard from some real leaders and mavericks in the field of architecture and research.   Known for  his design of  visionary green “bioclimatic” skyscrapers, Dr. Ken Yeang of Llewelyn Davies Yeang offered “Designing for ecological sustainability” which talked about his philosophy of “mound to ground” and the need to connect greenroofs to the ground level through a series of corridors and fingers utilizing living walls and “landscaped skycourts.”   He showed innovative designs from Hong Kong, New Delhi, Istanbul, Macao and Singapore.   Dr. Yeang also stressed the importance of bio integration of the physical, systemic and temporal nature of each site, and that each project  needs to be  program-specific.

Another colleague of ours, Dr. Stephan Brenneisen of the University of Applied Sciences in Basel, followed with “Benefits for biodiversity” and the Swiss approach for creating higher biodiversity and cost effective greenroofs.   Stephan said the low biotic diversity of many greenroofs is due to a  very thin substrate layer, and using different types of local substrates and varying the depths ( 5, 8, and 12 cm, for example) creates various types of environments where a variety of flora and fauna may thrive.   Referring to the growing media mix, he added that the greater the water storing capacity, the more biomass you’ll get on  your roof which in turn creates greater opportunities for higher diversity.   He also presented case studies including the Basel Exhibition Centre; Klinikum 2, Cantonal Hospital of Basel and the new Monument Development in London, which features the greenroof as a combination of art, design, and nature conservation.

Our German friend Dr. Manfred Kohler from the University of Applied Sciences in Neubrandenburg and the President of the World Green Roof Network (WGRIN), spoke about “Benefits for sustainable water management”  and how it is possible to design zero runoff properties.  Greenroofs were discussed in relation to decentralized rainwater management with examples of research studies in Berlin.    Manfred also informed us that at present, the 2008 FLL Proceedings are being finished.

David Sailor from Portland State University presented “Energy and urban climate benefits of green roofs,” which could have been a boring, dry subject if that’s not your thing, but it wasn’t!   A very likable fellow, Dave talked about the solar radiation properties of greenroofs – they reflect 20% – and the thermal  variances between winter and summer.   For example, a greenroof is 10 degrees C cooler in the summer, which is pretty standard, although a greater than 30 degree C heat flux is possible.    Unfortunately, greenroofs can be warmer at night since they retain some of the day’s heat, but overall greenroofs reduce summer roof temperatures by 10 -30 degrees C.   He  gave examples of various energy studies including monitoring from ACROS in 1995 and the City of Portland, Oregon.   Dave told us the DOE EnergyPlus 2007 modeling software  incorporated his greenroof module which includes details of greenroof energy balance (see “A green roof model for building energy simulation programs” published in Energy and Buildings).

Dr. Nigel Dunnett of Sheffield University and The Green Roof Centre talked about “Landscape and Amenity: a UK Perspective.”   Nigel suggested we “liberate design opportunities in the UK horticultural tradition” and wants us designers to be more liberal overall, utilizing both native and non-native plant species  to  create dramatic visual impact.   His point was that we can design a living roof to be functional and attractive, and in fact the very important attribute of aesthetics will help promote the market.   The Sharrow School in Sheffield was highlighted as a case study, with greenroofs at three levels.   Modelled on the distinctive urban habitats  of the region,  its 8,000 m2 rooftop is a wildlife habitat of mounds and  valleys with areas of: a small wetland, an open brownfield / rubble section, birch forest, limestone grassland, wildflower meadow and a colorful annual meadow.

Closing the afternoon session was Robert Runcie of  Environment Agency from England and Wales – he presented “Partnership approach to implementing green roofs.”    Robert asked, “How do we use development as a stimulus?”   Environment Agency is a national body working with colleagues in government and industry with the capacity to roll this as a best practice policy out across England and Wales.    Over the past two years, they helped ensure that eight hectares of greenroofs were included in London.   As part of their Green Roof Toolkit, they recently launched “Environment Agency’s Building a better environment: A guide for developers – Environment Agency advice on adding value to your site,” a web-based resource for developers and planners for the Thames Region.

