Make your green roofs work
As the capacity of green roofs to create rich strategic value becomes better known, Australians are more and more turning to green roof solutions. This is significant for facility managers. Of all phases in a green roof’s life cycle, the operational phase is when greatest value is created. Ultimately, the facility manager is responsible for making sure this happens. The industry, therefore, needs to know how to create value in the operational phase and what makes some green roof assets perform better than others.
The operational phase is also when the building owner incurs most financial cost. Poor decisions in green roof design and construction can lead to costly maintenance challenges later on. To avoid such costs, during the design phase, facility managers needs to advise design professionals on requirements for practical, feasible management and maintenance. In the construction phase, the facility manager needs to plan and prepare for green roof operations, so that growth and maintenance commence instantly upon handover.
Finally, in some cases, facility managers drive the development of green roof projects as well as managing the operational phase. To identify opportunities effectively, facility managers need an understanding of the breadth of functions green roofs can perform, but also of the right type of contract and, if desired, ways to inspire the community about the project. In short, they can contribute to all four phases of a green roof asset’s life cycle: project discovery, design, construction, and operation and maintenance.
Contributing to the discovery phase may be optional. Contributing to the other three phases is critical. To date, however, most publications about green roof technology have focused on design and construction. Here we summarise recommendations for facility managers who have, or are considering adding, green roof assets to their buildings.
Today, a number of enterprising facility managers in Australia are investigating how they can use green roofs to increase the social and environmental performance of buildings. When the facility manager leads the discovery phase of a green roof project, three key actions should be considered in addition to the standard development of the business case.
First, ensure you understand the great breadth of functions green roofs can perform, so you can analyse which of these is of greatest strategic benefit to your client. A considerable volume of information about the functions of green roofs is available.
Second, consider how to enthuse the community about the proposed green roof; for example, through pop-up hands-on horticultural workshops. These are enormously popular, and community enthusiasm will give your proposal weight with your client and enhance the community’s experience of the project.
Third, a task rarely discussed yet crucial is the need to negotiate contract clauses, which give incentives to facility managers to grow the value of green roof assets to maturity. Most building owners in Australia are not yet fully aware that, at the date of installation, a green roof is a basic asset, that to reach maturity, its value needs to be grown, and that the facility manager leads the development of the asset’s value.
Lifetime of a green roof asset
Maintaining the status quo will not enable a green roof asset to realise its potential and fulfil the purpose for which money is invested in it. It has to be actively developed if it is to fulfil its intended purpose. For facility managers to perform this task well, they need to be incentivised in their contracts. But many, indeed most, contracts with their clients do not reward or incentivise growth in the value of building assets. Facility managers who
are scoping out green roof projects need to start talking to their clients at the outset of the discovery phase – before the project gets the green light – about when and how value is created in a green roof, and what sort of clauses in contracts will ensure this happens:
- familiarise yourself with the large range of functions green roofs can perform
- engage the community through hands-on horticultural events, and
- negotiate the necessary clauses in your contract.
There are seven reasons why the participation of facility managers in the process of design of a green roof is vital. First, where retrofits are concerned, the facility manager knows the culture of the building and this information is essential in design:
- When is access for maintenance practical?
- What time does the community relax (i.e. when is it likely to visit the green roof) and what particular demands will this place on the green roof?
- What is the seasonal ebb and flow in the building?
- Will it be practical to cultivate, develop and maintain the asset as designed?
Second, the facility manager is best-placed to provide a conduit for any desired contributions to design by the community in the building – all the more so if he or she has hosted community engagement events for the project.
‘The commons’ green roof in use
Third, participating in design discussions ensures that facility managers understand the purpose of the green roof asset in question, and how its design meets its purpose. This enables them to explain the rationale for the design to stakeholders both in advance of, and after, construction.
A strategy for asset management should be included with the design, setting out how the designs will achieve the agreed purpose of the green roof over a given period of time, probably five to 10 years, and what nature of activity will be required to make this happen. Forming this asset management strategy is key to managing client expectations and, while it is recommended practice for the designer, it is in the interests of facility managers to make sure it is completed at this point in time. The strategy requires the approval of the facility manager to ensure it is feasible in the operational context of the building. Once facility managers understand the time- frame for the growth of the asset to maturity, they should communicate it to the community so as to manage expectations and inspire support.
The strategy provides the facility manager with a blueprint for engaging or allocating maintenance staff during the construction phase, identifying skills required and any skill gaps, planning maintenance and any training required, and allocating the maintenance budget.
Whereas the asset management strategy spells out how the green roof is expected to realise its potential in the long-term, maintenance schedules outline the type of maintenance task immediately required for the green roof, on a regular and seasonal basis. By and large, designers are far more conscious of the need to include maintenance schedules with design documents than they are of the asset management strategy. But for maintenance schedules to be of real value, they need the approval of the facility manager, and he or she needs to check they fit into the management strategy.
By contributing to the drafting of the maintenance schedules, reviewing and providing feedback on them, the facility manager both ensures the designs are operationally feasible and builds a solid understanding of the tasks that will be involved, communicating the rationale for maintenance tasks to the community later on, in the operational phase.
Change is a key factor in the value created by green roofs, but many people need to understand change to embrace it. The facility manager should ensure the designs include facilities for communication to the community about changes on the green roof. If the facility manager has not already done so, it is now critical to discuss contractual requirements for managing green roof assets with the client and building owner.
Now is the time clauses in your contract with your client pertaining to your management of the green roof asset must be finalised, if they are not already in place. During construction, the facility manager needs to prepare to commence operations of the green roof immediately upon handover from the project manager. He or she should, therefore, allocate a budget for maintenance, engage or allocate a maintenance crew with the right skills, provide skills training if necessary, ensure maintenance set-up takes place before the handover and communicate progress in the green roof’s installation to the community in the building. If there is a need to inspire enthusiasm for the project among the community and stakeholders, again consider using hands-on horticultural workshops to engage their interest.
At the end of construction, the handover from the project manager to the facility manager occurs.
- Has the project manager provided all relevant documentation, including warranties?
- What information do you need to collate?
- How will you track expiry dates for warranties?
Operations: Asset development, growth and maintenance
The mission of FM in the operational phase of a green roof asset is to grow it from juvenility to maturity and cultivate it through its adult life. Much of this work will be done by horticulturalists with specialist knowledge of green roofs, with FM playing a managerial role. It should include:
- performance reviews of maintenance crew analysis of data monitored by maintenance crew, and directions for response to analysis
- ongoing regular communication to stakeholders about what is happening
- on the green roof – green roofs are environments that change constantly
- yearly budgeting, and
- five-yearly strategic reviews of the purpose of the green roof asset: the purpose may evolve over time and it needs to be analysed and agreed with the building owner.
Realising strategic value
In commercial, retail and multi-residential buildings, the single person with greatest responsibility for realising a green roof asset’s potential strategic value is the facility manager. Although, to date, there has been little discussion about the role of FM in the various phases of a green roof’s life cycle, mapping out the role is straightforward. By taking a systematic series of actions, FM will help create increasingly valuable green roof assets. The starting point is to understand how green roofs work and the range of functions they can perform.
The author, Shelley Meagher PhD, is CEO of Do it on the Roof, a specialist green roof and wall company based in Melbourne. This article appears in the February/March edition of Facility Management.