Kaid Benfield Archive


Green roofs and green parking garages – parking garages?

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 16, 2008 at 9:10PM

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photo by David Walker on greenroofs.comThanks to my NRDC colleague Nancy Stoner for pointing me to a great new article about green roofs on the msnbc web site.  We’ve been struggling a bit within the environmental community to agree on techniques for watershed protection that do not limit urban density, which adds a good deal of protection on its own compared to sprawl.  But green roofs are a great answer.  And they also provide a cooling benefit to urban heat islands and a mechanism for countering harmful air pollutants.


As noted earlier here, there’s a green roof covering part of the Washington Nationals’ new baseball stadium, and the msnbc article mentions it as well.  Above is an image of a particularly nice one on top of Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, used for growing herbs for their restaurant, among other things.  Chicago is probably the most progressive US city is adopting the practice.  As the article states:

“Considered the industry frontrunner among North American cities, Chicago used a mix of intensive and extensive vegetation to cover 20,000 square feet atop its City Hall in 2001. In August of that year, researchers recorded a rooftop temperature of 119 degrees in the planted area, compared with a blistering 169 degrees on an adjoining black tar roof. Since then, the green roof has saved the city an estimated $3,600 in annual cooling and heating costs. If all Chicago roofs were similarly clad, city officials believe peak energy demand could be cut by 720 megawatts, or enough electricity for 750,000 consumers. Similarly, the load on the city’s storm sewer system could be slashed by roughly 70 percent.” 

Read all about it here, and learn still more here.


Those are great stories, but I am glad that not everything one hears about the “building green” movement is true.  A number of my colleagues, including our chief transportation lobbyist Deron Lovaas, were alarmed to read on April 1 that the intensely controversial Inter-County Connector highway being built north of Washington had received LEED certification as a “green highway.”  Fortunately, I was able to point out the date of the mock press release.  I do hope my many friends at the US Green Building Council, the consortium that administers the LEED green rating systems, were at least a little unsettled that so many people in the environmental community found this to be entirely plausible.


parking garage, Santa Monica Civic Center, inhabit.comMore persistent was the report that a parking garage in Santa Monica, pictured at left, had apparently received LEED certification from USGBC.  It holds 900 cars!  Actually, when I first got involved with USGBC five or six years ago as part of LEED for Neighborhood Development, there was a lot of expansionist talk about bringing LEED to more and more facets of life, and the joke around the organization was that LEED-Parking Lots would soon be ready to roll out.  But according to the blogosphere, at least, it was no longer a joke.


One of our LEED-ND committee members did point out that at least the massive garage displaced large surface parking lots that have now given way to good smart-growth development.  That was a little comforting, to be sure.  And, frankly, I'm glad that parking facilities may be finding ways to reduce their considerable impact on the environment.  This one certainly looks better than a lot of them.  But come on, do we really need to go so far as to honor even garages with LEED certification?  I’m sure there’s an environmentally better way to build oil rigs and landfills, too, but do we want to spread the green label that far and wide?


As it happened, this too turned out to be a false alarm.  A source at USGBC reassures us:

“This is definitely not certified.  It may be registered [meaning an initial application has been filed], but it was not immediately apparent in a quick search of our database.  We have very few (if any) filters on registration at this point—which quite possibly means that non-certifiable buildings, boats, motor homes, and potted plants could conceivably be registered and we wouldn’t necessarily know it.” 

I suspect someone at USGBC contacted the blogger, because the post has now been modified to clarify that the building has not yet earned certification. 

Finally, I note that Pope Benedict XVI will be celebrating mass at Nationals Park on Thursday.  Listen closely for the phrase tectum viridiae in Latin ("green roof").