uOttawa and the Case for Green Roofs

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Green roof on the FSS building

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting with my boss going over the business case for why the University of Ottawa should change our building standards to build green roofs whenever possible (meaning so long as the building can take the weight). The crux of the argument came down to two things... is it better for the planet and does it save costs?

Wait, this is too far ahead, I need to go back a bit.

A few months ago one of our awesome student employee created a wonderful business case about why the University of Ottawa should install green roofs on campus. She created a case that took into account of bunch of factors, including construction costs, energy savings, storm water management, operating costs, and much more. Ultimately, she came up with a very important finding... Over the life-cycle of a building, it always makes sense to install a green roof over a conventional roof.

A student looks out over a green roof on the FSS building with Parliament in the background

Wait wait, I guess I should actually start at the beginning.

Last year I worked with the Michaelle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement and a group to students to improve sustainability on campus. I asked the group of students to answer a very simple question for me...
Given that there are many roofs on campus that are completely unused, and given that there are so options available to put things on roofs, and given that the University is looking for new ways to make money and utilize its space as effectively as possible... my question was "What should I do with my roofs?"

The group came up with a bunch of awesome options, including how and when to use green roofs, solar panels, thermal panels, and even bee colonies.

Green roof tray system

So here is where it all comes together. Students create a report that green light the use of green roofs

on campus. this leads to a study by a student in my office to develop the business case for green roofs. That leads to this meeting where I am sitting down with the planners, engineers, and architects at uOttawa trying to decide if we should change the standards on the campus to include more green roofs.

The green roof on the Colonel By building

This whole meeting isn't coming out of left field, there are already multiple green roofs on campus. The roof of Colonel By was one of the first green roofs in Ottawa, the University Centre and Montpetit have some minor green roofs, the FSS building has 3 green roofs, The new Learning Crossroads has a etc... Each of these roofs have their positive and negative aspects so this meeting was also to decide what kind of roofs we would want on campus if we do chance the standard.

Green roof on the FSS building overlooking the new LRT project

... So there we are having our meeting, going back and forth over the pros and cons... and well I won't leave in any more suspense... we changed our building standards and so as of 2019, all the roofs on campus that can take the weight will have a green roof.

Stay tuned for more updates about what happens next, but I really want to highlight the real story here. This whole thing was made possible by students who saw that there was a better way to do things and following all the right channels to make this change happen. And this is really awesome because something that was considered inconceivable just a few years ago is now going to be the norm.
My hats off to all the people involved in this great initiative.

~jON - campus sustainability manager

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