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Green Roofs: Mainstream and the Industry

on August 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm under

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



7 replies to "Green Roofs: Mainstream and the Industry"

  • I’m interested to see the % of extensive green roofs done with trays in the European market.
    They seem like an excessive amount of plastics on a ‘green’roof. The tray system in the USA seems to be sold on fear and the argument that you can ‘just pick it up fix a leak and put the tray back.
    In reality this is not nearly as simple as it sounds. First you have to find the leak by lifting up these 100 lbs.+ trays to find the leak. If you are strong enough to even do that, where would you leave them?
    I’m sure the European market has figured it out that this is an unpractical, expensive and horticulturally irresponsible way of building a green roof.
    Or have they….. Anxious to hear your about findings.
    Thank you for your article!!

    • Thanks for your thoughts!

      In fact, the German industry did go through an experimental phase at its beginnings (mid- to late-80s), which included the use of pre-grown modules. They didn’t last long, however, probably for the reasons you mention.

      Incidentally, two of the (9) extensive green roofs I’ve surveyed as part of my PhD research, dating from 1987, features this old system of styrofoam modules. They were scattered across the roof in geometric patterns. Apparently this part of the installation was a big hassle and modules didn’t really make a convincing argument of their merit, so are not to be found anywhere in Germany anymore. Too expensive, too.

  • […] – Over at Sky Gardens, check out Linda’s latest posts: “’s ‘This Week in Review’ on GreenroofsTV: July 27, 2012” and Contributing Editor Christine Thuring’s latest post entitled “Green Roofs: Mainstream and the Industry.” […]

  • […] we are going to look at an article by Christine Thuring over at Sky Gardens where she discusses their coming of […]

  • […] – Over at Sky Gardens, check out Linda’s latest posts: “’s ‘This Week in Review’ on GreenroofsTV: July 27, 2012” and Contributing Editor Christine Thuring’s latest post entitled “Green Roofs: Mainstream and the Industry.” […]

  • Christine-Very nice article. It’s nice to hear about the green roof industry in other countries and continents. I’ll see you in Copenhagen, and I hope to catch your presentation. — Amy

  • Hi Christine,
    great article. You addressed a lot of important issues e.g. the marketing. Although a lot of Green Roofs are installed in Germany there are not so many articles about green roofs in the daily press. Maybe this is due to the fact, that a large amount of green roofs in Germany are based on municipal regulations. So the building owner thinks that this is not a big story. And he is not proud of his green roof and the environmental benefits because it was not a voluntary decision. The marketing of green roofs for the public is something that we need to itensify in the future and where we can learn a lot from the US and companies like Very good work.

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