Green Roofs Offer Sky-High Possibilities

Green Roofs Offer Sky-High Possibilities

Imagine how many plants growers could sell if city governments awarded U.S. businesses $5 for every square foot of garden space they planted. Imagine if the incentive trickled down to the homeowner level, too.

City governments are, of course, unlikely to present such incentives for every garden installation within their limits, but what if they took a more active role in promoting the installation of green roofs? Portland, Ore., is already offering a $5-per-square-foot incentive to property owners and developers through 2013 to add more “ecoroofs,” which cost between $5 and $20 per square foot according to the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services.

Cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. have been green roof leaders over the last decade, as well, while Austin, New York City and Philadelphia are becoming more serious about incorporating green roofs into their culture.

No, the United States isn’t greening as many acres of roofs as green roof superpower Germany and other European countries, but growers here are finding opportunities to make green roof production a part of their businesses. Perhaps it’s time your greenhouse operation considered making green roofs a part of yours.

Becoming A Believer

One grower who’s already led his business into the green roof market is Mike Edelbach, the operations manager at Twixwood Nursery based in Berrien Springs, Mich. Twixwood’s customers began asking for plugs it could use for built-in-place green roof systems about 10 years ago. As Edelbach recalls, there were only a few companies offering green roof tray systems at the time, and the ones providing the trays were selling them for incredible amounts of money.

Still, Edelbach saw a problem with green roof trays back then: The majority of the plugs, mainly sedums, either died or had to be replanted multiple times. It was because of this problem, though, that Edelbach saw an opportunity for Twixwood.

“We started doing research on trays and how to do this in about 2006,” he says. “We tried some different designs. We worked with different manufacturers to come up with a tray that would do what we hoped it would do. We wanted a tray that allowed plants to look good the day they arrive and keeps the plants looking good.”

Twixwood found a design it believed in by 2008, when Eco-Roofs was formed as a sister company that grows and delivers green roof trays to job sites across the United States. Eco-Roofs primarily does business with landscape contractors throughout the Midwest, but Edelbach has found interest in areas outside his region too.

“We actually have sold projects to California,” he says. “It’s more national than you might think.”

One thing Eco-Roofs does not do is install its tray system. There are growers who do install, Edelbach says, but Eco-Roofs does not want to be in direct competition with its customers. So rather than directly install, Eco-Roofs will lend an expert to job sites to answer questions, verify all plant material is on hand and ensure a seamless installation.

Tapping Into Homeowners

Green roofs, to this point, are widely considered projects for commercial or industrial businesses, but what about projects for the homeowner? Considering the number of homes with flat roofs, garages and sheds, is there potential to tap into the homeowner market and sell even more product?

According to Carlos Elias, the propagation manager at Altman Plants based in Vista, Calif., there is potential at the homeowner level. Altman is producing sedums in coco mats that make sense for homeowners. Altman is also selling 17 by 17-inch mats in “mud flats” at Home Depot for homeowners to purchase.

“For the consumer, it is a little bit expensive,” Elias says. “We have a range of prices per square foot depending on volume that people are going to purchase.”

Both Altman and Armstrong Growers, another California grower, are also looking into tray-style vertical walls. The Herb Xchange, a concept Scott Hutcheon developed that involves proprietary living-wall panels of herbs, is a program Armstrong is exploring. The initial concept is to have consumers buy pre-grown panels of herbs at garden centers, grow them and return a month or so later for fresh herbs.

Yet another grower, Matterhorn Nursery of Spring Valley, N.Y., has grown and sold green roofs for garden sheds and doghouses. So it seems the possibilities for growers are endless. Now, it’s just a matter of having a little imagination and reaching out to potential customers.

“The market is going to grow,” says Robert Berghage, an associate professor of horticulture at Penn State University. “People are interested in greening areas and biodiversity.”

For Eco-Roofs, business has been steady over the last couple years. Edelbach estimates Eco-Roofs issued fewer quotes in 2010 than it did the year before, but he believes the company installed as much material last year as it did in 2009. Orders are simply coming in later.

“People are used to ordering whatever supplies they need last minute,” Edelbach says. “They have to consider that it takes 12 to 14 weeks to get these plants to the quality they need to be.”

As challenging as meeting the increasing number of late orders is, Edelbach is thrilled to be involved in the green roof industry.

