7 Types of Incentives For Green Roofs

In a nutshell, a green roof is simply vegetation on a rooftop. Certainly it’s more complex than that however, the premise of a green roof is rather simple. The green space that was previously taken away by the construction of a dwelling is now being replaced with a new green space atop that dwelling’s roof. This green infrastructure strategy is on the rise in North America and a number of large cities are beginning to incentivize their creation.

In total, there are around 90 incentive programs that city and county governments in the United States and Canada use to encourage the construction of green roofs and other green building technologies.

While some might be green-roof specific, others encompass all green building technologies. Nevertheless, all of these incentives for green roofs are designed to encourage behaviors that increase the amount of  vegetative roofs, that way we may fully take advantage of all of their benefits.

Currently, there are seven types of incentives for green roofs being deployed in North America in order to encourage the growth of the building integrated vegetation market:

1. Tax Incentives

Like other tax incentives designed to encourage a particular behavior, many cities and counties offer tax credits or abatements that can be applied to their tax bill. For example, in New York City, legislation has been passed to provide a one-year tax abatement of $4.50 per square foot of vegetated roof space. The maximum abatement for building owners is $100,000 or the building’s tax liability, whichever is less, and it is available through March 15, 2018.

2. Grant Programs

Recognizing their many societal benefits, North American cities and counties have been offering grant money to help reduce the upfront costs of green roofs. In Washington DC, for example, the District Department of the Environment’s green roof rebate program provides funding of $7 per square foot, and up to $10 per square foot in targeted subwatersheds for eligible green roof projects with no cap on the size of the project. The City of Toronto also offers grants for eligible green roof projects of $75 per square meter up to a maximum of $100,000 through their Eco-Roof Incentive Program. This incentive program is offered to both new and existing commercial and residential buildings.


Calhoun School Green Roof Learning Center in New York, NY. Image via

3. Loans

For some local governments, grants might not be an option. However, they may have the capacity to offer building owners zero or low-interest loans to implement various green building technologies. In Cincinnati, for instance, a total of $5 million is available in below-market-rate loans to install green roofs on residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.

4. Fee Reductions, Feebates, and Fee Credits

These indirect financial incentives can come in the form of permit fee reductions, stormwater utility fee credits, or a green building feebate system. In Arlington County, Virginia, developers are required to pay $0.045 per square foot into a Green Building Fund, which will be refunded back to them pending an official LEED certification.

5. Density & Zoning Bonuses

A density or zoning bonus allows developers to build more than the permitted space mandated by law. In other words, a developer of a green building will be allowed to build more space than a developer of a traditional building thereby resulting in more revenue potential for the developer choosing to utilize green building technologies. In Portland, Oregon, a Floor Area Ratio Bonus exists whereby developers can earn a bonus of 1-3 square feet of additional floor area per square foot pending the amount of space that their green roof covers.


The eco-roof at the Southwest First & Main Office Building in Portland, Oregon. Image via GreenWorks.

6. Fast Track or Priority Permitting

In order to encourage developers to expand green building practices, one popular incentive is to offer an expedited permitting process. Rather than waiting the traditional 2-3 months to receive a construction permit, the turnaround for a green project permit could be as quick as 30 days. Chicago’s Green Permit Program offers all qualifying green projects a fast track permitting process in addition to a possible reduction in permitting fees.

7. Green Building Ratings

Green roofs have the ability to earn up to 19 LEED points. Therefore, the construction of green roofs is encouraged by way of incentivizing green building practices. Other recognition and award programs can also play a key role in supporting  the construction of green roofs as environmental issues have become increasingly important to modern-day society.

Although effective in their respective locales, these incentives for green roofs are merely a beginning. If we are to really succeed in molding a future where green building practices become the standard, then certainly we will need to build upon the current existing stock of green buildings. We’ll need to exude leadership and as Nadarev Saño said at the Climate Conference in Doha in 2012: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

Feature Image: TD Living Roof in Toronto. Image via

About The Author

is a graduate from LIU Post with interests in sustainability, genealogy, business, politics, and making a difference in the world.