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Rooftop Farming an Environmental Nightmare

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Tuesday, June 04, 2013

By: Jörg Breuning

Companies spend millions of dollars on creating rooftop farms to demonstrate how "green" they are. There is no doubt advertising with living green is a good idea because it makes the customers believe that the company practices environmental leadership.

However, the reality looks very differently.

Recently a food company started a huge campaign promoting their rooftop farm (and their green leadership) by opening a 17,000 square foot rooftop farm on the East Coast.They were optimistic that they could grow 10,000 pounds of produce during the short growing season. This is approximately 25% over the average vegetable and berry crop yields estimated for New England on the ground during a good year, based on traditional irrigated farmland.

Since environmental conditions on rooftops are more extreme, achieving this goal seems ambitious and will require higher amounts of water and fertilizer. With more moisture in green roof soil the main benefit of green roofs (stormwater retention) is sacrificed and the run-off will most likely now contain more nutrients than in the run-off from traditional farms. Nutrients are already the number one pollutant in our waterways.

Based on these harsh environmental conditions growing crops on rooftops will be more labor intensive.

A 17,000 square foot rooftop farm requires approximately 300 tons of engineered growing media (soil) or 672,000 pounds in order to grow an average of 8,000 pounds of produce a year. In other words, it takes more than 80 years to grow the equivalent crop weight that was transported up onto the roof in the first place. This does not include the tons of water, fertilizer or structural support for the building that has to be shipped to the city and hoisted up on to the roof to start and maintain the garden.

Roof top farms ultimately increase the shipping (costs) of goods into cities. Shipping produce from a farm located on the ground is cheaper and more efficient because everything necessary to sustain the farm is already at hand. The food from rooftop farms is being transported a shorter distance creating a false sense of environmental responsibility. When in reality, the amount of materials essential to implement and maintain a rooftop farm outweighs the good in this situation.

Consider this: every person consumes 200-400 pounds of produce in a year (Profiling Food Consumption in America in 2000, Agricultural Fact Book) and an average of 8,000 pounds feeds around 20-40 people and requires at least one full-time, skilled farmer.

On a traditional field, one farmer can easily manage a 10-20 times larger area with a higher yield per acre using organic principals, which are not even discussed with most roof top farms.

Buyers of food from companies with rooftop farms are misled by advertising and are paying more for their goods while supporting a trend known as Greenwashing.

Jörg Breuning welcomes people who want to learn from decades of green roof experience - askjorg@greenrooftechnology.com

 


Green Roof Irrigation Revisited

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Saturday, June 01, 2013


About a month ago the blog, Irrigation on Extensive Green Roofs, was posted on our website explaining why irrigation is an unnecessary component of any extensive green roof. A green roof is an efficient system that should function perfectly on its own in the given environment. An extended version of this article was recently posted on Greenroofs.com. You can check out the whole irrigation article here!

Jörg Breuning welcomes people who want to learn from decades of green roof experience - askjorg@greenrooftechnology.com


Green Roof Performance

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

By: Jörg Breuning

 

Extensive green roofs are a thin layer of high performance components that allow a wide range of plants to grow on them. These plants have adapted over thousands of years to extremely harsh environments and are typically found in alpine regions, on natural rock debris (scree), deserts or tundra. Besides the extreme climate conditions in these areas, there is a very inconsistent supply of water or lack of water retention because of missing components in the soil (no fines, no organic).

In other words, these are typically locations where plants have to be very specialized. Once they have adapted, they are awarded by less competition of other plants - plants that require deeper, richer soils with a fine granular distribution line or high organic content.

Plants from these extreme conditions have not learned to compete with plants that we typically prefer for our gardens or our farms. Experienced horticulturists and plant collectors understand very well what it takes to grow these survivors, in locations other than their natural habitat. These experts are able to create an environment that supports these plants to prosper. These man-made environments are an example of modern green roof technology via extensive green roofs. Natural coarse, porous aggregates (pumice, lava rock) prove to be the most successful way to accomplish a proper environment. The porosity of the materials allows high water retention with simultaneously high air content. Also, this can be done very inexpensively and on a large scale. Modern green roof technology is engineered to ensure that every raindrop will penetrate the this soil layer immediately - soils with high organic content take too long for water to penetrate, resulting in standing water and consequently erosion. 

Some people may try to get around some of nature's principals, essentially reinventing the wheel in regards of extensive green roofs. They may also try and maximize other potential benefits (including personal profits), but end up sacrificing something else and in the worst case plants will suffer and possibly die.

The plants, whether they were intentionally planted or not, are an indicator for the performance of any green roof system. If any extensive green roof system becomes high maintenance, requiring irrigation or extra nutrients, the whole purpose of the green roof is defeated. Understanding these complex synergetic effects don't take a PhD, green roof professional training, or the internet - it takes decades of experience in the field, the patience of gardeners and common sense.

Modern green roof technology - as described in the FLL guideline - combines all these decades of experiences and makes things as simple as possible for novice green roof applicators - but it sure doesn't try to simplify the process. Einstein had some good advice on the subject, "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler."

