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Sustainable Skies: How Green Roofs Transform Cities


Today, companies all over the world are implementing sustainable practices and incorporating green design elements into their buildings to become more energy efficient. One of the most recent sustainability trends in the construction industry is green roofs. A study by Urban Scape showed that 58 metric tons of air pollutants every year could be removed from Washington DC if all the city’s roofs were converted to green roofs. Green roofs offer an abundance of environmental benefits like stormwater management, energy efficiency, air quality improvement, and their aesthetic appearance.

Stormwater Management

Green roofs are designed to absorb and preserve rainwater. The soil on the roof absorbs water like a sponge, removing pollutants and reducing stormwater runoff. When it rains, the rainwater is collected and/or absorbed into the soil beds and released through evaporation and plant use. This reduces the amount of water that would otherwise run off the roof’s surface. Green roofs can be found in areas where space constraints are limited, and other stormwater management practices cannot be used like in cities and other urban areas. The Center of Developing Entrepreneurs (CODE) in Charlottesville, VA has seven staggered green roofs consisting of over 100 different species of native groundcover, shrubs, and trees. The roofscape meets LEED Platinum requirements and acts as a key avenue of stormwater management.

CODE’s seven-tiered green roofs are covered with over 100 different species of plants.

Energy Efficiency

Green roofs offer thermal insulation to a building, reducing the necessity for air conditioning in the warmer months and heating in the cooler months. The soil on the roof acts as an additional layer of insulation which can decrease a building’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Another reason why green roofs are popular in urban areas is due to the higher energy demand in that environment.

View of a green roof at CODE from interior tenant space.

The CODE building was designed to act as a high-performance envelope, consuming 1/3 the amount of energy of a comparable building. The building’s ventilation system has twice the fresh air exchange of a typical office building, due in part to the green roof systems.

Air Quality Improvement

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than three million people die every year because of air pollution. The main contributors to air pollution are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other tiny pollutant particles. The human body absorbs these particles causing serious health issues.

A way to improve the air quality is with a green roof. Green roofs are more prominent in large cities due to the increased pollutants in the air.  They trap air particles and gas pollutants that contribute to the pollution in the air. Plants absorb pollutants and other matter in the atmosphere by acting like a natural air filter. Research presented by Green Roofs White Paper, a 1,000-square-foot green roof is capable of removing 40 pounds of polluting particulate matter from the air, approximately the equivalent to the emissions produced from 15 cars driving for a year. These numbers are impressive. The installation of green roofs results in improved air quality and creates a healthier environment for building occupants and the surrounding community.

Green roof at Dominion Energy in Richmond, VA.

Overall Well-being

Green roof construction reflects the growing prominence of sustainable practices in the industry and contributes to the continued evolution of the urban environment. As each one is built, more data is being produced on how overwhelmingly effective they are to the environment and building occupants’ health and wellness. Not to mention that green roofs enhance the visual appeal of buildings and accessible rooftops provide a space for socializing, relaxing, and promoting a community connection that improves overall well-being. As employers are increasingly trying to get workers back into the office, green roofs offer a nice incentive allowing outdoor space for staff to use at their leisure. Restoring rainwater and reducing stormwater runoff are aiding a building’s sustainability efforts in tremendous ways. As companies in urban areas aim to create healthier, and more resilient, built environments, green roofs offer a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for improving urban spaces, mitigating environmental issues, and enhancing the quality of life for both humans and other living organisms.

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