A new City of Toronto green-roof policy has developers eager for more.
In early February, council approved a three-pronged strategy of education, incentives and regulation aimed at convincing developers to top off their buildings with trees, shrubbery and other kinds of green space.
The policy calls for a website, training manuals and a rebate program financed through water revenues. Municipal staff also are investigating interest-free loans and third-party grants involving energy companies and government agencies such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
Toronto didn't explicitly include fast-tracking of permits for developers who plan green roofs, as Chicago has done. However, city planners are being asked to incorporate green roofs into the approval process for zoning and official plan amendments.
Applications will be assessed case by case and exempted if green roofs are deemed inappropriate or undesirable - such as when a roof slopes or the owner proposes other ecological measures.
"The green-roof strategy is not intended to take the place of other appropriate energy-conservation or creation technologies," says Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, who chairs the city's roundtable on the environment, a committee that advises council on environmental issues and helped draft the policy. "If you want to put in a bunch of solar panels instead, or it's on the 30th floor of a highrise building with nothing around it, then that may be OK. The policy is where feasible."
The city plans to be aggressive with its own properties, including those housing utilities, boards and commissions, Pantalone says.
"If somebody comes in to retrofit the roof or put up a new building, our position will be to build it into the budget so a green roof can be accommodated if it's appropriate for the building in question," he says.
Pantalone says studies show green roofs benefit the environment and the pocketbook, with reductions in air conditioning usage, rainwater runoff and heat-inducing reflections of sunlight that generally occur with traditional rooftops.
"We know people want to do it. The general population is ahead of governments in this sense," Pantalone says, citing public concern about such environmental issues as beach closings and increasingly frequent smog alerts.
Developers such as Toronto-based Tridel Corp. and Minto Developments of Ottawa - both among the industry's green standard-bearers in Canada - say they appreciate green roofs, but are waiting for a separate, comprehensive green-building policy that is being drafted and is expected to reach council for consideration this summer.
Jamie James, Tridel's environmental consultant, says green roofs are a good beginning. "I get the impression the city is looking at green roofs as an evolution towards a more holistic approach to improving overall environmental and energy performance in buildings. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next step will be."
James says he particularly supports incentives. "If it's a purely private benefit then the costs should be borne by the private sector, but if green roofs are providing a public benefit the city should be there to support it with incentives to help the developer offset costs. It should be a negotiated approach."
Andrew Pride, vice-president of energy management for Minto Urban Communities, says green roofs are worthwhile, although other options might be more suitable on a site-by-site basis.
At Radiance @ Minto Gardens, a new multi-residential tower in central Toronto that is being considered for a leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) silver certification, the developer decided there were other ways, besides a green roof, that would maximize energy savings.
"Radiance embeds a whole pile of different measures - stormwater retention, water efficiency, effective control of water fixtures and boiler, heating and cooling technologies that reduce energy consumption by over 33 per cent," Pride says.
Ian Theaker, who manages LEED for the Canada Green Building Council, says the green-roof policy puts Toronto in a leadership position. "Other municipalities are probably going to be following this really closely."
However, he agrees roofs should be seen as a component of a larger green-building strategy. Green roofs represent just one point under LEED, which requires an accumulation of 26 points for basic certification, up to a maximum of 70 for the highest-possible platinum ranking.
"It's typically better for a municipality to think systemically, from a holistic basis, as opposed to latching on to a particular magic bullet," Theaker says. "It probably would have served the City of Toronto well to come out with a green-building policy first and, as part of that, something dealing with green roofs."
Deputy mayor Pantalone responds that the green-roof and green-building policies are intended to complement one another. "We found we could proceed more quickly with the green-roof policy, get something in place and then move on to the rest of what makes a green building. We also want a building development standard which accounts for beauty and design, and LEED doesn't do that. Green roofs are a clear, visible statement that a building is striving to be environmentally friendly. It's the poster child of a green building."
Toronto Construction Association president John Mollenhauer says it makes sense to implement a green-roof policy while still putting the finishing touches on a green-building plan. "You've got to walk before you run, so it's fine to bring it in in stages. It's less abrupt and allows for a smooth transition."
Mollenhauer says the building and construction industries must begin to address the issues they will face with the shift to green.
"The industry's got to educate itself about what green means and where we get products that conform."
Particularly challenging, Mollenhauer says, will be meeting costs in order to remain viable in a competitive market. "Adding another layer to the approvals process potentially makes it more challenging for buyers of construction to get new projects started, but it's a good thing and it has to happen."
Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a North Americawide proponent of green roofs based in Toronto, says the higher upfront cost of green roofs can be offset by long-term savings.
While green roofs can enhance a building's resale value, reduce or even eliminate the need for drains, as well as cutting the size of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, Peck says benefits are building-specific and cannot be generalized.
Green roofs also offer esthetic benefits, which can sometimes translate into long-term dollars. Peck tells of one Minneapolis pub that uses its green roof for lawn bowling and drinking, and a garden shop in Sherwood, Wisc., where the green roof is used to demonstrate products. "The owner has effectively turned the roof into a product showroom," he says.
"We know there are tangible benefits in hospitals where patients can look out on green roofs - they heal faster and with less medication. There's also value in having an accessible green roof on a condominium complex, or an outdoor classroom for children," Peck says.
The city's job now, Peck says, is to implement the policy. "That means being aggressive about the development of pilot programs that have a real, tangible impact. There's often a difference between what's written and what gets done. The robustness of the pilot programs and the regulatory initiatives will depend on the political and bureaucratic leadership."
(Saul Chernos can be reached at email@example.com)