Living infrastructure like green roofs, walls and facades can deliver a range of benefits to cities, building owners and tenants.

Here is the second of two blogs I’m writing on the business case for living infrastructure. This one focuses on the benefits building owners, tenants, employers and urban residents can look forward to.

 

Health benefits

‘Urban forests can be viewed as a “living technology”, a key component of the urban infrastructure that helps maintain a healthy environment for urban dwellers.’ [ref]Dwyer, John F., Gregory McPherson, E., Schroeder, Herbert W., Rowntree, Rowan A., ‘Assessing the benefits and costs of the urban forest’, Journal of Arboriculture, 18(5): September 1992, p.228[/ref]

As I mentioned in my previous blog [link to Part 1 blog], research has shown there are ‘multiple positive physical, mental and social health benefits’ that come from living near green areas and living infrastructure.[ref]Legislative Council Environment and Planning References Committee, Inquiry into Environmental Design and Public Health in Victoria, Melbourne, May 2012, p.ix[/ref]

These benefits include improved air quality, the adoption of a more active lifestyle, and a reduction in heat-related illness and death caused by the urban heat island effect. Green walls and plants inside buildings have also been seen to offset ‘sick building syndrome’. [ref]Torpy, Fraser, Sick building syndrome: how indoor plants can help clear the air, University of Technology Sydney, July 2013. Viewed 16 March 2016.[/ref] This means less sick days, happier, more productive employees and a more appealing place to live and work for everyone.

 

Biophilia – seeing green, feeling good

Made popular by biologist and conservationist Edward Wilson in 1984, the term ‘biophilia’ describes the innate emotional connection humans feel toward nature and other forms of life.[ref]Beatley, Timothy, Biophilic Cities: Integrating nature into urban design and planning, Island Press, 2011 p.3[/ref]

Biophilia suggests that simply being near to or able to see nature is enough to create a feeling of happiness in humans.

A number of recent research papers support the positive impacts of greenery on our health and well-being. A study in the Netherlands also noted ‘significant and sizable relationships between green elements in living environments and higher levels of self-reported physical and mental health.’[ref] ibid. pg 6.[/ref]

Other studies have also noted the ability of nature to reduce stress, enhance mood, improve cognitive skills and academic performance, and even ‘help moderate the effects of ADHD, autism and other childhood illnesses’.[ref]ibid pg 6[/ref]

 

Return on investment

Beyond the health benefits, there are cost savings and increased value afforded to buildings and infrastructure that incorporate living facade, wall and roof systems.

Studies of the preferences and behaviours of residents confirm the strong contribution that trees and vegetation make to quality of life in urban areas. Urban greenery provides a more pleasant place to work, play and live and this ultimately equates to increased expenditure in the area, from house and rental costs, to engaging in the local economy.[ref]Dwyer, John F., Gregory McPherson, E., Schroeder, Herbert W., Rowntree, Rowan A., ‘Assessing the benefits and costs of the urban forest’, Journal of Arboriculture, 18(5): September 1992, p.229[/ref]

 

Improved thermal performance

One potential benefit of living infrastructure like green walls, facades and roofs is the reduction of building heating and cooling requirements. This infrastructure can reduce heat gain in summer by simply shading the building surface and acting as insulation.

‘Green roofs reduce heat transfer through the roof and ambient temperatures on the roof surface, improving the performance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.’[ref]Department of Environment and Primary Industries for the State of Victoria, Growing Green Guide: A guide to green roofs, walls and facades in Melbourne and Victoria, Australia, Melbourne, 2014[/ref] By installing the right vegetation and substrate for the building and climatic conditions, it is possible to reduce internal temperature fluctuations with green roofs and facades.[ref]ibid.[/ref]

 

Promoting building longevity

When living infrastructure is installed on a building it can lengthen the lifespan of a traditional roof surface. It provides protection by covering the external surface with organic and inorganic insulation. This reduces the stress placed on waterproofing membrane by preventing severe fluctuations in temperature.[ref]Tolderlund, L., Design Guidelines and Maintenance Manual for Green Roofs in the Semi-Arid and Arid West, USA, 2010[ref] Such protection is especially important in Australia where exposure to ultraviolet radiation can be extreme.[ref]Department of Environment and Primary Industries for the State of Victoria, Growing Green Guide: A guide to green roofs, walls and facades in Melbourne and Victoria, Australia, Melbourne, 2014[/ref]

 

Noise reduction

Research has shown that living infrastructure like green roofs, walls and facades can reduce the noise levels within a building. Adding living infrastructure systems to your space can reduce overall noise levels by 40-60 decibels.[ref]Tolderlund, L., Design Guidelines and Maintenance Manual for Green Roofs in the Semi-Arid and Arid West, USA, 2010[/ref] This can also be applied to outdoor spaces like courtyards and narrow city canyons with acoustically hard surfaces.

 

Increased property value

Around the globe, it’s been suggested that if a building is more aesthetically and environmentally desirable, there are economic benefits in terms of lease and property values, as well as employee recruitment.

‘Research in Canada estimated that buildings with a recreational green roof achieve an 11% increase in property value, and buildings with views onto green roofs have a 4.5% increase in property value.’[ref]Tomalty, R. and Komorowski, B., The Monetary Value of the Soft Benefits of Green Roofs, Smart Cities Research Services, 2010 [/ref]

This evidence shows living infrastructure like green roofs is an economic advantage for both you and your neighbour.

Although the value of aesthetics and biodiversity is seldom quantified, these qualities appeal to urban dwellers and crucial to the long term stability of urban ecosystems. ‘Surveys have found that most city-dwellers enjoy and appreciate wildlife in their day-to-day lives.’[ref]Dwyer, John F., Gregory McPherson, E., Schroeder, Herbert W., Rowntree, Rowan A., ‘Assessing the benefits and costs of the urban forest’, Journal of Arboriculture, 18(5): September 1992, p.229[/ref]

Combined with improved thermal performance, noise reduction and increased building longevity, it really is a no brainer to go green with living infrastructure.