Jörg Breuning welcomes people who want to learn from decades of green roof experience - askjorg@greenrooftechnology.com

We Are Moving to Hampden

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Thursday, May 23, 2013

 

I am pleased to inform you that Green Roof Technology will be moving to a new location. On the corner of Roland Avenue and 37th Street in the heart of Hampden. We have acquired more space and a delightful location!

We will be relocating June 1st. Please feel free to stop by and check out the new place! Our phone and fax numbers will remain the same.

3646 Roland Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21211

Green Roofs Don’t Work or People Don’t Work ?

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

By: Jörg Breuning

 

Information spreads like wildfire in today's world; between the internet and numerous social media sites. It has become extremely easy to access relevant information anytime, anywhere. This is a fantastic technological advancement, with one weakness. Anyone can "publish" anything. 

Since the internet makes everything very easy to spread any kind of information around the globe in seconds, it seems that the quality of information provided to the public dropped at accordingly the same speed as it's distribution. Some people jump to conclusions; they are quick to talk and other are quick to responds via text and in most cases these are not the same people. I get the impression that one group is too lazy to write and the other group too lazy to think. They have a desperate need for attention - I like to call it Recognition Deficit or RD for short, which unfortunately results in misleading and false information to the reader. Many people in the audience often find it necessary to then add their own opinions and re-post the article, making things even worse.

An excellent example of RD was recently posted in the American Scientific. I believe this certainly affected their reputation in the scientific world and hopefully leads to better supervision of the people who have permission to post. Their article was copied and pasted onto numerous other websites, regardless of the comments left on the original page. In this instance, RD wasn't the only symptom, a combination of ignorance and laziness was also thrown into the mix.

Modern green roof technology is a well-established technology around the world. If some researchers think that there is room for improvements, they should consider previous research from around the world in addition to what might be sacrificed along the way. Focusing on one aspect of the issue won't work in a complex ecosystem. There are no defining traits of complex ecosystems, where Mother Nature undergoes consistent changes. Having a tunnel view sometimes helps, however we can't afford to lose the bird's-eye perspective of the decades of experience and hands-on professionals.

To all the skeptics out there, let's make a long story short:

Green Roofs do work, but many people don't!

Green Roofs and Stormwater Fee

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Friday, May 17, 2013

Green Roofs Can Reduce Stormwater Runoff, Reduce Stormwater Fees!

By: Rebecca Gullott

Not many Marylanders are happy about paying the new stormwater fee or “rain tax” as it has come to be known. The county imposed fee is based on the amount of impervious surface such as rooftops and driveways on each property (cost-by-cause principle). In Howard County alone there are over 19,000 acres of impervious surfaces that contribute to pollution of local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. 19,000 acres are almost 30 sq miles or 11% of the counties size- more than double the size of all water ways in the county! No wonder that Stormwater runoff is responsible for over 20% of pollution into the bay.

Those wishing to lessen their stormwater fee can reduce the impervious surface area on their property through smart design and management practices. Howard County is providing instruction and incentives for citizens to do just that. Howard County Stormwater Management Division has partnered with several organizations including the University of Maryland Extension to help citizens take control of their environmental impact. Rainscaping workshops will be offered this summer to show residents how to plant and maintain rain gardens and native species; as well as compost waste and use rain barrels to collect roof runoff for use in lawn and garden irrigation or car washing. Howard County is offering free rain barrels at the Alpha Ridge Landfill select Saturdays April through September. Other Maryland Counties have similar programs so check your county’s website to see what offerings are available.

Property owners can receive credits for on-site improvements that reduce impervious surfaces. Whether it’s establishing a rain garden in the yard or incorporating planted areas or green roofs into the company’s parking lot, these incentives may encourage citizens to take control of their environmental impacts. These changes may help to reduce the need for future stormwater fee increases and promote a healthier Chesapeake for years to come.

The possitive impact for the environment by implementing cost-by-cause fess is very effective in many other counties and States in the US and over decades in Europe.

The Solar Boom

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Wednesday, May 08, 2013

By: Samantha Yurek

 
Photo Credit: The Solar Foundation

It is obvious the solar industry has been growing steadily, but an ongoing study by the Solar Foundation has uncovered to the extent in which the industry has expanded thus far. Solar workers now outnumber many of our larger occupations in the United States. Currently, we have more solar workers than coal miners in America, and the industry hasn't seized growth yet. The Solar Foundation released an interactive map naming the top three states with the most solar jobs as California, followed by Arizona and New Jersey. Most of these jobs are listed as installation positions, but others include manufacturing, project development, sales and distribution.

The new integrated Sun-Root™ System can help achieve both clean energy production along with additional benefits of a green roof. The Sun-Root™ System is the most advanced system solution that considers both enhanced water storage for the green roof plants and optimized evaporative cooling for solar panels.

