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Crafting Green Roofs

Unique Green Time Line

Green Roof Innovations - Born From Necessity

True Green Roof innovations are the evolution or metamorphosis of vegetated solutions on structures over the last 4,500 years. In other words, Green Roofs have been around since humans begun to settle. In fact, the homes in the first settlements were built with nearby natural materials and often covered by soil. The plants or vegetation served an immediate protective purpose. Protection against the elements like temperature changes, precipitation, sun or even predictors because it required a robust structure. The famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon are an often used example for bringing back nature on structures in our settlements. Of course, these came with additional functions for esthetic and food supply.

With beginning of the industrialization we were gradually losing our connection to nature. Actually, we created a society that depends on over-exploitation of natural resources and we call it "Return of Investment". Already five decades ago, scientists warned about Climate Change and the negative effects of over-exploitation on our next generations. Today it is a fact, we know better but doesn't mean we do better. Especially in over industrialized countries many people still see living green only as a burden. For some it is green- colored decoration to better present architectural elements, to cover these, or to show-off their green washing abilities.

Thankfully not all people are that disconnected (anymore) and in each era over the last 4,500 years we had a few people that valued nature for one reason: Nature is the source of our strength.

Green Roof Innovations

The long path of modern Green Roof technology.

Certainly from there every culture had their examples of Green Roofs and some still exist today, hundreds of years later. For example greenery on fortresses in Europe and later in North America, Green Roof reached even a point of military necessity.

This probably led to a few Green Roof patents the 1930’s (not for military purposes). In fact, creating Roof Gardens on high-rise buildings were luxury, to escape the noise, and pollution from the street level.

Before and during the WWII flat roofs where often utilized to supplement food supply - what seems a trend today, again.
Picture: Jörg Breuning, Green Roof Technology - Fort Wadsworth

The 1970’s are considered the beginning of modern Green Roof technology

Finally, in the 1970’s. Hans Gilgen (Optima) received international patents for the first Green Roof system that allowed different Green Roof types.

Because of porous materials combined with an automatic subsurface and vegetation controlled irrigation system this Green Roof solution took off. The technology adopted artesian principles with Blue Green Roof elements thus reducing nutrient and stormwater run-off, and to minimize loss of irrigation water.

All these early Green Roofs are fully functioning today – if the structure still exists.

Picture: Jörg Breuning, Green Roof Technology - World's first Green Roof System text book.

Green Roof Innovations

hybrid green roof design system
Green Roof presentation 1980

Jörg Breuning started his Green Roof career in 1980

At a time when Green Roof construction super-proportionally increased and further developed to a robust business segment for landscaping companies in Germany. In fact, many German cities adopted the technology on their own buildings as a counterweight to the fast growing concrete jungle.

This way excessive research, redundant testing, and endless time for permitting was skipped, also because the technology was based common sense and principles of nature's laws. By following market principals and the sheer amount of projects, cost were quickly reduced.
As a result the growth of Green Roofs by square feet in Germany from 1980-2000 was 15 times higher as the growth of Green Roofs from 2000-2020 in North America!
Of course, the growth of the Green Roof industry in Europe is still the highest in the world today, because people have understood the benefits of nature. Additionally, uncountable Green Roof innovations made the technology more efficient and worth any investment.

Selected Innovations and developments by Jorg Breuning, Green Roof Technology:

Nowadays the term "innovation" almost degraded to a buzz word. Because companies and people extensively use it to look smart by little or no changes of something that widely exists. For example modular Green Roof systems or commonly called tray systems are around since the 1970's. Additionally, they were never effective other than easy packaging for transportation. Transportation is a blink of an eye in the expected lifespan of a Green Roof.

