Green Roofs: Mainstream and the Industry

August 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Anyone working on green roofs outside of Europe probably has the impression that green roofs are mainstream back in the Motherland (i.e., central Europe, where green roof systems were developed in the late 1970s).  That a green roof professional in Germany or Switzerland never has to answer that ever-popular question, “What’s a green roof and what’s it for?” because everybody either knows what it is, has one of their own, or works in some inter-related industry.

Well, I’d like to set it straight.  In fact, even in the Green Roof Motherland, where millions of m2 are covered in green roofs, many people have not got a clue what a green roof is or what it’s for.  I’ve been working on a green roof project in Germany the last 3 summers in a row, and have encountered countless individuals who don’t know what to make of my profession when they first hear it.  And it’s not the profession, either, it’s the green roof bit.

I suppose green roofs are hard to see from below, so even a totally vegetated roofscape would remain anonymous.  Only those in the know will notice the typical green roof species growing in the pavement cracks and look up for the affirmative flower heads peeking over the parapet.  And in the case of municipal support mechanisms, green roofs are just one of several solutions for rainwater retention, so not really all that special.  Thus, although widespread, I think it’s safe to say that green roofs still inhabit a small niche within European culture’s radar.

That’s why I find these current Orange Me advertisements so striking.  The Swiss  telecom  provider is using green roofs as the backdrop to their current advertising campaign, both on their website and on placards and posters.

The green roof aspect of the advert is a subtle after-thought, adding simply a tactile basis to imagining what is must be like to play Frisbee above the skyline of a big city. The ad is underscored by the keyword “freedom,” which gives the sense of breezy calmness.  Perhaps the players are high enough above the city that they can actually speak to each other from their respective rooftops?

Perhaps this advertising campaign will put an end to the “what is”¦” questions and guesses of function and intent.  Hah, just wait, in the near future we’ll start getting comments like, “Oh, do you mean grass roofs like the ones meant for highrise recreation?”

Hard facts: green roof markets are still growing

My observations above, of interacting with Europeans about their green roof awareness, are clearly rooted in the present and near-past.  This advertising campaign must, in fact, be a sign of the future, namely one where green roofs really have arrived to mainstream awareness.  Recent reports from two green roof industry associations suggest this may be true.

In Germany, the green roof industry association FBB (Fachvereinigung Bauwerksbegrünung e.V.) recently surveyed its membership and reports that the green roof market grew by around 19% between 2008 and 2011, with extensive green roofs holding 87% of that area (calculated according to m2).

See Figure 1 below for the % proportion by intensive and extensive green roofs per year.  The FBB estimates that 8 to 10 million m2 green roofs are installed per year in Germany.  Not bad for a market that was established over 20 years ago.

Figure 1

Across the pond, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) reports an increase by 115% (in m2 coverage) over last year, suggesting an “era of triple digit growth” by its corporate membership’s reported activities.

The North American green roof industry association identified the top 10 metropolitan regions for square footage installed in 2011 and found that Washington DC has overtaken Chicago (for that year, not total are greened), which had always held the lead since the survey began in 2004.

Figure 2

(Caveat: Remember that the annual GRHC survey is only sent out to its corporate membership, missing out on numerous companies, government entities and the like.  Of course, it is a great market indicator, nonetheless.)

In any case, are green roofs completely mainstream?  Unfortunately, not yet.  Is the market growing?  You bet!  Hopefully green roofs will continue to populate various advertising channels and further enter the collective subconscious of the world’s consumers.

~ Christine