“If anything, we kick ourselves because we didn’t jump into it faster,” he says. “We were spending a couple years trying to determine whether it’s a fad to stay or whether this was all going to go away. I don’t see it going away at all.”

Market Drivers

David MacKenzie, the owner of a wholesale groundcover nursery called Hortech in Spring Lake, Mich., doesn’t see green roofs going away anytime soon, either. MacKenzie founded LiveRoof, a company that developed a hybrid system incorporating aspects of both the tray and build-in-place systems, in 2006.

Today, 22 growers are LiveRoof licensees who are responsible for production and local sales and marketing of the product. MacKenzie, however, is looking to add more growers to his network because there are pockets of the country asking for material to which he can’t currently provide it.

“We have good coverage in the Midwest and the East Coast, but we need a grower in the South, ideally near Atlanta,” he says. “We could use a grower in South Florida, and other opportunities may be in Alabama, Arizona, Maine and Alaska. We’ve been a little bit surprised finding growers hasn’t been easier because this is a good opportunity for a grower.”

The upside for growers is that the green roof opportunity isn’t driven by a single factor that could fade overnight. Property owners and developers are driven by a number of factors, many of which result in down-the-line cost savings. Some owners and developers are even installing green roofs as a form of advertising by making signs with plants, while others are turning to green roofs because they believe installing one is the right thing to do for the environment.

“As many clients as we have, there are probably that many perspectives and motivators on why our customers are installing a green roof,” MacKenzie says. “There are companies that have done green roofs as an endorsement of their society correctness or environmental focus. If you have a green roof, it acts as a billboard that says we have a commitment to the environment.”

There are also cases like the city of Portland, which requires commercial and industrial property owners to manage stormwater and gives owners options like rain gardens and flow-through planters with which they can manage it. Green roofs are also an option, and a $5-per-square-foot incentive is available to all property owners except the city itself.

“What we’re trying to do for property owners is not only show them the environmental benefits, but that there are direct benefits to the building owner,” says Matt Burlin, outreach coordinator for Portland’s Sustainable Stormwater Management program. “The roof life is extended twice as long in many cases because the waterproof membrane is protected by the plants and soil.”

Energy conservation is another cost-savings benefit the green roof industry is promoting. Improved air quality and water detoxification are among the other highly touted benefits.

“The potential of green roofs is astronomical,” says Robert Berghage, an associate professor of horticulture who’s played a leading role at the Penn State Center for Green Roof Research. “Whether we ever reach that potential is an interesting question. It’s a market that’s very much in its infancy but may change as the pressures continue to mount on municipalities and urban areas to clean up their acts.”

Trial & Error

Green roof production isn’t for all growers, of course, and it’s unlikely green roofs will become your entire business if you pursue green roof production. Instead, growers should approach green roofs as a niche they can incorporate into their existing perennial and shrub businesses.

The current green roof market is particularly heavy in sedums, so any grower producing them should certainly give serious consideration to green roofs. But it’s also because green roofs are sedum heavy that a number of growers are shying away. Fortunately, green roof leaders realize the industry will only grow at a significant rate if other perennials and shrubs are incorporated into tray and built-in-place systems.

“Right now when you look at a tray system it’s primarily sedums in those trays,” Edelbach says. “But we’ve done some work on condominiums, for example, where you can walk out onto the roof on the upper floor and walk into a park-like setting. Sedums are certainly cool and they’re cooler than a black roof, but perennials would add something to that roof.”

A number of growers have also expressed interest to MacKenzie in growing different plants in their LiveRoof system. Growers will ask MacKenzie which plants they should be growing. The answer, he says, isn’t something he can necessarily offer them.

“We don’t know,” he says. “But we know how you can figure that out: Go to your local botanical garden and see what they’re growing in terms of garden plants in your area. In some cases, we may have to encourage somebody to develop an affiliation with a horticulturist in another country. Look for plants that grow on rocks and in thin soil.”

Once you’ve established plants you can grow in trays, acquire the seed or plugs and test grow them. Trialing, MacKenzie says, is a key to furthering the green roof industry. Green roofs are new territory for every grower involved, and progression in many cases requires growers to be pioneers.