The pursuant Q & A session  caused quite a stir  and  some people were dubbed  “Native Plant Nazis”  putting forth  the classic argument of how we should be only using native plant species on our greenroofs.   Basically the questions asked were Are aesthetics important enough for us to  give up the biodiversity benefits that using native plants offer?   Is it really necessary to use introduced species just for the wow factor?   Many people responded that actually both natives and non-natives provide a multitude of benefits to wildlife, including valuable habitat, food and cover, and a variety of plants  can be used for seasonal color and interest.   A little tolerance, people!   Don’t get me started – I’d like to write much more about this topic, so look for it later.

After the close of this first day of the WGRC, the Congress Reception was held on the beautiful  10th floor intensive greenroof terrace of  Congress Supporter Allen & Overy where we were treated to a  lavish selection of tasty barbecue and lovely local UK wines and later, innovative lemon and chocolate mousse dessert shots.

The area encompasses three landscaped greenroof terraces, and a fourth terrace is covered with  photovoltaic cells.   The terrace layout offered intimate areas for reconnecting with far flung associates and social networking – who’s doing what and where, and what a view!   The ever expanding London skyline was beautiful in the rosy hues of dusk.

At the end of the  evening we  heard from Congress Sponsor The Wildlife Trusts who introduced their  Biodiversity Benchmark  for Green Roofs.   The Biodiversity Benchmark for Green Roofs  was created to support the increased development of  living roofs  in the UK and is the first standard to encourage excellence in design, implementation and management of green roofs for the benefit of wildlife.   It was set up to support the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) to help increase the contribution that businesses can make towards enhancing biodiversity, and guidance materials provide advice on how to integrate biodiversity with environmental management processes.

It was great just hanging out with friends who share the same passion as we do in a relaxing greenspace in a wonderful city.   Stay tuned for a little more about the 2008 World Green Roof Congress and beyond when I’ll talk a bit about Day 2 and then our whirlwind London greenroof tour with Dusty and about 25 of his visiting colleagues!

~ Linda

Post-Safari reflections

September 30, 2008 at 4:59 pm

So much for blogging while on the road! Two weeks have passed since Green Roof Safari ended, and I’m only getting caught up now. That said, after the Safari ended, I got swept up by the World Green Roof Congress, and then by a week in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Grosses Walsertal. Apologies, as I digress (but must admit they are nice memories!!).

This blog posting is meant to share some reflections of the Safari. Since I’m only skimming the 6 day study tour, please don’t hesitate to send me your questions, either as a comment (at the bottom of this posting), or via email.

Hundertwasser Waldspirale

T-Mobile in Stuttgart

A wetland roof at Gemperle AG.

For its first run, Green Roof Safari visited between 4 and 6 sites a day, with a range of project designs which included Hundertwasser, intensive public spaces, extensive Sedum ‘deserts’ and ecologically designed roof habitats. For integrative, holistic projects, we visited two sustainable communities –Scharnhauser Park (near Stuttgart) and the Vauban District of Freiburg. Both are former military barracks remodeled for efficiency and mixed-use.

The tour met with a number of local experts representing policy and municipal campaigning, green roof design, research, and installation. The tour is indebted to the generosity of Stephan Brenneisen (Zurich University of Applied Sciences), John Doeveling (City Stuttgart), Christian Lang (Top Gruen), Christian Mathys (City of Basel), as well as our colleagues at Gemperle AG. Thanks also to Hotel Contel and Hotel Abalon for entertaining our curiosties.

We had great weather the whole trip, right up until the last day. And then, my, did the weather turn BAD! The downpour was torrential, and relentless. Nonetheless, we visited some unbelievable living facade projects in Zurich-Oerlikon. Doesn’t Brent’s red umbrella add a nice touch to MFO Park?

Brent is miniaturized in this grandiose park of living facades.

The night spent in the Alps, on the Rigi at 1,500 m above sea level, was literally in the clouds, so we didn’t get much of a view. Not of the Alps across Lake Lucerne, and hardly even of the little green roof bar on the terrace. Still, we knew that through the haze was the representing ‘green roof above 1000 m’. The photo below was taken in early August.

There is not a date for Green Roof Safari 2009 yet, but stay tuned to the website. Please don’t hesitate with questions or inquiries, and I’d love to hear any comments below.

Truly,

~ Christine