A new law recently passed in France mandates that all new buildings that are built in commercial zones in France must be partially covered in either plants or solar panels.
Green roofs, as they are called, have an isolating effect which helps to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building during the winter or cool it in the summer.
They are capable of retaining rainwater and reducing problems with runoff, and also offer birds a place to call home in the urban jungle.
French environmental activists originally wanted to pass a law that would make the green roofs cover the entire surface of all new roofs. However, partially covered roofs make for a great start, and are still a huge step in the right direction.
Some say the law that was passed is actually better, as it gives the business owners a chance to install solar panels to help provide the buildings with renewable energy, thereby leaving even less of a footprint.
Green roofs are already very popular in Germany and Australia, as well as Canada’s city of Toronto! This by-law was adopted in 2009, by the city of Toronto which mandated green roofs on all new industrial and residential buildings.
Benefits of Green Roofs
There are so many benefits to green roofs. Here are just a few:
- Adding natural beauty and major aesthetic improvement to buildings, which in turn increases the investment opportunity.
- Helping contribute to landfill diversion by prolonging the life of waterproofing membranes, using recycled materials, and prolonging the service of heating, ventilation, and HVAC systems through decreased use.
- Green roofs assist with storm water management because water is stored by the substrate, then taken up by plants, and thus returned to the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation. They also retain rainwater and moderate the temperature of the water and act as natural filters for the water that does run off. They delay the time at which runoff occurs, which results in decreased stress on sewer systems during peak periods.
- The plants on green roofs do a great job of capturing airborne pollutants and other atmospheric deposition. They can also filter noxious gasses.
- They open up new areas for community gardens, commercial and recreational space in busy cities where this space is generally quite limited.
France is definitely on the right track, but it should be a mandate that all new buildings being built in North America, and even worldwide, adopt this amazing idea to reap all of the potential benefits.
UPDATE regarding France’s famous Eco-Roof Law
Sadly though, for fans of green infrastructure and renewables alike, this news is more wishful thinking than reality, for now.
Backed by French environmentalists and born out of France’s National Biodiversity Strategy, the proposed law had potential to push the nation into the next phase of sustainability. The idea received applause across social media, blogs, and green news websites.
From reducing stormwater runoff, providing energy efficiency, wildlife habitat, and minimizing the urban heat island effect, the reasons to be excited about green roofs were clear.
During the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, France signed the Biological Diversity treaty, an international effort to develop strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
In 2010 the Nagoya Protocol was adopted; an action plan for preserving biodiversity through 2020. By 2011, France developed its National Biodiversity Strategy, and the green roof policy was one of its results. Its roots therefore reach back to the early 1990s.
In 2015, these long standing efforts appeared to be coming to fruition. The biodiversity initiative that aimed to make France a nation of excellence for green and blue development was under review.
At the time, 564 propositions were examined, and then sent back with 225 amendments. The green roof policy (Article 36), although popularized, was merely one proposal among hundreds, and along with many others, was ultimately struck down.
The requirement to install green roofs or solar panels in France was thus deleted. The French green roof industry, ADIVET, is currently lobbying to revive Article 36, but it faces opposition from the commercial industry.
Building owners are refusing to bear the additional construction expenses, threatening to simply pass them along onto consumers if the policy is passed. The proposed green roof policy therefore remains a project at this point.
Originally the policy solely mandated green roofs, but then morphed to include the option of installing solar panels instead. This amendment has sparked discussion amongst those few who understand that solar arrays and green roof systems aren’t mutually exclusive.
Contrary to their usual rivalry in the marketplace, the two technologies don’t necessarily have to compete for photons or rooftop real estate; they can actually be configured to work together synergistically.
Around the globe, cities are working to become more sustainable through green, white, and blue roofs, solar and wind energy, and an array of carbon offsetting incentives. What’s unique about the French law is that it is not isolated to Paris or Lyon, but rather the whole nation.
Regardless of never actually having become a law though, the idea remains a sensation around the globe where it is falsely believed to be an actively implemented policy.
Around the world cities are taking steps toward a more sustainable future. From individuals enjoying fresh produce, to the public experiencing less pollutants in their water, and buildings that save on electric bills, it’s clear that investing in green roofs is a wise decision.
It’s still up in the air if incentives, as opposed to mandates, ultimately lead to more cities embracing green roofs. In France, business owners want the path of least resistance. To invest their own money in a cost not shared with the government has caused a huge pushback on the green roof law.
If the law does pass, France will pioneer a new frontier of nationwide green roof policy. Only time will tell if this will trump the results found in the current format of city-run programs.