Are Green Roofs the answer for construction sustainability?

6th January 2014

Green Roofs...are they the future?

Sustainability seems to be an industry buzzword at the moment- but it’s not just a fleeting fashion. Frequent flooding and the demand for more houses are leading to increased concern over water run-off rates. We need our tarmac roads, our homes and our driveways; we want patios and decking in our gardens and where, with land increasingly covered with impervious surfaces, will the rainwater go?

Word is that UK legislation may soon have to follow that of mainland Europe. Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 gives responsibility to Local Authorities to establish an approval board for sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) in new building developments. Although Schedule 3 has yet to be implemented, the responsibility to capture and treat run-off from flood events means many Local Authorities have already included it in their planning guidance.

Given the potential that green roofs have to help in addressing these issues it’s no surprise the British government has jumped on board; flying a British expert, the President of the European Federation of Green Roofs Association (EFB), to Budapest for an international seminar on sustainable building. Indeed, some Local Authorities are already focussing on making green roofs an integral part of large developments.

Perhaps surprisingly, these stringent rules covering developments of two or more houses are being welcomed by many in the industry. In this brave green world, a company’s image and reputation can hinge on how ecologically sensitive they are seen to be. Green roofs are viewed positively in more immediate ways too, since both business and domestic occupiers welcome any opportunity to reduce costs. The EFB reports that the thermal properties of a green roof can certainly reduce air-conditioning costs, although their insulating properties against cold are still the subject of study.

Globally, too, green roofs are hitting the headlines, with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Centre recently winning the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) prestigious Honour Award for Architecture; due, in no small part, to the beauty the sweeping semi-intensive roof planting conferred upon the building as a whole. The sloping roof, planted as a flower meadow, is visible from the ground; blending the modern building design seamlessly with the natural landscape beyond. Indeed, the huge interest in green roofs amongst architects is further demonstrated by the fact that the AIA 2013 Award for Research and Development was won by Kieran Timberlake for his report into the long-term sustainability and bio-diversity of roof plantings.

Judging by the interest from governments, Local Authorities, developers, architects, businesses and the domestic consumer, it would seem that the story of the green roof is far from over. It might even be safe to hope that the greening of our cities has finally begun.

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