Green roof movement in Austin

Green roof on a Hill Country residence. Photo used with permission from Casey Boyter

My preconceptions of green roofs are changing with the times. I used to picture, I don’t know, rustic Swedish cottages when I thought of green roofs—if I thought of them at all. Then it seemed that city governments were leading the way, with gardens on top of city halls and over railyards in Chicago and now Austin. These days I’m hearing about homeowners (see photo above) and downtown condo owners getting in on the act. Will this be a fad or a trend? Time will tell, but as an enthusiastic gardener and someone concerned about global warming, I sure hope for the latter.

Austin’s green roof movement is in its infancy but growing fast, thanks in part to GRoWERS, an association formed a year and a half ago by three women who saw a need for a clearinghouse of information about building green roofs in central Texas’s harsh climate. Their new website explains the genesis of their collaboration:

…Casey Boyter, Dylan Siegler, and Lauren Woodward Stanley (a landscape professional, a sustainable design consultant, and an architect, respectively) met when their independent investigations of green roofs led them each to local roofing consultant and green roof aficionado Brian Gardiner. For years, Brian was Austin’s only vocal green roof advocate and de facto information clearinghouse; all green roof seekers eventually found him. The three soon found they shared a desire to help get a meaningful local conversation about the technology, and some real projects, underway. Lauren had spearheaded a green roof effort in her former home of Seattle, and Casey had been hunting down green roof experts and picking their brains nationwide for months. Dylan’s 2006 master’s thesis for the UT Sustainable Design program laid out some working recommendations for advancing green roofs in the Austin area. With those ideas and experiences as a rough guide, GRoWERS was born.

Membership in GRoWERS is open to anyone “[f]rom home gardeners to large-scale developers, landscape contractors to commercial roofing consultants, students to city officials.” It’s all about sharing knowledge in order to advance the goal of building more green roofs in Austin.

Last May I toured this green roof on top of the Starbucks building in Austin’s Circle C neighborhood. Trays of small, heat-loving ornamental grasses and other perennials cover the roof under a sunny, open sky. Planted entirely with native plants and viewable from a second-story sitting area inside the Starbucks, it not only provides a pretty view and habitat for winged visitors, but it helps to keep the inside of the building cooler and mitigate the heat-island effect of acres of asphalt parking lots and roofs.

In other words, green roofs are hot because they help cool.

If you’re interested in building a green roof in the Austin area or even just curious about them, you might want to join GRoWERS. They make it easy and fun. There’s a Yahoo! group for sharing info, and Boyter, Siegler, and Stanley are hosting a happy hour on Friday, February 8, to celebrate the launch of their website. Here are the details:

Happy hour starts at 6pm, and we’ll sit down to talk green roofs at 6:30pm sharp. Socializing to continue post-discussion. Location: Stanley Architects and Artisans at 1901 E M Franklin Ave.

See? It’s not just garden bloggers who like to socialize in Austin. GRoWERS, if I don’t make it to your happy hour, I’ll toast right now to a greener skyline in Austin. Keep up the good work!

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

9 Responses

  1. The greening of the roofs is great. Here in Buffalo we’ve doubled the number of green rooftops in the last year. There are now two.

    Ha! Well, everyone’s got to start somewhere. Thanks for commenting, Jim. —Pam

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I might even go. We’re considering a green roof as one possibility for a new design for the infamously failed garden house. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity to get more info.

    That would be cool, though a different aesthetic from the Asian one that informed your original design, wouldn’t you agree? If you do go to the GR0WERS happy hour, please let me know all about it. —Pam

  3. Thanks for this info. Definitely an idea whose time has come!

    Yes, it is! Val, I love your site, by the way. Your illustrations are amazing. —Pam

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have read about this in garden magazines. It is a great concept. I hope it catches on.

    It seems to be gaining momentum. To change the subject, Lisa, I notice that you never leave your URL as a link-back to your own blog. Is there a reason for that? I’d think you’d want other readers to be able to find you from your comments. Just wondering. —Pam

  5. CJ says:

    I’ve been to a few lectures that discussed the benefits of green roofs and I found it fascinating. I’ve even heard that the Adirondack Museum will be switching over to a green roof soon. (Yeah!) Unfortunately, most people up north are too nervous to try a green roof because they want to ensure easy snow removal. In an area of the country that can get up to 3-4 feet of snow in just a few days snow removal is a major issue. Maybe as green roof systems improve technology will solve the problem.

    Thanks for commenting, CJ. I hadn’t known about the green roof issues for those in cold climates. I can see where that would be a problem. But didn’t green roofs originate in northern Europe, where it must also snow heavily? —Pam

  6. This is such encouraging news! I am a fan of green roofs, so I want this to become not just a trend, but the norm.

    Me too! —Pam

  7. WillG says:

    Hi! Great news for Austin! They seem to be wanting to catch up with Cincinnati, Chicago, and Washington DC. I recently read an article titled “Green Cincinnati” at where Cincinnati is going to use grants to encourage green roofs. It makes sense as green roofs reduce air pollution and storm water runoff, while increasing energy efficiency and offering habitats.

  8. Cal says:

    I love everything about green roofs (and walls!), but am curious if installing a green roof means one cannot also collect rain water from their roof? Collecting rain water is my first priority (as there are other ways to get the energy saving benefits of a green roof). So can green roofs and rain water collection co-exist?

    Good question, Cal. I really don’t know, but I’ll forward your question to Casey Boyter, who knows all things about green roofs. —Pam

  9. Sue says:

    I was on a train a couple of weeks back, and looking out of the window while we passed Lodi in Italy saw a car port with a green roof … doesn’t matter how small, it still helps.

    That’s true, Sue. Every little bit adds more green to the world. —Pam