The Latest Green Roof Trends in North America

Last week, Sow Green attended CitiesAlive in New York City, hosted by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. CitiesAlive is the largest Green Roof conference in North America, and we walked away with a plethora of information and soaked up the latest in vegetative roof installation. From that, we gleaned some of the latest trends and the future of the green roof industry. We thought we’d share some of our favorite insights from CitiesAlive here:

Be bold and innovative

We heard from world-class designers across North America, some of which created incredibly innovative green spaces. Their experience allowed them to incorporate nature and aesthetics while still reducing environmental impact.

Fernando Ortiz Monasterio of Mexico City decided he needed to help transform the concrete jungles of the Mexican capital to a lush landscape. So he wrote a petition to citizens in Mexico City, asking how they would feel about covering Mexico City highways in green walls, as well as suggestions on how they should fund it. The response was overwhelming, with over 80,000 signatures! Countless meeting with government officials and city representative later, they were able to fund over 1,000 highway pillars with ad space above the green walls, with felt made from recycled plastic bottles. Talk about greening a city and building community!

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We also heard a great talk from Ken Yeang, who initiated and inspired nature-based architecture into modern buildings. Yeang uses a process called bioclimatic design, which uses design to build structures that will naturally heat, cool and light themselves. He creates interactive and functional projects and eco-cities by incorporating natural features, the interaction of people, buildings and the local habitat. Ken has been named one of the Top 50 people who can save the planet.

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Education and client expectation

Managing client expectations is always important, but it can be especially stressful in the case of sustainability projects. The sustainable way is often the natural way, and nature takes time. For clients who expect fast and cheap, this can be a struggle. For example, there are only certain times of the year one can plant vegetation on a green roof. There is a lot of preparation needed in order to select and grow the right plants, and the local climate and habitat often play a part. Green roofs also need to be able to hold more weight and need the correct waterproofing membranes. This is especially necessary for clients who are in need of a retrofit to understand. Green roofs also need irrigation (at least for the first few years) and regular maintenance. This needs to be planned for early and included in the budget. Communicating the process, budget, savings, and work involved in installing a green roof is critical not only for your clients' peace of mind but also to help the industry grow with a solid reputation.

Education is also going to be increasingly important in our industry. There are still a lot of myths (which we will debunk in our next few blog posts) associated with green roofs. It is imperative that everyone in the industry is working to educate the public and their clients about the realities of green roofs.

More cities are requiring green roof laws

We attended a great talk from Rafael Espinal, the City Council member of New York City that proposed a green roof rule for new buildings, and he is not alone. Many cities across North America are creating green roof requirements or mandates. As the conditions caused by climate change become increasingly challenging, cities are in need of solutions that reduce the heat island and increase the number of natural habitats. We talked with Brandon Rietheimer, a young Denverite who started and ran Denver’s Green Roof Initiative, pushing for a local green roof mandate via public election. The initiative won, despite opposition from development (Fun fact: He is 31 years old, and this was his first campaign, but he managed to get 4,000 signatures all on his own!). Experts Andy Creath and Jennifer Bousselot also gave a presentation on their contributions to Denver's Green Roof Law. A group from Portland also attended, discussing their new Green Roof requirement, which took over 8 years to enact! Seeing so many people working together to make their cities a little greener has inspired us, and it makes government support and encouragement one of our favorite trends from this year!

The large crowds and excitement surrounding the CitiesAlive conference got us really fired up for the future! We met a lot of inspiring people and got to witness firsthand how the industry is growing (pun intended). We can't wait to see where things will go from here!