Did you know that atop every building lies the opportunity to bring nature back to the concrete jungle? If Steven Peck continues to spread the word, green roofs will become the norm. Peck is the founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a rapidly growing not-for-profit industry association based in Toronto, which promotes the green roof industry throughout North America. Green roofs beautify urban landscapes, provide refuges for insects and wild birds, and reduce storm water runoff, energy consumption, and air and noise pollution. (Read the Lofty Gardens feature for details about how green roofs work.) Peck’s association is working hard to move green roof technologies to the forefront of the green building movement. InnovationCanada.ca asked Peck to share his thoughts on the future of green roofs.
InnovationCanada.ca (IC): What sparked your interest in green roofs?
Steven Peck (SP): In 1997, I was introduced to the concept at a conference and got really excited because they tied in with my work on community sustainability and best practices for community design. I saw so much potential for green roofs because they bridged the gap between buildings and communities.
IC: With all the obvious advantages, why aren’t green roofs more prevalent?
SP: What makes green roofs so special is that it’s possible to develop a regional industry without spending a lot of money. But, governments have to provide sufficient incentive. Think about when you’re in a plane and you’re leaving the airport. You see miles of grey rooftops. We have this canvas of unutilized space that could, through appropriate public policy and regulation, become an engine for giving us several infrastructure benefits. I don’t think there is another technology that can do all that.
We need to do the biophysical and socio-economic research to convince the policymakers that this is worth doing. For example, if Montreal were covered in green roofs, how would that affect the urban heat island (the overheating of the city relative to the countryside)? How would it improve storm water management, cut air pollution, and reduce particulate matter in the air? We need answers to these questions.
IC: So what if everyone does adopt a green roof? Is that enough?
SP: The big-picture challenge is to transform the building industry into a force for sustainability. Right now, the industry is mainly concerned with being incrementally less damaging.
Imagine if every new building that went up in this country generated renewable energy, had the ability to produce quality food, supported cleaner air and water, and was designed for the health of inhabitants as a core objective. That’s a restorative building—a healing building that gives back more than it uses up over its life cycle. I believe that we can transform the building industry in one generation by making it inherently restorative. That’s the ultimate goal.
IC: How likely is that to happen?
SP: Actually, we don’t have a lot of choice. We need to move aggressively. Whatever practices we engage in, be it designing a building or growing wheat, if they’re inherently damaging, they need to change.
This is simple from a theoretical perspective, but from a practical perspective, it’s hugely challenging. The forces that will propel us forward are very strong. One of the big ones is energy because the end of the fossil fuel era is coming. These forces will point us in the direction of restorative buildings.
IC: What challenges does the green roof industry face?
SP: One of the greatest challenges is training and development of best practices. Since 2003, we’ve been working on our accreditation program, and by 2009 we will have green roof professional designation for the industry.
Standards are really important. Putting a green roof, even on your own garage, isn’t a do-it-yourself project. You have to consider the additional weight you’re putting on the structure. And green roofs are a living system so you need to know what plants will survive over winter in a cold climate. That’s another area where research is needed because most of the green roof research has been done in Europe, and we have very different weather considerations here.
IC: Who has risen to the challenge and developed an exceptional green roof?
SP: In Canada, one of the best is the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretative Centre, just north of Winnipeg. It’s the national headquarters of Ducks Unlimited Canada. The building has two green roofs. It’s a fantastic project because it’s so multifaceted—it’s planted with native prairie grasses and flowers, provides a habitat for birds, reduces the demand for cooling in the building, and reduces noise pollution.
IC: What actions can we take to support the cause?
SP: Contact your elected officials and ask them what they are doing to help make green roof and other living architecture technologies more affordable. Consider a green roof or a green wall for your home or place of work.