Sustainability, Creativity, and Green Roof Installations

May 2, 2016 / By: Karen Lally, SCP Intern

This semester Chip Small's Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310) class is partnering with the the City of Elk River to examine green roof designs. In an effort to improve water quality, the City of Elk River has been focusing on stormwater runoff reduction and pre-treatment techniques. The City submitted a project request to the Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) to collaborate with a course to analyze the cost and benefits of different green roof designs. The students in Environmental Problem Solving’s green roof team began their project by doing background research on different green roof models and their functions, specifically studying the different plants and their relative costs as well as social, economic, and ecological benefits of the individual designs. As they conclude their project, they will provide the City with a report that outlines a detailed cost/benefit analysis of the models,  recommendations on which designs they believe will suit the city's needs, and offer educational material for the public about the different options available.

The team members are all quite active and engaged in their semester research project. Gretta Johnson, Biology of Global Health major, says that "it's very exciting to know that I am able to make a difference in the "real world" of sustainability. We can learn about environmental problem-solving forever but actually making a difference and doing a real project is pretty cool." Another team member, Matt Cox, adds that "grades don't exist in the real world which is a liberating thing for me. Creativity is encouraged and this allows for the projects to really be something special." Not only does this project offer a creative experience for the students, but as Johnson pointed out, it has the potential to make a difference in the community. Sam Duncanson, a Geology major involved with this project,  believes that  their report has the potential to "allow green roofs to be installed more easily on future projects," with teammate Nicolas Boldon adding that "hopefully [the project] will inspire other businesses and public officials to adopt more sustainable practices."

According to the project outline they submitted at the beginning of the semester, Elk River's Wastewater Treatment Plant is currently undergoing a remodel and expansion and would be an optimal site for a green roof installation demonstration project. If the city moves forward with these plans, the students' research will be useful to provide background material as well as educational promotion of green roof designs and benefits, specifically how they affect stormwater runoff rates.