Chicago Green Roofs: Seven Million Square Feet and Growing

13 11 2009


I got the chance to spend a little bit of time last week with Chicago’s firecracker Commissioner of Environment, Suzanne Malec-McKenna while she was in Nashville for the Nashville Civic Design Centers annual Plan of Nashville event. Suzanne has been in the middle of an astonishing number of Chicago’s environmental bright spots, including the ambitious Chicago Climate Action Plan released in 2008, Chicago Trees Initiative and the very cool Chicago Offset Fund. But what has impressed me the most (and has for a long time) is Chicago’s tremendous growth in green roofs.

It all started in 2001 with the now well-known Chicago City Hall roof weighing in at a modest 20,000 s.f. In June 2008, a short seven years later, Chicago boasted 4,000,000 s.f. of green roof and today, they report that they have hit 7 million s.f. and they are still going. I wanted to find out more about how such an explosion occurs and one of the pieces and parts is related to the success of the green roofs is a Green Roof Grant Program begun in 2005 which has been continued and expanded. An interesting side note is that the popularity and volume of the green roofs across Chicago has also reduced the average installation price of extensive green roof in Chicago has dropped from $25/s.f. to $15/s.f.

As if the incentives of grant incentives aren’t enough, I also noticed that in August 2009, the Illinois Energy Plan provides ARRA funds toward cost-effective energy projects, including green roofs, which meet certain criteria. Illinois has recognized that green roofs provide economic development, carbon capture and energy and maintenance cost savings.

As I looked around at other cities, I found a few more that were engaged in similar incentive programs introduced within the last year: Portland, New York City and Washington DC (List of green roof incentive programs) . Through tax abatement or grants, each of these cities provide an incentive of about $5.00 per square foot through a green roof review process. Portland expects their Grey to Green Program to their current nine acres of green roofs on about 90 buildings to increase over the next five years by another 43 acres. Portland is committing $300,000 in grants in its first fiscal year of the program and is committed to keeping the program going for at least the next five years.

In our neighbor to the north, Toronto started the green roof incentives in 2006 starting with a $10 per square meter subsidy, then raised the subsidy amount to $50 per square meter in order to be more effective. Reports are that funding of $2.4 million dollars for green roof subsidies have been approved for the first five years of the program.

So hats off, Chicago! You are serving as a great example for the rest of North America – in fact, Chicago topped the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities list of top ten cities for both the United States and North America for the past five years.

-Kim Hawkins



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