Terra Fluxus was in the news again, with a DJC Oregon piece by Lee Fehrenbacher on the green roof industry quoting owner and Principal Landscape Architect on some of the challenges of getting green roofs built in Portland. The industry has a positive outlook overall – which bodes well for the firm, which focuses on green roofs in addition to other ecological design and planning strategies.
As mentioned in the article:
“Jason King, principal of TERRA.fluxus, a Portland design firm specializing in eco-technology, launched his business in
2008. (2010) It endured the recession with the help of several large green roof projects at OHSU and the Bonneville Power Administration headquarters in the Lloyd District. King said the public sector has been the biggest market for green roofs, because the long-term return on investment pencils out easily. According to a 2008 cost benefit analysis by the city, the net benefit to a private owner of a green roof after 40 years is $404,000. After just five years, however, the net benefit is minus $129,000.
That latter number makes a green roof a hard sell to a developer who builds and sells in the short term, and King said other systems like bio-swales and impervious pavers become alternatives. He questions what would happen if the city’s $5-per-square-foot incentive were to expire. Burlin said the program has enough money to offer incentives through mid-2013.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet,” King said as to whether green roofs can pencil out without incentives. “I don’t think we’ve looked at the life cycle costs and made the financial case to owners, particularly those … developing in the short term.”
To elaborate a bit, there’s a direct financial incentive for public owners (such as the GSA, which owns the BPA building shown above) because they can absorb a longer return-on-investment and reap significant gains. This isn’t to say it doesn’t make sense to others, but it’s a more difficult sell to add to re-roofing or structural upgrades, when the remaining financial incentives (reduced stormwater fees) are relatively small. We may see more of the externalities start to have some specific price tags, such as incentives for habitat, heat island reduction, or aesthetics – but that’s definitely My concern isn’t whether the $5 / square foot incentive will mean the death of green roofs in Portland. I think the industry and the types of developers, along with some of the other incentives such as FAR bonus, will continue to install green roofs.
We need, as an industry, to get real about some of the costs and the appropriate types of installation – rather than a standard ‘product’ applied any project as a commodity, the idea of designing for the specific needs of a project makes sense for two reasons. The first, is that you are designing for the specific needs of a client – and for the configuration of the roof, which eliminates unnecessary edging, layers, plastic trays, and other items that folks use to generate money at the expense of the building owner. This should mean less cost (and less waste), and inevitably more green roofs.
Second, it breeds innovation, and allows for constant refinement of process, to improve every time – rather than continually churning out the same product over and over. Using our shared knowledge and appropriate experimentation, we can improve through innovating new details, materials, and methods. And innovation, inevitably, it was makes the industry thrive.
Link to a full PDF of the article here.