How does the nation view green roofing?

I think it’s true of many industries that suppliers have a different view of their products and services to their potential customers.  Take green roofing for example. Do the general public – or even the trade – understand green roofs as well as we’d like them to? Dusty Gedge from livingroofs.org has been conducting a series of Twitter polls to try and gauge the public understanding of green roofs.

sedum roof with skylights

More about Dusty Gedge and Livingroofs.org

Before I start dissecting the poll, let me tell you a little bit more about Dusty Gedge. Dusty is a pioneer of the green roofing industry in the UK. He’s not a supplier, neither is he affiliated with any suppliers. He’s just a bloke who is passionate about ecology, especially in urban areas.

Dusty’s particular interest is in minibeasts and their effect on the wider world. His knowledge has spread to understanding the plants and habitats that these creatures need to thrive as well as the food chain that they invariable sit in.  Dusty describes himself as an urban ecologist and can’t promote the benefits of green roofs for biodiversity enough. He is the founder livingroofs.org and co-author of “Small Green Roofs” 

Livingroofs.org is well worth a visit while you’re investigating green roofs. It’s by far the UK’s best green roof resource. On this website you’ll find independent news, views and scientific research on the features and benefits of green roofs.

 

This short video shows Dusty on top of a living roof in London and shows his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge.

 

Laban Rubble Green Roof from dustygedge on Vimeo.

On to the results of Dusty’s green roof poll

Q1. Do the public think that green roofs are about nature or about engineering?

  • 20% said Engineering
  • 80% said Nature

 

To me, this is a fascinating result. If you look at the green roof information that’s out there, it’s heavily weighted towards reports, blogs etc on the engineering benefits of green roofs.  Things like insulation, rainwater management, noise amelioration and the urban heat island effect etc.

That correlates with the calls to the customer service team at Enviromat. When potential customers get in touch they’re wanting to know about weight, u-values, build-ups, delivery lead times and of course price. There is the occasional call from garden designers wanting specific colour combinations but on the whole, it’s the technical information they crave.

Yet the poll suggests that it’s the ecological properties of green roofing that fire up the nation’s imagination.

So do the general public really understand ALL of the benefits of green roofs? Is the information reaching them? And if they do understand the benefits, are they interested?  

That begs the questions that are we, as an industry, promoting green roofs in the right way? Instead of asking architects to design green roofs in order to meet planning regulations, should we be asking them to design green roofs as living features? Make them visible, accessible, and usable?

Q2: Should a green roof be green all the time?

There were only 170 responses to this poll, and I suspect that the majority of them came from within the green roof industry.

  • 24% feel that a green roof SHOULD stay green all year round
  • 76% said that they wouldn’t expect 12 months of greenery

 

This is a difficult one to analyse. The small number of respondents I feel are probably not representative of the public at large. Having been a purveyor of sedum matting and wildflower turf for over a decade, I’m fully comfortable with the fact that sedum vegetation is often red or brown when the plants are stressed. Ie during a cold winter or in a very dry summer. Certainly in other parts of the world, eg the American Prairies, it’s normal for most vegetation to be brown for a good part of the year. I also expect UK native wildflowers to be dormant in the winter. So I voted with the 76%.

sedum with red coloured leaves

It's not unusual for sedum plants to lose their green colour and turn red in winter time.

But let’s think for a moment, about what the general public expect from their green spaces. When Mr Average takes his dog to the park, no matter what time of year, he expects to see green – or at least colour. Green lawns, evergreen shrubs, perhaps some kind of display of bedding plants.

I’m guilty of the same thing. I’m a farmers’ wife. I live in the countryside. I’m perfectly at home with skeletal winter trees and muddy ploughed fields. Yet outside my office window is a green(ish) lawn, some purple winter pansies and the foliage of wallflower and lavender plants. I too have tried to create all year round interest in my outdoor space. I guess if I looked out upon a green roof, I’d fancy seeing some colour on there too.

The good news is, that if you are designing a green roof, you can specify plants that will provide you with all year round interest if that’s what you want.

Perhaps though, there's a real case for trying harder to manage people's expectations of wild places. Not just on roofs, but on the ground too. It seems as though seasonal changes are not understood. But then for those who are not farmers or gardeners, the seasons are related to little more than clothing choices and heating bills. I guess to those who do not live with plants, If we can have strawberries on the supermarket shelves for 12 months of the year, why should we tolerate bare soil or seedheads in winter?

Why do the results of these polls matter?

At Harrowden Turf, we’ve seen sales of green roof vegetation blankets increase year on year for over a decade. We use brochures, our website, exhibitions, PR and social media to try to help the wider public understand the properties and the value of green roofs. So Dusty’s poll is useful market research for us.

I can only speak for myself here, but for me, public opinion is enormously helpful. It shows me where there are gaps in the knowledge and where I can get better at sharing the information that people need. There are a lot more roofs out there that could be working harder for our environment, our ecology and yes, our economy. So let’s get out there and inspire folks.

Watch this space……….

And look out too for more of Dusty’s Twitter polls. He has another 7 or 8 lined up. Check on Twitter for #greenroofpoll and please take part. It’s important!

More about green roofs

Visit Livingroofs.org

The many benefits of a living green roof

Choosing sustainably grown green roof plants