“There are growers who just don’t embrace the richness of the palette of plants they could be growing,” MacKenzie says. “In many cases, nobody has done it. You have to do the research and figure these things out. It’s not impossible.”

Edelbach agrees trialing different plants is important. His Eco-Roofs company, after all, spent about two years fine-tuning its system before taking it to market.

“There are definitely a few more hurdles to overcome,” he says. “One is continuing to make sure any of us who are doing these green roofs is doing them in a quality way and not just slapping plug and sedum out there. We as an industry have to make sure we’re doing this for all the right reasons and make sure the roofs we’re doing now are continuing to look good.”

Leave a Reply

More From Marketing...
Status of Marijuana US Map May 2015

May 29, 2015

Marijuana Legalization Updates

As of April 2015, 23 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some capacity. At the federal level, several bills are currently awaiting action. Here is an update on current state and federal marijuana legislation across the U.S.

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

May 29, 2015

Making The Decision To Produce Medical Marijuana

Should horticultural growers consider cultivating medical marijuana? That’s up to the individual grower, of course, and certainly a number of growers already have jumped in. We at Meister Media Worldwide, publishers of Greenhouse Grower and American Vegetable Grower, do not necessarily endorse nor oppose the production of medical marijuana. But we do feel it is an option worth exploring. We intend our “Medical Marijuana” series of articles to give you information you need to make your own call. We hope you find it useful, and we do welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas as we continue to cover what we’re fairly certain is only going to be an increasingly viable and growing market for this emerging crop.

Read More
Double Whammy Merchandise Display At CAST2015

May 28, 2015

Grow Inspiration To Grow The Horticulture Industry

We need to work together as the horticulture industry to inspire and instruct consumers with our plant knowledge and marketing expertise.

Read More
Latest Stories
Double Whammy Merchandise Display At CAST2015

May 28, 2015

Grow Inspiration To Grow The Horticulture Industry

We need to work together as the horticulture industry to inspire and instruct consumers with our plant knowledge and marketing expertise.

Read More
Plant-Select_for-web

May 28, 2015

PlantSelect.org And FindPlants.net Assist Consumers Wit…

The recently launched PlantSelect.org and FindPlants.net websites offer growing and maintenance tips, where-to-buy information and design ideas to help consumers have success with growing and finding plants.

Read More
Four Star Greenhouse Proven Winner Plants At English Garden

May 26, 2015

Retailer To Grower: It’s Time To Offer Services To Loc…

Retailers wonder why mass merchants are the only ones to receive stocking, merchandising and plant care from growers.

Read More
New Guinea Impatiens

May 14, 2015

10 Tips To Improve Retail Shelf Life Of Bedding Plants

Good-looking plants at retail lead to stronger sales and less postharvest shrink. Try these 10 ideas for maintaining quality and keeping plants looking beautiful.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

May 12, 2015

Suntory And GrowIt! Garden Socially Partner On A New Se…

Three different contests will run from May through early August. Garden center retailers can upload their own photos or encourage their customers to enter and win.

Read More

May 6, 2015

Orange Is The New Green: An Interview With Dümmen Orang…

The day the news came out about the name change of DNA Green Group to Dümmen Orange, and everything that meant for the large flower breeding conglomerate, Greenhouse Grower Editor Laura Drotleff talked with Dümmen Orange Operations Manager Kate Santos about what the identity shift would mean for the company, its customers and ultimately for consumers. What’s going to happen to the brands and what was behind the decision to do away with those brands and consolidate? A key objective for our organization in moving to one corporate brand is to continue to stay true to the heritage and history of the individual brands that have made us what we are today and what we will build the future of our company upon. For this reason, some of those brands that have a deep-rooted history and much more recognition within the market, will have a longer persistence in our overall […]

Read More

May 1, 2015

Restoration Landscapes: A Specialized Market For Nativ…

Restoration landscapes, depending on their purpose, often require straight native species, along with a confirmation of their known provenance. Research is key in this area and good recordkeeping is a must.