  • First trails with "Sempervivum", commonly known as houseleeks or hen and chicks on stone walls with hardly any soil. Before and as a teenager, collecting "Sedums" on family vacations in the Alps.
  • Certification for Green Roof professional and Green Roof installer as one of the first in Germany. Optima Dachbegrünungs Systeme, today Optigrün, provided the world's first comprehensive educational seminar for Green Roofs. Of course, still doing that today.
  • Starting one of the first fully and only specialized Green Roof installation and maintenance company: DACH+WAND=GRÜN 1986.
  • Development (Green Roof innovations) of single layer extensive Green Roof system with natural mineral aggregate blend and without organic content. Because growth media and drainage media was combined, it required a well-engineered granular distribution. This single layer system was successfully installed on more than 300,000 sf Green Roofs through the City of Stuttgart. Nowadays and with Climate Change in mind, we only recommend such Green Roof solutions in northern Europe where the Gulf-stream (still) substantially influences the climate.
  • Seeding Green Roofs with autochthonous seeds to increase plant diversity and natural succession. 
  • Introducing re-engineered Hydro-Seeding equipment. Specifically for extensive Green Roof applications. A fast an secure method to install biodiversity on extensive Green Roofs at costs that are 60-75% lower than with pre-grown vegetation. Accordingly, later introduction to North America, too.
  • First commercial Green Roof application with Insect Parasitic Nematodes (Steinernema kraussei). This is a fully biological treatment against Otiorhynchus weevils as a result of evergreens and Sedum mono cultures on Green Roofs.
  • Patent application for greening high speed rail road tracks. Because for new tracks systems for high speed trains created a higher noise level, this greening solution was supposed to muffle noise. Unfortunately, the system was only approved up to 120 miles per hour.
  • Pioneering Green Roof applications on roofs with siphonic drainage systems. Accordingly, field installation as independent project manager of around 1.5 million sf of Green Roofs at Mercedes-Benz/Daimler production facilities. Some of the roofs were considered the largest Green Roofs in Germany at this time. All these projects are still existing with out standing performance.
  • Independent design and project manager in collaboration with Germany's first ZERO-RUNOFF industrial zone. Including vast impervious pavement on grade, complex system of cisterns and of course, a Green Roof with over 510,000 sf. The Green Roofs have proven to retain 90% of the annual rainfall. Finally, the Green Roof installations was realized in only three (3) months. Further, the projects still exist today in it's full function and biodiversity.
  • Educator, independent project advisor, and project manager for City Hall Chicago Green Roof installation, hired by Roofscapes/Roofmeadow Inc. First Green Roof according modern Green Roof technology in North America. Additionally the project was the starting point in a new industry for Conservation Design Forum Inc. today ECT, Sika Sarnafil et. all, selected landscaping companies, Penn State University, and plants growers like Green Roof Plants (Ed Snodgrass). Of course, such a project also provided the important literature information for GRHC and greenroofs.com.
  • Ongoing advisory and consulting work for Roofscapes/Roofmeadow Inc. on additional award winning projects across North America until 2004.
  • Introducing of the FLL guideline to North America (the mother of all American Green Roof Guidelines).
  • Key advisor for the first Green Roof research in North America at PennState University under Dr. David Beattie and Robert D. Berghage PHD (later Christine Thuring, PHD). This Green Roof research created the foundation for GRHC (Green Roofs for Healthier Cities) in their promotional material for advocating Green Roofs in North America.
  • First Green Roof installer trainings for landscaping and roofing companies like Church Landscaping, John Bruns Landscaping, Furbish Company, Tecta America, Green Roof Solutions, NY Green Roofs.
  • Relocating of German Green Roof consulting firm (Dach+Wand=Grün) to Maryland, USA and doing business as Green Roof Service LLC/Green Roof Technology. Introduction high efficient Green Roof components made from recycled materials to Resource  Conservation Technology, Inc.
  • First Sedum mats production in North America at Emory Knoll Farms (Green Roof Plants) and consulting for Wolfgang Behrens (Strodthoff & Behrens, and XeroFlor North America).
  • Founding of Rooflite /Skyland LLC the first company in North America for certified Green Roof growing media (shares sold in 2010).
  • Advisor for Green Roof educational courses 301 and 401 at GRHC – Green Roof Professional Training. Introducing Hydroseeding on Green Roofs.
  • Developing North American first testing laboratory for Green Roof growing media testing at Pennstate University in conjunction with German Universities.
  • Key contractor, Design/Build, and project manager for five (5) Green Roof installations on Celebrity Cruise Ships (total 60,000sf real lawn) until 2012. All projects still exist today and travel the world in all climate zones on Earth. Top 10 customer experience and multiple award winner.
  • Introduction of the first integrated Solar Green Roof system (SunRoot 30) to North America, with two projects (New York City and Sterling, VA).
  • Presenting Green Roofs to Caribbean islands and start of growth media production in Dominican Republic based on recycled materials.
  • First used of closed cell Foam Glass Gravel in North America on a project in San Francisco, CA with 38 container loads shipped from Germany.
  • Launching the first advanced and fully integrated Solar Green Roof system (SunRoot 15) and promoting this combined technology to Solar firms.
  • Market introduction of open cell Foam Glass in multiple granular distribution sizes for Green Roofs in North America with projects accordingly.
  • Developing smart and more effective solutions for Solar companies.
  • Green Roof system development (Chief Innovation Officer) at Hanging-Gardens / Sustain A Blu Milwaukee.
  • Creating a product and market approach for Aero Aggregates with open cell and closed cell Foam Glass Aggregate. Produced 100% recycled glass and to replace polystyrene in the Green Roof industry.
  • Smart engineering solutions in collaboration with American design firm for Sustainable Pavilion in Dubai, the world exhibition in 2020 (2021/COVID).
  • Development of “monolithic Platform” and KLIMA ROOF system. The most flexible, effective and economic Green Roof system solution on the world market that allows any type of Green Roof, Blue Roof to be combined with non-penetrating technical systems (Solar, railings, HVAC, safety, etc.) or amenity options. Supported by all roofing warranties on the market. Made in the USA, overall recycled content min. 80%.
  • Development of the first NO PLASTIC green roof with 100% recycled or renewable resources and with Cradle-to-Cradle possibilities (still ongoing).