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Green Roofs for Guelph Campus Co-op: Starting a "Growing" Trend?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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  • Toronto City Hall Green Roof, part of a recent trend to increase garden space in the city

    Toronto City Hall Green Roof, part of a recent trend to increase garden space in the city

Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

The University of Guelph campus is home to many environmentally savvy retrofits: between the heating recovery project that keeps Rozanski Hall nice and toasty, provides lighting in several campus buildings, and converts solar energy to electricity to be used all over campus, Guelph is for the most part keeping up on their environmental efforts.

This also extends to the Guelph community: in partnership with Guelph Hydro, the City of Guelph boasts a Community Energy Plan that is very much in line with the importance that Gryphons place on environmental sustainability and clean energy initiatives.

The Guelph Campus Co-op house located at 7 College Avenue, follows the Co-ops mandate of practicing environmentally responsible, sustainable and accessible spaces which extend to housing options, and will soon be home to a Green Roof initiative and climbing vines.

Aside from obvious aesthetic improvement, green roofs come with a wide range of other environmental and financial benefits: they assist in waste diversion, storm water management, improvement of air quality, energy efficiency, and even heat isolation effect.

Green roofs can consist of different varieties of plants and grasses, depending on the surrounding climate and the location of the building. Once the roof has been outfitted to properly support plants and vegetation, it can also work as a natural water filter serving to clean out harmful toxins and control run-off by retaining most of the water in the plant leaves and roots which then evaporates back into the water cycle.

The Guelph Campus Co-op house already has plans to re-vamp their existing rain water and grey water management systems, but the addition of the green roof will decrease the stress on the city storm drains—decreasing the risk of flooding for sewer systems during peak flow periods —which operates as an important part of the water table for the Guelph-Wellington area.

The ability of green roofs to moderate building temperature also could contribute to the heat retention of the building, which decreases the dependency on mainstream energy suppliers such as power plants and other energy companies that use non-renewable resources. On top of working to improve freshwater resources and decreasing the need for non-renewable energy, the roof gardens and climbing vines also work to absorb sunlight which would otherwise be converted into heat energy,

The typical materials used in industrial and residential roofing are better off replaced by green roof materials because having grasses and foliage cover the sealants decreases the stress on waterproofing membranes that are directly exposed to harsh elements, and prevent them from having to be replaced every couple of years and piling up in landfill sites.

The move from the Guelph Campus Co-op is a reassuring one in terms of representation of students commitment to sustainability, considering the university administration recently pledged a hefty donation to several companies that are listed among the international markets top 200 fossil fuel companies, and the combustion of fossil fuel contributes directly to the disappearance of natural resources including the depletion of freshwater reserves.

Also conveniently timed, Harry Jongerden— the new executive director of Toronto Botanical Gardens— is a big advocate of garden space as a key to “creating a healthy and prosperous civil society”.  Jongerden is delivering a lecture on Thursday September 2 at 7:30 pm in the arboretum and will discuss the importance of including gardens as part of infrastructure in creating an environmentally conscious community.

As if the practicality of a green roof acting as a way to be more responsible in effectively using resources was not enough, larger outfits can also be home to community gardens, vegetable cooperatives, and are essentially self-sustaining. Should this energy retro-fit initiative catch on in the city of Guelph, it would serve as a true testament to the commitment the community claims to have to sustainable resources and if implemented on a large scale even generate employment and research opportunities, providing additional growing spaces for horticultural organizations and biological research to assist in environmental governance, alternative food productivity and contributing to a keeping Guelph green. 

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