(relating more to the green roof industry than the popular boy band)
On entering Ecobuild this year and searching for the green roof section my first reaction was disappointment. Where are all the big, lush displays I remember from last year? Where are the podium speakers from the Universities, the independent consultants on
their soap boxes in the middle of the hall promoting biodiversity, rain gardens, and green roofing best practice alongside community tree-planting schemes?
I did find Dusty Gedge and some industry stalwarts up in a gallery seminar room providing a good summary of what green roofing is about, covering the basics for the diverse casual visitors, as well as could be expected in a limited time.
Somehow green roofs just weren’t the star of the show anymore, seemingly overshadowed by Passivhaus and even green walls.
One of the most interesting things Dusty mentioned in his seminar was the European standard green roof training course being developed at South Notts College with Gary Grant, that will dramatically help close the skills gap and make sure that contractors and installers can confidently supply good quality green roofs on a larger scale that will perform the great variety of functions required from vegetated roofs. This is a sure sign that green roofing is really entering the world of mainstream construction rather than occupying a niche reserved for environmental enthusiasts. So maybe green roofs don’t need to be centre stage any more – they are here and they are staying, leaving the stage for more new technologies to be showcased.
A closer examination of the green roof displays revealed some interesting changes that seem to back this up. Some of the leading names in green roofing such as ABG, Alumasc and Icopal have kept a good focus on green roofing whilst also making more room for their other complementary products, other SUDS or planted infrastructure solutions, making green roofs an important tool amongst a kit of green technologies which can be applied to different situations. Even roofing companies and waterproofing suppliers who outsource most of the greening of the roof were keen to have a little aesthetically interesting display to draw people in and prove their ‘eco-credentials’. There was also a notable increase in the number of sedum suppliers present, although many of the seasoned green roof companies had noted the increasing shift away from sedum matting towards plug planting and wildflower or biodiverse roofs.
Moving on from Ecobuild, back down to earth at the West Midlands Growing Green exhibition, there was much more widespread and positive experience of green roofs compared to the previous year. Again the larger developers and construction companies were using the Passivhaus technology to prove they were ahead of the game, but when examined all were looking seriously at the different green roofing options now available and how they will suit their particular needs.
I don’t wish to present the Passivhaus technology as a competition to green roofing for anything other than exhibition floor space, as it has many different challenges and results. It is much trickier to retrofit, it relies heavily on the educated behaviour of the building user as well as the installer, and is much more geared towards energy reduction than water management and biodiversity. In fact from what I have seen of the standard wall thickness of these heavily insulated buildings they must have a larger physical footprint per square metre of living space – therefore an ideal base for a good green roof. Most importantly, green roofs for all their multi-functional benefits and uses can’t make the property and construction industries sustainable all by themselves. The really successful people know that to stay truly ahead of the curve you must see that the curve will bend in many directions; the successful combination of all these new strains of sustainable technology will be the key to future building practice.
The green agenda and the blue agenda require equal attention, as does the biodiversity agenda (yet to be designated a colour). Let’s leave One Direction to the world of pop music and enjoy the multi-focused progress towards an increasingly turquoise future.(All pictures taken at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 – Nigel Dunnetts Show Garden)