Universities Lead Green Roof Research

Sustainability isn’t just trending anymore. In fact, it’s becoming an essential part of life, especially if we’re to continue living the way we live presently. And considering that we would need more than four Earths to allow everyone in the world to consume like an American, sustainability should be of the utmost priority.

Since there’s only one Earth and its resources are fixed, a great disparity also exists between the globe’s rich and poor. Not only is this logical, but quite frankly it’s to be expected. A demand chokehold on one end is naturally going to drain the supply from the other end. Fortunately, sustainability seeks to answer how we can balance these needs in the most optimal way. Not only will these solutions be vital in solving our ecological problems, but they will also be necessary in developing a world that is both happy and healthy for all. In my opinion, everyone deserves the opportunity to live in that kind of world and I believe that sustainability will provide us with the platform needed to begin doing just that.


According to the Global Footprint Network, we would need over four Earths to all live like Americans. Image via Tim De Chant, Per Square Mile.

Over the course of the last decade or so, one industry in particular has made sustainability a cornerstone in its overall mission. From establishing endowments specifically for sustainability projects to developing climate action plans, colleges and universities across the world are doing their part to bring forth a more sustainable planet. Despite higher education being a sector that many may not associate with sustainability, the contrary is beginning to take shape. In fact, many institutions treat sustainability like it’s an inherent responsibility by stepping up and tackling the world’s problems head-on. After all, it’s our children who will inherit the Earth and school has become the forum that nearly all of them pass through to learn the skills necessary to contribute to a better planet.


For me, higher education has become a breeding ground for innovative and sustainable ideas, as it should. And to back that statement up, see AASHE as a case in point. With over 800 member organizations, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is one of the largest consortiums of sustainability advocates in the world and if you ask me, it truly represents the progress made in the field of sustainability within this sector. Not to mention, more and more institutions are joining each year thereby making it even more evident that sustainability continues to metamorphose from buzzword to staple within the higher education community.

In terms of green roofs, a few colleges are already beginning to make good on their goals of becoming a more sustainable institution. Not only do green roofs carry a tremendous amount of environmental, social, and economic benefits, but within an academic setting, they provide students with a unique experiential learning tool where they can also attain hands-on working experience that is desperately needed in today’s job market.

Here are three North American colleges currently involved in green roof research and making green roofs a part of their curriculum.


The Carlisle Green Roof at Penn State University, Dickinson School of Law. Image via Penn State Law.

1. Penn State University

The Center For Green Roof Research at PSU is the only location in North America equipped with small test green roofs on replicated buildings. Their research includes storm water runoff quality and quantity, building energy consumption, insulation value, media chemical and physical characteristics, and much more. They also created the nation’s first “green roof technologies class” in 2005 allowing all interested students to participate regardless of discipline.


Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

2. Michigan State University

The Green Roof Research Program at MSU started in the year 2000 as a collaborative effort between MSU and the Ford Motor Company. Serving as an advisor on a 10+ acre green roof project at Ford’s new assembly plant, the MSU program has grown to include a total of eight green roofs, all at different slopes, media depth, and plant material. Certainly it’s this variety in the types of green roofs that have led the research team at MSU to publish a number of peer-reviewed scientific articles detailing their green roof research.


The BCIT Green Roof Research Facility, which was built with the help of over 200 students. Image via BCIT.

3. British Columbia Institute of Technology

The BCIT Centre for Architectural Ecology doesn’t just hone in on green roofs. In fact, their research encompasses living wall and green façade technologies as well. They’re also home to a number of research facilities that provide students and other interested parties an incredible amount of data into the effectiveness of these technologies including it’s main green roof research center, which has been dubbed “the most sophisticated facility of its kind.”

BCIT, MSU, and PSU are three leaders in green roof research. This research is much needed in proving the viability of these cutting-edge technologies. For without it, we cannot justify them and for without them, we cannot begin to build more sustainable infrastructure. With the rise in sustainability in higher education, there’s no doubt in my mind that this list will continue to grow.

About The Author

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