 

Irrigation on Extensive Green Roofs

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Thursday, May 02, 2013

By: Jörg Breuning

The main purpose of an extensive green roof is stormwater retention and delaying stormwater runoff amongst many other added values.
 
Above: An Irrigated Green Roof 

In the last decade, I've seen many green roofs where the intended plants never really flourished. I estimate that in the US at least 50% of the green roofs are not performing to their fullest potential. This can be observed by simply looking at the most obvious of indicators, the plants themselves, regardless if they were planted on purpose or somehow found the space to take root.  Most of these less healthy extensive green roofs are pre-planted boxes, or commonly known as modular systems. Not only are these systems much more costly, the mid to long term results are often far below systems that are assembled in place and at the time of installation.

I know that the transition from being a common nursery-grown plant (including pre-planted boxes) to the extreme environment of a rooftop poses severe challenges. Green roof plant nurseries typically have "great" advice and recommend the installation of temporary or more permanent irrigation systems. This advice is defeating the purpose of an extensive green roof and shows that asking self-appointed experts can cause a spiral of failures. Since many green roof installers lack the proper horticultural knowledge, they may not be able to identify problems by simply looking at the indicators (the plants). This could cause the problem to gain momentum. In addition, the false conclusion that technology (Google search, Apps, synthetic growth media or sophisticated soil moisture control devices) can fix the problem supports my theory of less experienced or misinformed green roof professionals. They rely heavily on technology to fix any issue and miss the big picture. Nature has the ability to take care of itself, as long as the appropriate design, materials and plants are used in addition to being familiar with the immediate climate.

Green roof designers and green roof professionals must understand that less is often more when it comes to extensive green roofs. No building owner wants to irrigate their roof in short, mid or long terms. There is no need to make a green roof more complicated by using multiple synthetic or plastic layers. LEED™ certification supports using gray (recycled) water for green roof irrigation; but what is the point of watering an extensive system when it's main purpose is to retain stormwater? Common sense and experience are the only two things that will aid in planning the perfect green roof.


Above: An Unirrigated Green Roof

Implementing irrigation on an extensive green roof is a clear sign of not understanding the basic principles of horticultural techniques or the laws of nature. Irrigation reduces the water retention, increases the nutrient pollution in runoff and requires higher fertilization application. Irrigated extensive green roofs are not environmentally friendly, not economically feasible and have hardly any payback for the building owner.

I tell my clients if they have an offer or design for an extensive green roof that includes irrigation - be cautious!

 

Green Roof Technology Partners with Anacostia Watershed Society

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Friday, April 19, 2013

By: Samantha Yurek


Photo Credit: Anacostia Watershed Society

Green Roof Technology has recently partnered with the Anacostia Watershed Society; an organization dedicated to keeping the Anacostia River clean and healthy. Through our partnership we hope to achieve a common goal to increase green spaces and to protect our Anacostia River watershed which runs through our nation's capital and into Maryland. Since 1989, the Anacostia Watershed Society has been the first organization dedicated to protecting the Anacostia River.

ThAnacostia Watershed Society had recently put forth a Green Roof Rebate Program, aimed to encourage residents and building owners to reduce their stormwater runoff on-site and decrease the burden on the District's Combined Sewer Overflow. Available for residential, commercial and institutional properties, this rebate program will reimburse you with $5 per square foot of green space implemented on the property.For most commercial green roofs, that rebate can reduce your overall costs dramatically.

The District Government's Green Roof Rebate Program is administered by the Anacostia Watershed Society and encourages to contact us to see if they are eligible. Feel free to check out the Anacostia Watershed Society homepage here.


Photo Credit: Anacostia Watershed Society

Extensive verses Intensive - Which Would You Choose?

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Tuesday, April 16, 2013

By: Samantha Yurek 

A lot of thought goes into the design process when starting a green roof project. One of the biggest questions involves the type of green roof you want; extensive or intensive? This decision will dictate everything that will need to happen for your green roof to become a success. Let us take a quick look at the differences between intensive and extensive green roofs.


Extensive Green Roof: Swarthmore College of PA, Photo Credit: Green Roof Technology

Extensive green roofs are considered the simpler version because the roof structure is usually equipped to withstand the little bit of extra weight. With only a maximum of 6" of growing media and mostly ground cover covering plants, and extensive roof is certainly of a lower profile. The plants consist mainly of sedums and other succulents, herbs, grasses, mosses and low-growing perennials. An extensive roof is mainly for environmental benefits and and occasionally accessible to the public. Extensive green roofs can be excellent combined with Solar panels what increases the environmental benefits and increases return of investment substantially.


Intensive Green Roof: The Ledge Restaurant in Boston, Photo Credit: High View Creations

Intensive green roofs on the other hand can become quite extravagant. The roof must be very sturdy in order to hold foot traffic, deeper growing media and larger plants. The plants found on an intensive green roof range from shrubs and perennials to larger trees. Accents such as ponds and recreational spaces are a possibility. An intensive green roof is a busy and more expensive system with more potential for greater designs and biodiversity.


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