Read More
Dummen_Begonia_UnbelieveableFirstKiss

April 29, 2015

Dümmen Orange Is The New Name For DNA Green Group

DNA Green Group has a new name: Dümmen Orange. The company revealed its new name, logo and brand values at all of its facilities in 16 countries on Thursday, April 23. The well-known corporate brands Lex+, Bartels, Terra Nigra, Dümmen Group, Agribio China, Agribio Colombia, Oro, PLA, as well as the production locations, are changing their identities immediately to Dümmen Orange. Other established brands like Rijnplant, Ecke, Oglevee, Red Fox, Fides, Japan Agribio and Barberet & Blanc will convert over limited time. The company’s CEO Biense Visser calls it a logical next step. “All companies that have been acquired have a rich and successful history,” Visser says. “We have always tried to respect that heritage. Doing so, we created confusion for our customers. Our employees expressed a preference for a more uniform approach to the market, too. That is why we have chosen one large umbrella brand that embraces the entire product […]

Read More

April 15, 2015

Redesigned SunPatiens Website Offers New Tools For Saka…

Sakata Seed America's new and improved SunPatiens website launched March 1, 2015 and provides growing information, marketing support, product location and many more tools to encourage consumer success with SunPatiens.

Read More
Keenland

April 13, 2015

Proven Winners Partners With Award-Winning Designer Jon…

Proven Winners will partner with award-winning garden designer, author and fine living expert Jon Carloftis on a new series of four LIFE + STYLE events in 2015. In true Carloftis style, food and spirits will be paired with inspiring architecture and innovative garden designs featuring Proven Winners plants.

Read More

April 13, 2015

New Consumer Website Makes Buying Roses Easier

A new website has been created as a resource tool for gardeners who are looking for a rose that fits their needs. This website is 100% consumer focused and will inspire confidence and promote rose gardening to the next generation of gardeners. Visitors will also find links to connect on social networks, such as Facebook and Pinterest. The website promotes roses, not specific brands, and that is what makes it unique.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Hor…

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
National Floriculture Forum 2015 029

March 18, 2015

2015 National Floriculture Forum Focuses On Marketing I…

The 2015 National Floriculture Forum, held March 6 to 7 in Minneapolis, Minn., zeroed in on the topic of marketing in horticulture and included visits to Gertens Greenhouses and Garden Center, Bailey Nurseries, Bachman’s Floral, Home and Garden and Tangletown Gardens. The annual meeting allows greenhouse and floriculture faculty, graduate students and industry partners to meet and share updates on current research, issues and initiatives.

Read More

February 18, 2015

Range Of Nursery Inspections To Protect Patented Plants…

Plant patents are under protection, and breeders are fighting for their rights to keep growers from illegally propagating protected varieties. It's something you don't want to take a chance on, because the risk is far higher than the reward. More than 300 inspections were carried out last year from New York to British Columbia and from Ontario to Florida to protect plant patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) and branded programs.

Read More

February 4, 2015

TPIE 2015: An Electrified Industry Vibe Boosts Cool New…

The general feeling at the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association's 2015 Tropical Industry Exhibition (TPIE) was upbeat and positive. Attendees were inspired by exciting new products and varieties, as well as creative new displays and innovative ideas and left energized for the season ahead.

Read More
Costa Farms Website

January 21, 2015

Costa Farms’ Launches New Interactive Website

Costa Farms is making efforts to educate consumers while pushing horticultural digital marketing forward with the re-design of its website. The new website features a fresh design and improved navigation, as well as a plant finder that gives gardeners easy access to plant information.

Read More

January 5, 2015

Growers Are Successfully Marketing The Benefits Of Pla…

Growers who are already marketing plant benefits and gardening as a lifestyle say they think this could be the best angle for the floriculture industry to promote our products.

Read More

January 5, 2015

Plants Love You Campaign Raises Plant Benefits To Foref…

Plants make us feel good. It’s a no-brainer, backed by numerous studies, but there’s more to the story. And it’s one the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (COHA) hopes its Plants Love You campaign will tell in such a way that it will inspire people to make plants a part of their life, and on a bigger scale. COHA is an alliance between the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA), the Fédération Interdisciplinaire De L’Horticulture Ornementqale Du Québec (FIHOQ) and Flowers Canada Growers (FCG). Inspiration for The Plants Love You campaign came from COHA’s research, which revealed that 96 percent of consumers surveyed have a favorable attitude toward plants. When COHA delved deeper into the numbers, one thing stood out loud and clear. “It quickly became apparent that while consumers like plants because they are pretty and make them feel good, few understood the environmental and health benefits plants offer.” says Frank […]

Read More